Opinion: Let’s Ad(dress) the Dress Code
By: Carmellinna Segovia
“Your shirt is too short, your shorts should be below your knee, your shoulders are showing, and you need to cover up!” Many female students have heard these statements at school. At White Plains High School, the dress code has recently gotten stricter and is being increasingly enforced by administrators and teachers.
Schools believe that by implementing the dress code, they are creating a professional environment for students without any distractions. Instead of teaching students that their clothes are what determines how professional they are, they should teach that it is the way a person acts and behaves that makes them professional. The dress code needs to be revised so that it does not perpetuate gender bias, racial bias, or victim blaming.
I have many experiences with getting dress coded and can attest that getting called out for this is humiliating. One time during my sophomore year, I was in the hallways wearing a black long-sleeve shirt that slightly uncovered my lower midriff area. I was eating lunch with my friends when I got called out by an administrator and taken to the student activities center to change into an extra-large neon orange “Dubset” shirt because my shirt wasn’t “appropriate.” At first, I felt ashamed and bad about myself, but then I realized that I did nothing wrong. I felt outraged that my lunchtime was interrupted for this. I was forced to change out of the clothing that I felt comfortable in. Crop tops have made a huge comeback, and most teenage girls wear crop tops today. I own and wear many crop tops. This happens to be the style I feel most confident in and most like myself. I believe crop tops bring out my femininity, which is super important to me.
Fashion plays a huge part in today’s society, especially among young people. I think it is vital for everyone to feel confident and comfortable in what they wear. As a young female today, it is difficult to maintain high self-esteem at times. Allowing female students to wear what they want and not putting them through the humiliation of getting called out for it could help with this.
Furthermore, the dress code is unfair because it mainly targets female students. The rules of the dress code mainly apply to female students. Female students are the ones being told to cover up and change their clothing. You rarely see a male student get dress coded. Harry Lopez, a senior male student at White Plains High School, said he agrees that the dress code is biased. “I have seen it with my own eyes. A male student wearing a tank shirt, and nothing happens. But when a female student does it, it suddenly becomes a problem," he said.
Additionally, the dress code specifically targets students of color. A new report from the Government Accountability Office in an article published by Education Week, “School Dress Codes Aren’t Fair to Everyone, Federal Study Finds,” states that schools that enforce strict dress codes enroll predominantly Black and Hispanic students. Fifty-nine percent also contain rules about students’ hair, hairstyles, and hair coverings, which may disproportionately impact Black students, according to researchers and the district officials that GAO staff interviewed.
From a young age, females are taught by society to cover up or be careful to not wear revealing clothes around men in order to avoid being sexually harassed or catcalled by men, when in reality, males should be held responsible for their actions towards women. Often, women who are raped or assaulted are blamed because they happened to be wearing a short skirt or their shoulders were showing. Males should be taught from the beginning to control themselves and act appropriately towards females. Females should not be held responsible for this. Yet, this is exactly what the dress code does. One main reason schools enforce the dress code is to ensure that clothing will not create a distraction in the classroom, which really means that female students must cover up so that they won’t “distract” male students. Many schools seem to opt for the alternate solution to teaching young men to control themselves, instead demanding that young women change the way they dress.
While I understand that there must be a line for what students can and can’t wear, school administrators must dress code female students reasonably and ensure that they do not feel ashamed or sexualized in any way. Monique Adams, an administrator at White Plains High School, says that while some type of dress code is necessary for every professional environment, policies can be made more inclusive and culturally responsive. “I do see the dangers that come with the dress code. It is not always equally enforced.” Adams recalls a time in middle school when she and her friends would get dress coded, while her white female peers did not seem to. She believes schools must do a better job of putting aside historical bias and stereotypes and educating all students about sexual objectification.
Finally, I believe the school should prioritize educating all students about sexual objectification and put more emphasis on female empowerment. This should supersede concerns about enforcing an unfair dress code.
Pendharkar, Eesha. “School Dress Codes Aren't Fair to Everyone, Federal Study Finds.” Education Week, Education Week, 5 Jan. 2023, https://www.edweek.org/leadership/school-dress-codes-arent-fair-to-everyone-federal-study-finds/2022/10.