Dress Codes, Shmess Shmodes: Should Children Really Wear What They Want To School?
In this age of modernity, of acceptance, of broadened minds and even broader horizons, it seems that the “dress code” issue at some schools has only become tighter, more strict, and more controversial.
But I beg the question: Are dress codes more strict now because our society is so “free,” or is our society so desperate to be “free” because dress codes seem more restricting?
When I was in elementary and middle school, there were things that were not okay. We couldn’t wear halter tops or spaghetti-strap tank-tops (two-finger width strap rule!). Our shorts had to pass below the tips of our fingers with our hands at our sides. For a while, we were banned from wearing pajama pants to school, because, I don’t know, we looked sloppy? — I never really understood that one. We weren’t allowed to wear open-toed shoes, either — specifically, flip flops — as they were deemed a “safety hazard.” In high school, bandanas were essentially gang paraphernalia, so those were a no-go. There were no hats allowed. We got in trouble if we showed our midriffs, and guys were constantly told to pull up their damn pants over their ass cheeks (though few ever obliged).
There were all sorts of dress codes. The only time where was a real issue about any of them was if a girl insisted her “arms were too long” for her to find shorts long enough to be deemed appropriate. That was pretty much ruled out as bullshit, and we all survived.
Pretty much as soon as I graduated, I noticed an instant shift. I volunteered and worked in schools around CT throughout college, and even visited those in my hometown once or twice while on break, and dress code violations were everywhere. Girls walked around with their sparkling little belly-button rings in full view. Shorts were shorter than ever. Hats galore. Spaghetti straps and halter tops adorned classrooms of all ages, kids 5-17.
I remember thinking, why? Okay, so I guess my self expression was a little repressed in middle school because I couldn’t wear my brightly-colored $1 Old Navy flip flops like I wanted, but I kind of liked going to school without staring at the flesh of every girl I sat in class with, and I appreciated that guys were made to have the decency to take off their damn hats in a classroom, a place for learning, growing, and enlightenment. Don’t get me wrong — I am all for freedom of expression, etc., but a little decency is to be expected in a public institution, I would think.
But now — holy heck. Last year I remember stumbling across an irate post from a girl whose high school sister had been sent home from school for wearing a “long shirt” with leggings underneath. The school cited the shirt/dress as not being long enough for that age-old fingertip regulation and sent her home because of it.
But, like, what the heck, man — she was wearing leggings underneath! Isn’t that the point? She made the effort to NOT be indecent in school. Body type, race, stereotypes, everything aside — this girl made a choice to not go to school looking like a skank! Shouldn’t that be applauded, not ridiculed? There was no showing of skin, no unnecessary flaunting. I thought it was ridiculous. This article specifies other incidents over the years of kids not being able to wear shirts depicting skulls and crossbones (emos, beware), girls not being allowed to wear jewelry for its similarity to gang symbols, and a boy whose administrators filled his scalp in with Sharpie marker when he came to school with two closely-cut lines shaved into his coif.
And now, an openly gay teen in California has sued her school for a dress code issue and won. Sixteen-year-old Taylor Victor wore a shirt to school sporting the phrase, “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian,” and was sent home, with the school citing the usual reasons: “disruptive,” “gang related,” “an invitation for sex.”
Yes, as soon as I saw her shirt, I immediately was so struck by her lesbian-ness that I could no longer focus on my task at hand, was also positive she was part of that lesbian gang I’ve been hearing so much about, and also definitely wanted to jump her bones, like, right then and there.
You can read more about Victor’s story here. It’s noteworthy, because again, she won. She fought for her first amendment rights, and she won.
Now, I don’t mean that every Disney-channel-fan-turned-teenager should immediately break out the mini skirts and crop tops and shout “freedom of expression!” from the top of their lungs.
Or do I? I don’t know.
Fundamentally, I have a problem with the whole “Dress codes are sexist,” argument. Yes, women can do whatever they want with their bodies. Yes, it’s up to boys to learn to respect women and their bodies and to not lust or “distractedly daydream” after them when faced with an awful lot of flesh for one teenaged hormone system to take in and handle appropriately.
But let’s be honest here, people: there is absolutely no reason young girls need to be dressing like strip-teasing adults.
When you are grown up, maybe in college, maybe paying some bills, responsible for yourself and your life choices, and when you have a job and perhaps a mortgage or a rent payment to make… by all means, please, flaunt that ass. You are beautiful and empowered and gorgeous. Yes, go for it. And if anyone tries to stop you, they truly can shove it. You’re an adult and you can make your own decisions.
But that’s the thing: you’re an adult. There is something wrong with a 16-year-old who wants to dress like she’s out shopping for boy-toys. I’m sorry, but there is. That is not self-expression. You can dress beautifully, scantily, even, without baring it all for the world to see. No one shows off their cleavage because they think they look better that way. They show off their cleavage because they think other people think they look better that way.
But to the first amendment’s counterpoint: when I was in college, some of the fraternities and sororities on campus began sporting some pretty controversial garb in the name of philanthropy. I was in the dining hall and a kid walked by me and I swore I saw the word “fuck” emblazoned down the side of his t-shirt. I did a double take and decided to skip the pasta altogether. What did I just see? What was this asshole up to?
As I creepily investigated from behind the not-so-discreet arch of the salad bar, I got a full view of the shirt, and it did in fact say “fuck.” In fact, it said, in big bold caps, “FUCK CANCER.”
“Fuck Cancer?” That’s all we can come up with now? I thought perhaps it was an isolated incident, but the shirts popped up all over campus. Stickers with the same message were slapped onto notebooks, bathroom stall walls, lecture hall seats. FUCK CANCER followed me everywhere I went. And to be frank, it pissed me off.
Until the “I <3 Boobies” bracelets started, and then I had something else to be offended about.
I think I was mostly pissed off because I didn’t feel that any of these frat boys or sorority sisters actually gave a damn about the cause, they just had fun sporting controversial gear around campus and liked the high of being a “grown up” and wearing whatever they wanted in public. Sure, they raised a shitload of fundraising cash, but all so boys could proudly sport a bright blue bracelet professing their love for my most feminine body part? I don’t know. I couldn’t get behind it.
A few years later, a fourth grader at a school I worked in came to school with the same blue bracelet, and that about brought the house down. He was told to remove it and never bring it to school again, and his parent protested vehemently. “It’s for breast cancer awareness,” they insisted.
And that’s the trouble with dress codes. I’ll pose the same question again: Are dress codes more strict now because our society is so “free,” or is our society so desperate to be “free” because dress codes seem more restricting? What came first, the chicken or the egg? Are we rebelling, or are we simply more apt to bitch and wine when we don’t get our way?
Point blank, I’m glad the lesbian can wear a shirt professing she identifies as such. I think maybe I’ll wear a shirt to work that says “Nobody Knows I’m a Greek.” Think of the possibilities…
“Nobody Knows I’m a Drunk.”
“Nobody Knows I’m a Neo Nazi.”
“Nobody Knows I’m a Racist.”
“Nobody Knows I’m an Addict.”
Slippery slope? Or brave move forward? The chicken… or the egg?