A case for dress codes

It’s summer again. Time for shorts, short skirts, maxi dresses, and those strange tank top things that athletic guys like to wear that shows off way too much armpit. This time of year is also an interesting one in schools.  Back in the Stone Age when I was in high school–the early 2000s–there was a dress code in my schools (I went to two high schools) to keep the students looking neat, orderly, and semi professional. But in the heat of the Illinois or Michigan summers, what we know we should wear and what we want to wear are two different things; a pair of shorts sounds nice when it is over 90F outside. Luckily, I went to schools with air-conditioning, but I know that isn’t the case everywhere in the United States, and especially worldwide.

Within the last few years the discourse surrounding school dress codes has changed. The argument has changed from wanting to teach children that there is an appropriate way to dress for a time and a place to “not distracting.” School dress codes, while still usually containing gender-neutral pronouns, focus on female clothing more than male clothing. Leggings, short-shorts, and bare shoulders have all been labeled as “distractions” by school administrators and these words have been stated to the female students. While girls are being given detention and forced out of the classroom due to this view, boys aren’t given half as much trouble. I could go into a completely different article about the inherent sexualization of the female body and how that leads to self-esteem and self-image issues that I have had myself, but that’s for a different article.

I have been working overseas the last few years with people from the UK and Australia, and they don’t have this issue. They wear uniforms, no matter if it’s a public or private school. I don’t know if US students would want to get on board with uniforms, but I see a point in a universal dress code:

1: A dress code teaches kids what kinds of clothing is appropriate for a specific setting. School is your job, and you should want to put your best foot forward.

2:  There will be less confusion. When I was in school, there were no bare shoulders, shorts, skirts, dresses couldn’t be above the knee, no sagging pants, no rips or tears in clothes, no visible piercings or tattoos, and no visible underwear. These were general rules. An administrator could point at and say, “you are breaking this rule”, not “you are being a sexual distraction.”

I may be showing my age with this, but it seems to me that rather than putting blame on girls for showing too much skin, put the blame on the administration for not saying anything to her less-endowed friend. We live in a sexualized world, but we shouldn’t put that burden on our teenagers  Make a rul, that is easy to follow & easy to point to and discipline accordingly. What do you think?



  1. Jacqueline Scott

    May 18, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Although I never did ask for the blame to be put on boys, boys are perfectly capable of controlling their eyes, and their minds if they are allowed to. Administrators shouldn’t be applying their dress code standards differently to developed and less developed girls. IF a school is going to have a set of rules for dress they should apply universally, and not on a case by case basis. We live in a world were putting 10 year olds in clothes that are cute, would seem sexy on a 15 year old and she doesn’t understand why she can’t wear that to school now. A universal dress code, or even better uniforms would take all the guess work and trouble out of dress and teach children there is a time and a place to dress to impress.

  2. Derdra

    May 16, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    I think the problem American schools have stems from a single line you wrote, “I don’t know if US students would get on board with uniforms.”

    There’s an issue in America where students feel as if school isn’t their job, but instead a place that leads to getting a job – and that’s wrong. Everywhere else in the world going to school is considered to be the students job and is treated as such within the school.

    To put the blame on the female student is wrong, and surely you’re right that American girls are being grossly over-blamed due to sexualization. But in heinz sight you’re no better for asking the blame be in-directly put on boys through direct blame of the administrator “for not saying anything to her less endowed friend”. Why? Because you’re implying that students should have a choice in the matter at all.

    The issue is isolated to America because, for some reason, it has become a part of the culture that a students “freedom” or “rights” are somehow infringed by implementing uniforms, and or that it’s unlawful for a public school to force students to wear something they don’t want to. However, whenever they’re outside of school they fall under nearly identical laws that children of equally free nations do and (by transitive thinking) this implies that American children are more “free” than any other nation in the world.

    In reality, however, it’s not the ideals of freedom these children are getting by having some sort of choice in the matter, instead it’s fostering a lack of realism that’s reflective in the world outside of the classroom, and builds the egocentric attitude of “if I just complain enough I’ll get what I want.”

    Furthermore a dress code is not the answer, rather the reward for finishing school wearing a uniform. In the real world, we must wear certain things to certain jobs, and if you’re not working a minimum wage job like fast food, you can wear what you please so long as it fits the guideline. This is the privilege earned by the working class citizen who went to school, got educated, and is now an adult.

    Putting them in uniforms gives them the sense of school being their job and creates a professional environment, and neutralizes the issues of over sexualization because they’re all wearing the same things.

    Honestly, it’s a shame that you felt the need to write this article and I spent so much effort in responding because this shouldn’t be an issue and American children should have never been allow to feel so casual and relaxed in the only setting their in that is preparing them for success the rest of their lives.

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