School Dress Codes: The Shaming of Tomorrow’s Women

Christopher:The controversy surrounding school uniforms has grown tremendously over the past 20 years. The traditional “school uniform” that was normally reserved for private schools has trickled into the public school systems across the country. The reasons given by school districts to move towards school uniforms varies across the country.  The input on what should be worn by the students usually involves little to no input from parents. The school districts around the country have an unlimited amount of power when it comes to changing a policy that affects students.

Some districts adopted the policy to combat increasing gang activity in schools, while others saw it as a way to ease the financial burden on families that couldn’t afford expensive designer clothing. The basic premise behind the decisions was to provide a better learning environment for the students by shifting the focus from clothing to learning while in school. While some administrators believe a uniform policy has improved the attendance and moral, some parents and students believe it violates their freedom of expression.

The first public school in the United States to adopt a uniform policy stretches all the way back to 1987. Three Baltimore schools and one in Washington D.C. adopted a uniform policy called “School Uniform Project”. The new uniform policy affected 500 students in kindergarden through sixth grade. The cost of uniforms for boys and girls at the three elementary schools were less than 110.00 dollars. For some parents that normally spent 4-5 times more than that on school clothes, it was a welcome change. In 1987, parents that were concerned about the rising cost of clothing spearheaded the uniform policy in Baltimore.

The next major school system to adopt a uniform policy occurred in 1994. The school system in Long Beach, California adopted a uniform policy after a rise in gang related activity in its schools. The violence associated with gangs became wide spread throughout the state of California. Many of the gangs recruited, targeted and thrived on young boys and girls to increase their numbers. The violence and crime associated with gang activity began to seep into the public school system in California. The Administrators began to look at ways to curb gang activity in schools and to help students feel safe. The solution to this problem was school uniform policy, along with a strict dress code for boys and girls.

A new bill signed by then Governor Pete Wilson, gave schools the authority to enforce a district wide uniform policy. After implementing the policy, the district reported a sharp decrease in fighting, robbery, weapons, and vandalism. The Long Beach School District became the first in the nation to mandate school uniforms for its students.  Although a number of lawsuits followed, the overall success of the bill influenced other school districts across the country to look at school uniforms and reevaluate their dress code policy.

During the late 80’s and early 90’s, the debate on school uniforms and a more strict dress codes were centered around safety, learning, and rising cost of school clothes for students.  Fast forward 21 years and the debate surrounding school uniforms and dress codes are completely different.  The debate now is centered around young men and  women and how much of their body should be exposed, and what type of clothing is considered appropriate for school.

Olivia: As of late, stories concerning young girls being sent home for their attire have been popping up in Twitter feeds and Facebook pages throughout the United States. Often, the articles show a modestly dressed girl who happens to be showing a small amount of part of their body that most of us would not generally find inappropriate: a shoulder, a knee, or a lower thigh. Rarely do we see anything concerning young men being sent home for their attire. Why is that?

Michaela: Because, as a society, we let them. We constantly hound girls to fully cover their body, that you should wear turtleneck shirts and shorts past your knee caps to be acceptable in society, but in theory, it is hard to find such things without costing too much. For example you can buy a turtleneck shirt at L.L.Bean for $29.99 where as at Old Navy  you can get a plain v-neck tee shirt for nearly a fourth of the price. Another reason that plays a role in dress coding is body proportions. Jamilyn Hall an opinion columnist notes that:

“At a young age i was well endowed and it was difficult to find a top that did not show cleavage.”

Christopher: There were a few statements in the article that Jamilyn Hall wrote that stuck out.  The first issue I have with her article is she says “in the professional world, we must dress professionally”.  I don’t think there is a “one size fits all” dress code, but I do think a company should have one.  The dress code for a business or someone working in a particular industry may differ from one field to the next to. In a CNN article , the number one battle that employers have with its workforce is “employees misinterpret the dress code or don’t abide by it”.  Another important statement listed in the article is, more than one third of the employers  surveyed have sent someone home for unsuitable attire.  The point I am trying to make is that grown adults have the same exact issues that kids do in school; they don’t pay attention to the rules.  Although a student may feel that their clothing is appropriate, it also my violate  a rule that a school district has in place concerning its dress code policy.

The second issue I had with her article is the statement she made concerning how the guys and male teachers may have not respected her choice to wear what she wanted.  I was offended by the statement because it’s her choice and responsibility to wear what she wants to each day.  It is my responsibility to look at her with respect and treat her like a human being regardless of what she is wearing.  I have full control over my actions, and my actions alone. It sounds as if that is her opinion of what they may have thought, and not something she actually experienced happen or had proof of.  She insinuates that men aren’t capable or smart enough to treat women with respect; I find that hard to believe.

Olivia: Lines of thinking similar to Hall’s are surprisingly common. In this modern age, why is it that women do not question their rights in daily society more? How is it that they accept responsibility for the actions of others? Of strangers?

Michaela: I think women don’t question it anymore because we as females are so used to being restricted and judged by things that we just don’t question our rights anymore. I also don’t believe that Hall wast targeting anyone specifically, but more of a broad statement. More than not guys and male teachers can show little to no respect to women, yes, a good chunk do, but another chunk doesn’t.

Olivia: I believe this inequality is likely something we are trained to subconsciously perceive. Initially, men were allowed to dominate human societies because they were physically stronger — a trait necessary for providing food and protection for other members of the group. A woman’s role in the group was to produce children so that their clan might continue to survive. (Remember, in prehistoric times, survival was essentially the only goal our kind had.) Since then, human society has evolved, but never quite shaken that idea of men’s superiority to women. Throughout the numerous generations that have passed between humans leaving their caves with paintings  and moving into suburbia with their cell phones glued to their hands, parents have unconsciously taught their children the concept of gender roles. Few people admit to such thinking, so what reasoning do they give for the excessive rules regarding female school attire?


Michaela: “It’s a distraction.” To have a girl’s shoulders, collar bone, and lower thigh, slightly revealed is considered a distraction. Carey Burgess, an innocent high school girl who had dressed up for a class assignment, got sent home due to her clothing. Her clothing that covered most all of her body besides her lower thigh and below.

“So maybe I am in the wrong. Maybe our society isn’t yet advanced enough to handle 3 inches of my thigh. This is a patriarchal society and I am a woman. I have to be kept in my place, or I may do something that is so rarely seen in Beaufort High School- learn.”

-Carey Burgess

Stephanie Hughes is another good example. A poor high school girl who is just trying to dress as an individual is shamed for what she wore to school. Her body is covered head to toe, she is wearing long pants, has a cardigan on, but her collar bones are showing. Nothing is provocative, absurd, or irrational, but just because she is not wearing a crew neck shirt, she is getting sent home for her collar bone showing.

Christopher: I don’t believe Carey Burgess was an innocent victim of her high school.  If you look at School Discipline Code of Conduct listed for Beaufort County School District, you will see that Carey did violate the dress code.  The first paragraph is an acknowledgement form, stating that they have received the handbook and know what the rules are.  It also states that by signing the form, it does not mean that the student agrees or disagrees, but rather each student has read and understands what the rules are.  On page of 11 of the handbook, it states that skirts must not be no more than 3 inches above the knee. In the picture posted of her in the article, its clear that her skirt is more than three inches above her knee, which is a violation of the the dress code.  There are 30 guidelines listed in the handbook related to the dress code for her school.  Of the 30 guidelines listed, only 4 can be directly related to female clothing.  I do not believe she was singled out because she is a female, but rather she violated the dress code for the school.

I also read the entire Instagram post and there was important information that the Carey didn’t highlight.  The teacher that asked her to go to the office was Mrs. Woods, a female.  I wondered if the real issue behind Carey’s anger was that Mrs. Woods did not pull her aside and have the conversation in private, and possibly embarrassed her in front of her friends.  Carey made the decision to wear the dress to school, even though her intentions may have been harmless.  I don’t think the school enforcing their dress code meant that they were calling her a “whore”, or that she was dressing to go to a night club.  Carey Burgess, yes you are the Student Body President, Junior Marshal, and recipient of the Palmetto Fellows award; but none of those awards or titles puts you above the rest of your classmates.

Olivia: The point of the Carey Burgess situation is not what gender the teacher was that pulled her aside or even that she knowingly violated Carey Burgessschool rules; the point is that the dress code itself is unreasonable. The outfit that Burgess wore was entirely appropriate and even fairly
professional. Regardless of what the rules state, it should be abundantly clear that what this girl was wearing is not at all distracting to her fellow students. Even if her skirt had been half that length, it should not be considered a distraction. Women have legs just like men do, and they should be no more distracting than the hairy guy’s in gym shorts. Not only do these rules make young women feel inferior (and teach young men that it is acceptable to do so), but they also train the female mind to be hyper aware of her appearance. She is at all times wondering if her outfit is appropriate enough for the public eye.

“Is my bra strap showing?”


“Can you see the outline of my underwear in this?”


“This isn’t see-through, is it?”


“I hope this outfit won’t attract too much attention on the way home.”

Michaela: If you see some of the clothing that is worn by teachers, Carey has a reasonably professional outfit on. 3 inches above the knee is not much, especially for some of the articles that are sold in the mall today. Girls are raised in a society that is constantly judging them for what they choose to wear. There is a blog out there called “The Everyday sexism project” where girls all around the world can anonymously post about their experiences with gender inequality and how girls suffer from dress code. One anonymous post states:

“I got dress coded at my school for wearing shorts. After I left the principal’s office with a detention I walked past another student wearing a shirt depicting two stick figures: the male holding down the females head in his crotch and saying ‘good girls swallow’. Teachers walked right past him and didn’t say a thing.”

Olivia: Lisa Sadikman said it best when describing what school dress codes truly lack in her Huffington Post article:

We need to teach them that what makes their bodies special and powerful is how they treat and think about themselves. Simply giving them a Do Not Wear list that is primarily based on lengths and measurements and degrees of reveal sends the message that parts of their bodies are somehow bad or unwanted. Girls, especially in middle school, are going through rapid body changes. They shouldn’t feel ashamed of their curves or their skin; they shouldn’t worry whether or not their bodies, which are normal, are disturbing or distracting to someone else.”


Her excellent point brings me to a sad realization, however: I do not know how to teach my future daughter about having body confidence despite these school rules. Sure, I can explain to her that the changes she will go through are natural, and any results observed by her are to be expected. I can tell her that it is okay to have her shape and her pieces, but how could I ever convince her when her own teachers send her to the office for the cut of her tee shirt? How do I undo the constant worrying about what others think of her appearance while simultaneously helping her to feel beautiful in her own skin? In this respect, school dress codes often do more harm than good. Young women are sent to the office to change into something “more appropriate” while the class continues without her. Not only is the message being sent that authority figures find her appearance unacceptable and offensive, but she is missing out on part of her education while spending time changing into baggy, school-provided clothing.

Michaela: In today’s society, teenagers take to social media to spread the word of this epidemic. #Ifanythingschooltaughtme is a popular and trending hashtag that is used to make remarks on how schools don’t worry about girls education, but would much rather have you sent out of class, put in detention, or sent home for your clothing than to let you learn, and that is the true issue here. Everyone is taught to be equal, yet it is so hard to be equal to one another when rules work against one side of the playing board more than the other.

Christopher: In 1969, The US. Supreme Court heard arguments and made a decision on Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District.   The case was extremely important not because Mary Beth Tinker won the case against the School District, but rather the Supreme Court ruled that school officials could not censor speech unless it disrupted the educational process.  The word “disruptive” used in the ruling is extremely important because it enabled administrators and school boards to define what they believed was “disruptive” to the educational process of their particular school.  The ruling also made it possible for 2 principals in the same school district, have 2 different rules on dress code.

How does the 1969 ruling by the Supreme Court affect Carey Burgess or Stephanie Hughes?  The outfit that Carey wore to school may fit the dress code at one school but be a violation at another school.  When it comes to length of dresses or skirts, most schools have requirements of 3 inches above the knee, or long enough that when your skirt comes to your finger tips when your arms are at your side.  Although I believe Carey’s skirt was perfectly fine for school, it violated the dress code administrators set for her particular school.  The Administrators set the rules for their school based on the issues they have with students.  I think it would be hard to have a national or state dress code that all students must follow.  I see both sides of the issue when it comes to the dress code debate.  The principals and teachers base the dress code on the issues they experience and the number of distractions that occur at school.  The students want to express themselves how they see fit and feel comfortable at school.  I think both sides of the debate have good intentions, but neither can come up with a solution that will satisfy either side.

Olivia: While I agree that students should respect the regulations within their schools and not willy nilly breaking their dress codes, I disagree with some aspects of the codes in general. When young women are forced to dress more modestly than young men just to accommodate their lack of self-control, I have a problem with it. It is so hard to find clothing for female teenagers that meet school regulations while remaining weather appropriate. Girls shouldn’t have to sweat more so boys won’t concentrate less. That is undeniably unfair.

Michaela: Maybe we need to set up a system like South Carolina has. Where they passed a bill on a state wide school dress code. Something that will set regulations for everyone so people can’t say “Well her school lets them, or their school is better cause they can wear this.” Making a reasonable and equal for everyone can take the stress off of the not only the kids, but the parents and school teachers and staff as well.

In today’s society, there are scarce few parents who would want their child to grow up thinking that they are inferior to the opposite gender in any way. Their child is obviously the best, and therefore should enjoy all of the advantages and opportunities given to both genders! So if a couple has both a little boy and a little girl, shouldn’t they be parented equally? Shouldn’t both genders be treated the same? It is thought processes such as these that brought forth the concept of feminism.

Screenshot 2015-12-09 21.29.16

Feminism is not the idea that women are better than men in any way — only that women are equal to men in every way. The movement behind this ideology began for the United States in the 1840’s at Seneca Falls when a group of women decided to begin the fight for women’s suffrage and continues still today.

Presently, women have yet to become truly equal. In their careers, they earn less than men doing equal work; on the streets, they are catcalled and made to feel dirty regardless of their clothes; in schools, they are shamed from showing any part of their body as the men may not be capable of handling themselves around such “temptations.” All of this injustice is perpetuated in many ways, but some of its earliest forms involve school dress codes which target female students.

Feminism ought to be supported by parents everywhere. Would you really want your daughter making less money than her male counterparts simply because she was born as your little girl? Of course not. Then why would you support school dress codes inadvertently designed to shame your daughter into discomfort in her own body? Let us end the inequality where it begins — school.

Michaela: All in all, the thing to think about is, is it truly worth taking the time to dress code students and pull them out of class, out from learning important information for their future, all due to a shoulder showing, a sneak peek at their collar bone, or a ripped jean knee? As a society we must help girls learn that it is okay to be comfortable with not only ourselves, but we are just as equal to everyone around us and that they deserve the time to stay in class and learn just as much as everyone else does.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s