Giving Dress Codes the Cold Shoulder

A deeper look into what dress codes actually cover up

Lucy Tu, Staff Writer

“Cover up. You’re a distraction.”

Imagine spending hours studying for the most important test of the semester, only to be pulled out of class moments before, just so someone could tell you that you were an interruption to the class.

This may have never happened to you, but it’s a scary reality for many students. It seems as though there are always new reports about students around the country being pulled aside in v-necks or leggings. If you haven’t experienced it, you’ve heard of it.

With back-to-school season well underway and Homecoming having just passed, questions are being raised about the validity of dress codes. In some schools, Homecoming guidelines have sparked outrage.

Take, for example, a Milwaukee school that implemented a new rule for their annual dance. Students were required to submit a photo of themselves for “examination” before entering. The catch? Only female students needed to follow this guideline.

This blatant separation is not uncommon, and it goes beyond Homecoming season. According to findings by the National Center for Education Statistics, over 60% of U.S. schools enforce a strict dress code. The same study showed that over half of those dress codes were clearly stricter for females.

There is an argument that dress codes are centered on females because they have a greater variety of clothing options. However, many out-dated dress codes do not acknowledge realistic clothing choices. For example, most stores don’t sell female shorts that are “mid-thigh or longer.” More importantly, why should a 15-year old’s body be sexualized to the point that she cannot wear shorts in 90 degree weather?

In addition to this, dress codes are often presented with the narrative that girls must cover up to prevent boys from being distracted. If implemented incorrectly, they teach girls to be ashamed of their bodies. Girls are told that there is a way they must look in order to be deemed acceptable to gain an education.

It is true that dress codes can promote a healthy learning atmosphere, but most schools don’t equally educate their students on this issue. Some schools fail to teach boys what appropriate behavior is or how not to objectify female peers. Instead, girls earn a reprimand and a lesson teaching them that revealing shoulders, collarbones, or knees is unacceptable.

Earlier this September, a 17-year old girl at a Missouri high school was sent home in a long sleeve shirt and jeans. Her teacher said that her outfit was too tight and too distracting, as “plus size women need to dress accordingly.” Under the guise of bettering learning, the objectification of females runs rampant.

Dress codes must be updated to fulfill their original purpose: benefiting each student’s education. Having guidelines is vital, but school dress codes should parallel the real world in that they should teach students to adapt to standards, not uniformly conform.

Rather than box students in, schools should help them express themselves. Students need to know that who they are goes beyond the clothes they wear or the skin they show. At such an impressionable age, students must be taught that even in a v-neck and leggings, they are far more than just a distraction.