Dress Codes: I’m Torn On This One

8 April, 2008

Our local school district is discussing a new dress code for the public schools:  slacks, polo or button down shirts, sweaters, and (for the girls) ‘demurre’ skirts.  Part of me doesn’t have a problem with this.  I can understand pulling the jeans out (considering where they wear the jeans now, I approve) — it gets rid of ‘judgement calls’ as to how many holes in what places are appropriate, and how far down the thighs the waistband should be.  Getting rid of the hoodies and the t-shirts?  Again, I can see that.  It eliminates the judgement calls for the too-tight, too-low, too-many-holes shirts.

The problem I see is that there is already a dress code for the schools.  And it isn’t enforced evenly.  If a skinny girl wears short-shorts and a white tummy shirt with a black bra, the administrators in the school have no problem.  But if a chubby girl wears the same thing?  She gets a note home. 

The big problem I have with dress codes in school (ones that require judgement calls) is that you have middle aged men looking very closely at how the elementary, junior high, and high school kids dress.  One of my oddest memories from high school was an announcement that came over the loudspeaker one spring morning:

Skirts should be like term papers:  long enough to cover the subject adequately, but short enough to be interesting.

Again, middle aged men closely observing the dress of teenagers and pre-teens. 

I fail to see how a new dress code will help.  If the old dress code is not enforced, will a stricter one be easier to enforce?  Maybe, as long as it eliminates judgement calls.  But, again, someone has to actually enforce the dress code.  I have a bad feeling about this. . . .



  1. My mum (as the wife of the deputy headmaster of the school) campaigned for years to get the headmaster to allow girls to wear trousers for school. Every senior management dinner party the subject was brought up, and the battleaxe wife of the headmaster rolled off comments about how unfeminine trousers were.

    And when we were eventually (in my final year) allowed to wear trousers, one of my male teachers wrote on the blackboard:

    Sure, deck your lower limbs in pants:
    Yours are the legs, my sweeting.
    You look divine as you advance;
    Have you seen yourself retreating?

    What a load of pervy old man sexist bollocks!! I left at 16 to go to a private school without a uniform or dress code, save that tank top straps had to be two inches wide, otherwise there was a serious concern that we would be mistaken for some of the ladies of negotiable affection that walked the local street (seriously, once, waiting for boyfriends at the corner of our road, we got abuse from a prostitute who thought we were after her patch). The school was run by women…

  2. It’s an American trend. We want things to work without effort. Take the immigration issue. There are laws, but they don’t get enforced. What do we do? We think we need new laws. Buy into a diet, but don’t bother to exercise or do anything remotely healthy. We don’t lose weight, so instead of following the diet we pick a new one. So now it’s a school’s dress code. Man, this country is full of lazy fucks.

  3. I am for a dress code.

    Though I haven’t really taken the time to consider the angle you mentioned, there are other angles here.

    Right now, dress codes are too hard to enforce. Subject to interpretation, etc. How short is too short? How tight is too tight? Etc. With a uniform, it’s black and white. You’re either wearing the correct thing, or you’re not. It’s very black and white.

    But even furthermore, and more importantly, as a former teacher, I can tell you that a lot of attention and time is spent competing.. Best clothes, best shoes, etc. Sounds trivial, but when when you take that out, the kids are more on the same page and can focus more on what they’re there for – education.

  4. I don’t like something as subjective as a dress code. If the schools really want to tackle the issue, then just implement uniforms. A lot of the public schools in Louisiana have done that without a lot of negative reaction. There’s still eough variety in the uniform (different colored shirts, pants/shorts/skirts) not to be locked into the same boring thing every day. Not like when I was in Catholic school – khaki shirt, khaki pants, black shoes, black belt – every day. And don’t forget your name tag.

  5. The only (and I do mean only) way that I approve of a dress code is if it is written in such a way that the rules are not subjective. Subjectivity allows the administration to selectively punish students. A perfect example of this happened when I was in high school (way back in the ’80s):

    We routinely brought pocketknives to school (this was the 80s, and in rural Western Maryland so, even though the rules said no, we carried them anyway). One of the kids a year ahead of me was an asshole. He was a good student gradewise, but was not a team player. The administration decided he would not participate in graduation.

    We were in advanced physics when the vice walked in and asked him to empty his pockets. In his pocket was a Buck knife (keep in mind, my Swiss Army knife was on my desk, open, with scraps of wire scattered around it). He left with them, was kicked out of school for a week, and told he couldn’t participate. The next day we all (even the ones who thought he was an asshole) came in with two, three, four knives hanging from our belt loops. The administration caved, and he got to graduate.

    Ignoring rules and then selectively enforcing them is the problem I have with any set of rules. I agree with Philly, though, adding new rules because we are not enforcing the extant ones is just lazy.

    My daughter is pissed, though. Then again, she’s fifteen, so it’s hard to tell the difference. We’ll have to wait and see if they decide on new rules or not.

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