I came across an article recently condemning a public school’s dress code policy. The school is Woodford County High School, and the article is on the Huffington Post.
This dress code does not allow girls to show their collarbones, thighs, or shoulders at all. The students and parents have been protesting the dress code. Some of the reasons they state in this article is that the dress code is sexist, makes boys look like perverts, and “it sends the message that it’s all girls’ faults, basically.”
I agree that this dress code is over the top and should definitely be changed. I agree that this is too strict (especially the collarbone rule) and I think a better idea would be to have uniforms. It is not designed to help young women dress in a way that is respectful and flattering. However, the thing that concerned me about this article were the reasons being emphasized by the people protesting the dress code. In general, with some exceptions, they were not advocating for a more reasonable dress code, but rather they were emphasizing the idea that calling a girl out who doesn’t comply with dress code is shameful and sexist.
I remember reading a somewhat similar news story last spring about a girl who wasn’t being allowed to graduate because she wore the wrong type of shoes to her graduation. Many people were outraged, and thought it was ridiculous.
I am very familiar with debates over dress codes, modesty, and uniforms. My high school required that our uniform skirts cover our knees, and we had to wear button up blouses with vests on top. I currently attend Christendom college, where we have a professional dress code for class, and a modesty dress code that is always in effect.
Over the years I have heard many parents and peers complain with comments like:
“They act like it’s a sin to wear a skirt an inch above your knees!”
“This is all I have, I’m not going to go buy something I’ll never wear outside of school!”
and “My mom bought these skinny jeans for me, my teacher can’t tell me not to wear them!”
The point I’d like to make is simple. A school that has a dress code has good intentions. The reasoning behind school dress codes is to create a professional, distraction-free environment. Modesty dress codes help the boys but they also benefit the girls. Young women should learn that certain clothing will distract from who they are and what they have to offer, especially in an academic or professional environment. The idea behind having a modesty dress code is to enhance who they are as a whole person and to highlight what they have to offer academically. The idea is that there are certain clothes that are appropriate for the classroom, and certain clothes that are not. These guidelines will be similar to the genre of clothing that many high school students will be expected to wear someday when they enter the workforce. If the school administration comes up with something reasonable, and explains it well, this can give teens good preparation for professional attire.
This is the point of having a dress code. This is what I wish more people realized. If a girl gets a warning or a demerit or even asked to change, that does not mean that whatever teacher does this is judging or attacking her. They are not saying that her outfit is immodest. They are not saying she should never wear it anywhere ever again. All they are doing is enforcing the dress code that is in place at a school that they have chosen to attend.
In my years of attending schools with dress codes, I have encountered abuses of the policy. For example, a teacher telling a student that her pants were immodest. I have also disagreed with some of the specific judgments and skirt lengths of the dress codes I have had to follow at times. For example, I don’t personally see the problem with one-shoulder dresses.
However, I recognize the value of having a dress code. I also recognize that it is 100% impossible to have a dress code that satisfies everyone involved. It is such a subjective thing that has to take into consideration different body types, different backgrounds, different styles and trends, and lots of people’s opinions.
Next spring, I’m going to be an RA at my school. Part of my job will be enforcing dress code. I am dreading it because I know what it’s like to be told to change; it’s not fun. Being a tall girl, I know that it is hard to find dresses that comply with the policy. I know the policy is not perfect. I just hope that the people I may have to ask to change will be understanding, and will recognize that I’m not judging them or picking on them. I’m just enforcing something that though may not seem necessary in every instance, is a good thing to have overall.