The School Dress Code is Outdated, Sexist, and Redundant

The School Dress Code is Outdated, Sexist, and Redundant

Picture by Brandon Kim

Before the late 2000s, policing women’s bodies was much more common- acceptable even than it is today. However, society changes and evolves, and we realized that maybe we should let women do whatever they want, considering they are people. However, one of the main ideas that failed to evolve with societal changes was the school dress code. It remains extremely sexist, classist, and racist. 

The idea that we have deemed it not only acceptable but mandatory that school staff must interrupt a person’s education in order to have them conform to a set of rules about clothing is baffling. Furthermore, the regulations written policing people’s bodies are outdated and specifically target women and other female-presenting individuals.

 At our very own school, people have come out and shared their stories regarding feeling targeted and harassed when it comes to how they choose to dress. Quartz Hill High School Senior, Jaden Ervin, shares her take on the dress code, “The thing that really stood out to me was that they are enforcing dresscode harder than they are enforcing the mask mandate. Which was concerning. They [the school] cares more about the belly buttons of teen girls than slowing the spread of covid.” 

Jaden has actually been one of the head coordinators in leading a district-wide dress code protest in hopes of sparking change within the community. Along with several other students at Quartz Hill, she has been speaking with other people from high schools surrounding us to “figure out the best way to really change the dress code.”

The dress code is said to have remained in place in various schools to encourage students to dress “professionally” and “appropriately,” as the school environment mimics workplaces. The idea of maintaining a school’s image has also been put into play and is used to justify the prohibiting of children’s free self-expression. In my opinion, a school that allows their children to dress however they feel comfortable is a school that would be thought of highly, as individuality is a huge value in American culture.

Transitioning back to why the dress code has remained in place for all of these years. To some, they honestly do believe that school should be treated as a professional work environment, in which kids dress in “work appropriate” attire. But is that really the reality of the situation? When I spoke to a student from Quartz Hill High School- who has chosen to remain anonymous- they pointed out the hypocrisies of this justification. “[here are] some examples of the official dress code that are broken every day by boys and never punished for.” The student proceeded to send screenshots of various rules that detailed: “Shirts buttoned at the top and unbuttoned at the bottom are prohibited.”; “Shorts extending below the knee when worn with over-the-calf socks are prohibited.”; “All students are required to wear appropriate footwear for school. [no rubber flip flops, slippers, crocs, etc.]” When reading through the entire written list, I could find countless more rules that are broken by men at Quartz Hill daily that remain unreprimanded.

It becomes clear at this point that the dress code is not about students obtaining a “professional” image. The dress code is written and strategically designed to police female bodies and maintain a level of “modesty” that the school district finds “acceptable.”  

Adding onto the already horrific level of sexism normalized within the dress code, the dress code is classist and can even be deemed racially discriminatory. Assuming that every student at a public high school has the funds to dress “professionally” is wrong. I have known fellow students who could only afford one pair of shoes, which they would wear until they had severe holes and tears in. A highly worn and torn up shoe is against our school dress code! Whether or not a teacher would enforce this is debatable, but the point is that it is written purposefully. 

While this is less of an issue in our public schools in Southern California, schools throughout the United States do not allow cultural hairstyles typically worn by Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people. Data shows that Black students make up 70% of all disciplinary actions involved in schools. The majority of suspensions of Black students involve dress code violations, more specifically, their choice of hairstyle. Pushing the narrative that cultural hairstyles are “unprofessional” onto young and insecure students is not creating a safe space for cultural expression. 

School dress codes have been a controversial topic of conversation for a while, but it is time to finally make real changes in order to better future generations of students. High school is all about preparing teens for the real world, and teaching them that they cannot be comfortable within their own bodies and identities is not the correct way to do that.