The Problem With Dress Codes

The Problem With Dress Codes

This is not an open letter apology for distracting boys with my pale legs.

I will be the first to admit that in my high school career I spent roughly equal amounts of time scrambling to finish my science homework before class and worrying about my dress length. The first is my bad -- I know I should have finished my homework the night before. However, the latter, even though it is my problem, is not my bad. Higher education systems weave lengthy dress codes and elaborate guidelines, brandishing critical eyes for their teachers so that they may catch the discrepancies on students. At the beginning of every semester we would sit in homeroom as our teacher went over the school guidelines, sighing when he made it to the dress code, "You guys know what's OK." Yet the thing is, we really don't know what is OK.

Even though dress codes outline a slew of rules, they leave much room for ambiguity. Even within the definitions themselves people become confused: my friends and I spent many lunch hours arguing if my dress had to only be past my fingertips, or if it had to be a credit card length above my knee, or just two inches above my knee. (And the credit card thing - what way do you hold up the card?) Do the straps of my shirt have to be two fingers wide, or three? (Remember that my fingers are not the same size as yours.) Asking these questions about fingers and credit cards confuses us students. If there are strict rules, we need strict guidelines that elicit what exactly we are allowed to wear. Having one teacher follow one guideline and another follow a different one leads to discrepancies in the dress code, not just in the student's clothing.

I had trouble determining how I feel about dress codes because of all of the stances that I understand. One day I want to be a teacher, and I want my students to respect their bodies and others'. One day I want to be a mom, and I want my children to dress with modesty (or at least decency). Yet right now I am an 18-year-old girl, and I wear short dresses. I wear crop tops. I understand how clothing works on girls. I also understand that in my college classes, I can show my belly button or my legs and the males around me can still take notes. This does not necessarily mean that they are not distracted by my torso or legs, they honestly might be. It just indicates that they can control themselves. Girl clothing is hard. In high school I shopped with the intention of being within dress code, or just slightly out of it, but clothes don't always stay the way you bought them. Dresses especially are wont to shrink after the first wash (even if you hand wash them with every desire you have for them to stay the same length). Society does not acknowledge school dress codes, and neither does fabric. Fashion designers are not thinking about what schools want, they think about the trends. The trends in America do not follow the two-inch-above-the-knee rule. I cannot find shorts that hide most of my thigh, and as a 5'3" female, I worry for the masses of girls taller than me. What kind of shorts are they finding?

A highly disputed reasoning for dress codes claims distraction as its root. Girls' shoulders are distracting. Girls' bra straps are distracting. Girls' thighs and collar bones and butts are distracting. Who decided that a fifteen year old girl is to blame for male hormones? Boys will be distracted by girls. That is just how life works. Yet realize: girls are also distracted by boys. We tell our daughters and students to hide their shoulders and collar bones and bra straps. We tell them they are the cause of the distraction in class, we tell them it is their fault that these boys cannot pay attention. We do not tell boys the same. Yet it is the same. Girls are as attracted to boys as vice versa. Boys are less frequently sent to the office for dress code violations, and their guidelines within the dress code are brief. They wear shorter shorts than girls; they sag their pants. It is not assumed that girls are tempted by attractions, but they are. Only targeting girls in dress codes forces us to lay blame on ourselves. We assume that boys are not in control of themselves, that we must hide ourselves in order to keep the boys, and ourselves, in line. Why are we more focused on what is outside of a girl instead of inside? Isn't school about a girl's education, not her condemnation? Why are we forced to change in respect to male distraction, but they don't have to wear longer shorts? Please tell me that glaring white thighs are not distracting to you.

Students are going to be distracted anyway. No matter the amount of clothing, boys are going to think about girls. In the same respect, girls are going to think about boys. Yet more than that, they are going to think about other things too. Teachers should not be too proud as to deny the fact that their lesson plans are not the most interesting thing of the day. Yes, your students should pay attention. Yes, they do love your class. Yet it is practically impossible for teenagers to pay attention for a whole hour. They will think about their crush, but they are also going to think about their soccer game that happens in two hours, what they are having for lunch, and that episode of "The Bachelor" that aired the night before. You cannot control distraction. As a teacher, you can curb it by having interesting lesson plans and being excited about your material; however, you will lose the battle when it comes to distraction. Sometime throughout your class your students will not be thinking about the calculus problems in front of them. There is no way to stop it.

Dress codes do need to create restrictions for students. Vulgar, suggestive attire should be regulated. As should explicitly sexual attire. (Even as an avid wearer of crop tops, I do not believe they should be worn in high schools. There is just too much skin that could be easily covered, and should probably be covered in a respectful setting.) When a girl bends over you should not be able to see all of her underwear. The problem is, you want to regulate dress code in an attempt to teach decency, but you do not want to cross vague lines between "decency" and "sexy." I want my children and my students to respect their bodies and others'. Respecting themselves in their clothing is a good first step to feeling good about themselves. However, I do not want to diminish creativity and individuality. Clothing is a large factor in expression of self. It is a way for students to claim who they are. A coordinator of instructional technology claims that "the problem often comes when there is a discrepancy between what students, parents, teachers, and school administrators consider to be one of those things [irresponsible attire]." As an 18-year-old, I do not see a problem with shorter dresses, but a principal might believe in one. As a 15-year-old, I did not find a problem with my collar bones, but a teacher told me there was one. Adults tend to see the more sexual side to attire than the students wearing the clothing. To the students, clothes are clothes. Yes, you are going to have students who intend to be sexual. But more likely than not, you are going to have students who wear leggings because they are comfortable, students who wear shorter dresses just because they like them, students whose bra straps show by accident. A boy hasn't talked to me about an exposed bra strap since fifth grade. Adults need to begin to listen to students. Ask where the lines should be. Have teenage input. Adults should not assume they understand what teenagers are going through, or what is detrimental to them. Let's begin talking about what the problem is. I am tired of adults assuming they know what is best, assuming they know what we think. Eighteen-year-old males can still translate Latin while my torso is showing. Fifteen-year-old boys can still take history notes while a girl's freckled skin is showing.

One day when I am a teacher and one of my students is distracted, I pray that I do not blame it on a girl's bare shoulder.

Cover Image Credit: Lexie Tubell

Popular Right Now

8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.

Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.

7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Why The Idea Of 'No Politics At The Dinner Table' Takes Place And Why We Should Avoid It

When did having a dialogue become so rare?


Why has the art of civilized debate and conversation become unheard of in daily life? Why is it considered impolite to talk politics with coworkers and friends? Expressing ideas and discussing different opinions should not be looked down upon.

I have a few ideas as to why this is our current societal norm.

1. Politics is personal.

Your politics can reveal a lot about who you are. Expressing these (sometimes controversial) opinions may put you in a vulnerable position. It is possible for people to draw unfair conclusions from one viewpoint you hold. This fosters a fear of judgment when it comes to our political beliefs.

Regardless of where you lie on the spectrum of political belief, there is a world of assumption that goes along with any opinion. People have a growing concern that others won't hear them out based on one belief.

As if a single opinion could tell you all that you should know about someone. Do your political opinions reflect who you are as a person? Does it reflect your hobbies? Your past?

The question becomes "are your politics indicative enough of who you are as a person to warrant a complete judgment?"

Personally, I do not think you would even scratch the surface of who I am just from knowing my political identification.

2. People are impolite.

The politics themselves are not impolite. But many people who wield passionate, political opinion act impolite and rude when it comes to those who disagree.

The avoidance of this topic among friends, family, acquaintances and just in general, is out of a desire to 'keep the peace'. Many people have friends who disagree with them and even family who disagree with them. We justify our silence out of a desire to avoid unpleasant situations.

I will offer this: It might even be better to argue with the ones you love and care about, because they already know who you are aside from your politics, and they love you unconditionally (or at least I would hope).

We should be having these unpleasant conversations. And you know what? They don't even need to be unpleasant! Shouldn't we be capable of debating in a civilized manner? Can't we find common ground?

I attribute the loss of political conversation in daily life to these factors. 'Keeping the peace' isn't an excuse. We should be discussing our opinions constantly and we should be discussing them with those who think differently.

Instead of discouraging political conversation, we should be encouraging kindness and understanding. That's how we will avoid the unpleasantness that these conversations sometimes bring.

By avoiding them altogether, we are doing our youth a disservice because they are not being exposed to government, law, and politics, and they are not learning to deal with people and ideas that they don't agree with.

Next Thanksgiving, talk politics at the table.

Related Content

Facebook Comments