Dress Codes Limit Student Expression

Jessie Chafin | Reporter

“Principal Explains Updates to Dress Code: ‘Girls Ruin Everything.’” Yes, this is a real headline for an online article published on Sept. 27, 2018, which includes a video of an assistant principal addressing what I assume to be the entirety of a Tennessee High School. Yes, it is as atrocious as the headline makes it to be.

  As many of you may remember, we were all given a student handbook at the beginning of our high school years. Most of us would excitedly flip to the dress code section right away to see what dress codes we would defy this year. 

  This part of the handbook especially amuses me. We are taught that when we get to our freshman year of high school, we need to be adults to take responsibility of our education and life. I guess part of being an adult also means you can’t be trusted to dress yourself, especially if you are female. Many people will try to defend unreasonable dress code restrictions saying, “But that’s implemented so you can dress for your future job!” Will wearing jeans limit my ability to type away at a computer? Or to treat a sick animal? Or even to run for Senator? Doubtful. Dress codes are very clearly aimed at limiting female freedom of expression and wasting some truly dope outfits.  

  If you come to East Central College, you probably graduated from a nearby high school (Washington, St. Clair, Pacific, Union, etc). Naturally, every school has their own practices and policies when it comes to dress codes, so I read through all of their current 2018-2019 handbooks to compare the differences. 

Washington High School (my humble alma mater) is first on my list. From just a glance, I could tell their dress code was short and to the point. It is stated in bold that “the limits as to what is considered appropriate dress will be determined in the opinion of teachers and administration.” In simpler terms, teachers and staff can send someone home if a student’s outfit is personally offensive.

  The list of what exactly is not “appropriate” is short and vague: no references on clothing that disrupts the school environment, no visible undergarments and no head covering of any kind is allowed in the building. These three rules may make it seem like Washington has a pretty lenient dress code; however, it is because of their non specificity that these standards can be interpreted so differently from person to person. For example, specific clothing articles are not mentioned and is probably why some girls feel frustrated when they wear spaghetti straps on a hot day and are sent home or forced to change.

  Union High School’s dress code policy delves in deeper. It states in the first paragraph that all “blouses, shirts, shirts, etc. must extend to at least the top of the student’s pants, skirts or shorts. No spaghetti strap tops, tube tops, or asymmetrical shirts are allowed. Shirts split down the sides are prohibited. Sunglasses, caps or other types of headwear are not to be worn in the building during school hours unless approved by the principal.” Notice how most of these exemptions are female-directed? That’s not even the worst of it. A little way down the handbook states, “No visible undergarments. The length of shorts, dresses and skirts must be such that it is not distracting or offensive. If necessary, the student may be sent home.” Whoop, there it is! The classic example of female legs being deemed “distracting or offensive”. Sorry, let me put on sweatpants in 100-degree weather so the male students and staff don’t get offended. 

  Pacific High School’s dress code is almost laughable. Right from the get-go, the student manual states that “student dress is primarily the responsibility of the parents and students.” Don’t you just hate when you walk out the door and realize you forgot to have your mother approve your outfit? The dress code states the classics: no house slippers, no head garments, no bra straps showing, etc. But what really gets me is how “the neckline of any shirt garment should not extend below an imaginary horizontal line drawn from the top of the armpits when arms are rested at their sides.” Seriously? Do you think I have time to check my neckline measurement with all my other responsibilities that have been thrust on me? This student prepping for adult life will have to give a hard pass. 

  I have saved the best for last: the  St. Clair High School handbook.  Reading through this dress code was an adventure from start to finish.  The dress code starts off telling us any “symbols, contraband holders, baggy pants, and other attire, which could be construed by administration as gang-related paraphernalia (including one pant leg up and one down and bandanas)” would not be allowed on property. Needless to say, I was thoroughly surprised that was the first concern to the staff. A popular dress code is also stated, “Spaghetti straps or shirts with one shoulder – Straps need to be wide enough to cover under garment straps.”

  Ladies, here’s a quick loophole for this one: Don’t even wear a bra. That way you can wear all the spaghetti straps you please during those hot summer days AND simultaneously you will be fighting back against the patriarchy! 

  With changing fashion choices, women are being faced with the dilemma of choosing between expressing themselves and following the strict dress codes school enforce. I believe the schools should give women (and men) the right to choose what they want to wear. With adult life choices being presented to us, we must also take action in what we choose to wear.

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