Every other week, it seems we see another headline about a girl being sent home for wearing something "distracting." Go into the comment section of these articles, you'll see a lot of arguments for and against this. One of the main arguments for strict dress codes enforcement is, "It's the rules. It's discipline. It prepares children for the real world!"
But does it? At the surface, this argument appears to be simple, unbiased logic, but upon some consideration, it isn't hard to realize dress codes at school and dress codes at work are completely different, and sometimes have no place in modern world.
First of all, work is a professional environment for adults where they have a moderate amount of choice about being there. If you love your fake nails like I do, you probably wouldn't apply somewhere that doesn't allow them. You're assured by the knowledge there are plenty of places that will. The reality is, "Some jobs might have this particular rule, but most won't." Children are not offered this variety. Children are often zoned for a specific school, or go to a private school of their parents' choice (where the dress codes can be even stricter). Even if a child can change schools, the rules are likely the same at all the schools in his or her area. Public and private school dress codes do not have the same variation as real-world jobs.
Even more so, work dress codes are not as rigid, particular, and/or arbitrary as school dress codes. I can hardly think of a place that wouldn't allow you to have fake nails (barring any safety or sanitary reasons). Even typing it sounds ridiculous, but "Thou shall not have acrylics" might as well have been in The Bible Itself at the Catholic high school I attended. Jobs often require a uniform with a tucked-in shirt and a belt, or "business attire." If your job is more high-risk, the rules might be more particular for safety reasons and safety reasons alone. Nowadays, there are some jobs that don't even have dress codes. Regardless, an employee handbook will never tell you how many inches your skirt must be in relation to your knee, or have a passage relating to the exposure of your shoulders and collarbone like student handbooks do.
More importantly, children are children, and they deserve freedom of expression. This is self-explanatory. School is not work, and children are not the property of their school. As children discover themselves, they deserve enough agency to express who they are through their clothes and hair. School is a child's main source of social growth and interaction, which isn't the relationship most adults have with their workplace. It's a highly personal environment, not a strictly professional one. How children are perceived by their peers at school relates to directly their fragile, developing self-image. There is empowerment in self-expression, and it's not a school's right to suppress that so that it can ultimately be suppressed by corporations. That is an archaic idea of what school should be.
Also, inevitably, some of these children will go to college, where they can wear their pajamas to class. Here, you'll likely only have a dress code for a science lab (closed toed shoes, long pants), for safety reasons. During this span of time, most college students unlearn all of their high school habits, like waking up at 6 am. Finally having some freedom, college students actually tend to go to the more opposite extreme (waking up at noon, wearing booty shorts and a big T-shirt to class).
Secondly, dress codes at school target people of color and target and sexualize the body of young women. Most of the controversial articles about dress code violations address these issues. School dress codes are hostile to ethnic hairstyles, interfere with women's education, and contribute to rape culture. In South Africa, black students had to fight for their right to wear their natural hair. In America, there are instances where black children are literally having had their braids cut off in school. Even in the professional world, people with dreads struggle to find a job, further proving how arbitrary and colonized our perception of "professional" has become. There is nothing unprofessional about a natural hairstyle.
Young women are being sent home for wearing tank tops exposing their shoulders and collarbone. The idea that these body parts can even be attractive stumps the modern mind, but that's beside the point. These students are children, there is nothing sexual about any part of their body. These girls deserve to not have their education interfered with by archaic rules. Some arguments cite "professionalism" and "real world prep," but others go so far as to cite the infractions "distractions to the male students and faculty." This pushes the narrative that men can't help violating women and that it's women's responsibility to avoid this, which directly contributes to rape culture.
It's time to not only rethink the abolishment of dress codes but to rethink the existence of dress codes. Consider what kinds of attitude brought these rules into existence, and consider who they affect most. You'll realize they have nothing to do with "teaching discipline." We should never accept rules as they are. It is our social responsibility to think about the rules that govern our lives and be empathic to struggles that aren't our own. When we abolish dress codes, we won't teach discipline, but we will teach social consciousness, self-expression, and respect for the agency of others.