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High School Dress code

Make High School Dress Codes Gender-Neutral

I had the pleasure to seeing Gloria Steinem speak in Phoenix last month. Geez, this woman is inspiring and knowledgeable about gender inequality. She re-invigorated me to keep pushing for equality for all genders. I would love to see our society get to the point where a person’s character and acts matter more than which bathroom they use.

I Have A Personality by EPMLE from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I Have A Personality by EPMLE from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate is not equal back in 1954. That’s over 50 years ago! And yet, we still see substantial inequality throughout social norms and even formal rules – for all genders.

This inequality is pervasive in our culture, even in something as simple as clothing. Thing about quality and variety of clothes available in the men’s and women’s sections and what a person is expected to wear at certain occasions. What messages are conveyed with different looks? In general, men’s clothing is designed to show a person as powerful and intelligent whereas women’s clothing is much more focused on portraying the wearer as pretty rather than capable. Why are these norms so drastically different?

Looking at gender norms and clothing made me thing about dress codes and question why some institutions and companies have different uniforms and dress codes for different genders. When I see this in schools and industries, I have concerns that the organization has problems with sexism.

Google allegedly has the simplest (and best) dress code: “You must wear clothes.” This tells me the company cares more about your job performance than how you look, and they have confidence that their employees are responsible enough to dress appropriately for their job tasks.

I don’t endorse the Google dress code for every situation, particularly not for high school where students act more impulsively, in part due to their still-developing brains. I do, however, endorse a gender-neutral dress code, particularly after seeing how ridiculous dress codes are for females at some high schools:

These are my recommendations for a gender-neutral high school dress code. It’s more restrictive in regards to images and verbiage on garments, but that’s mainly to make the rule easy to understand and enforce. The main rule is to come to school in clothes that are clean, tidy, with no rips or stains. Here are the details:

NO: Pajamas; Workout wear (exception for socks/sneakers); Visible undergarments; Verbiage or images on tops (exception for small logos or t-shirts/sweatshirts from a legitimate school); Hats or hoods in the building (exception for religious wear); Visible cleavage – chest or butt; Excessively baggy or tight garments; See-through garments; Sleeveless or backless tops

Shoes: Must be worn, closed toe, closed heel, socks must be worn except for open top shoes (flats, heels, etc.)

Pants, Kilts, Skirts, and Dresses: Bottom hem can’t drag on the floor

Shorts, Kilts, Skirts, and Dresses: Bottom hem must reach tips of fingers when standing with hands at sides

Shirts, Sweaters, and Sweatshirts: No midriff shown when raising arms above head; Entire shoulder must be covered

Hair: Must be clean and reasonably styled (meaning you at least ran a comb through it, purposely messy styles are ok)

This dress code may be more challenging for students who wear women’s clothing because more garments are designed and created that violate these rules. For those who want to express themselves with these garments, they can – on their own time.

The next time you’re confronted with a dress code with different expectations for men and women, ask yourself what these expectations say about how that situation views the roles of different genders. If you see inequality, I hope you’ll challenge it.

If I Were a Minimalist in High School

Kristin at Buzzfeed did a video recently where she followed different high school dress codes for a week. At first, this made me wonder if I could follow my high school alma mater’s dress code but that it made me wonder how I would have been different if I had been a minimalist when I was a high school student.

Oh yes - That's my sophomore year picture, Fall 1994.

Oh yes – That’s my sophomore year picture, Fall 1994.

I went to a Catholic high school in Northern California, and our dress code was fairly strict – no shorts, no shirts with writing or images on them, and no open toed shoes were some of the restrictions. If I were the confident self-accepting person I am today back then, I think I would have gone the Jobs/Zuckerberg route and had a personal uniform that I would where every day. Judging by my current closet, probably would be blue jeans and a dark gray v-neck T-shirt. I can picture my childhood closet with 5 matching T-shirts, 2 pairs of jeans, and a solid-colored hoodie for cold days. The only things that might have changed day-to-day would have been the color of my underwear and socks, which shoes I wore, and whether I wore jewelry and/or make-up.

Given my experience with shaving my head this summer, I could easily see myself going through high school with a shaved head – or as close to it as the school’s dress code would allow. (Students weren’t supposed to shave their heads, but some guys would do it over summer break. It would be unfair for the school to punish them for something they did during vacation.)

I can rock the bald head. Photo by Devon C. Adams Photography, used with permission

I can rock the bald head. Photo by Devon C. Adams Photography, used with permission

If I were a minimalist in high school, I wouldn’t be surprised if I used a capsule wardrobe, inspired by Project 333, for the rest of my clothes. A person doesn’t need many material goods to be happy, so why accumulate it? I am not sure if I would apply the same minimalist rules to my leotard collection. As a gymnast, I had about 2 dozen beautiful leotards and I loved them, but I also wonder what it would have been like to have 6 matching leotards that I would have worn each night to practice. Some people might wonder if it would have been weird or boring; I wonder if it would have been a badass.

If I were a minimalist in high school, I would have done a lot more and a lot less with my time. I would hope that I would understand that school was my job, and accepted that there were a lot of classes that were required for graduation but pointless for my life – like literature (most fiction does nothing for me because it’s not real, especially really old fiction) and religion (I’m Agnostic). I would have cared even less about school spirit days and other functions and cared more about spending time with the people I liked. I suspected I would have done more, with less, and been happier and put more energy into developing myself as a person.

Thoughts about School Dress Codes

I’ve wanted to write a blog post about school dress codes for a while and it seems like now is a good time since kids will be heading back to the classroom this week after Winter Break. When I was in school, I wore a uniform for kindergarten through eighth grade and went to a high school with a strict dress code. We weren’t allowed to wear clothing with words or pictures on them, skirts and shorts had to be mid-thigh length, and guys couldn’t have long hair or facial hair.

I saw a few images this fall that made me want to share some thoughts about dress codes. Here’s the first:

Screenshot from Facebook taken in Fall 2014

Screenshot from Facebook taken in Fall 2014

I agree that wearing leggings or yoga pants does not make you look like a prostitute. However, I do believe that high school is a place to get people thinking about what is/is not an appropriate way to dress. If teenager’s job is to go to school, then part of that education is about how to present yourself. I agree that students’ dress should not be a distraction to learning, but it should take a lot to cross that line. Some of my classmates prided themselves of following the dress code while wearing absurd things like a 3-piece polyester plaid suit or pairing purple tights with a lime green dress. Whatever dress code you set, the kids are going to push back – and I actually encourage that if they can do it in clever ways that don’t break the rules.

I had mixed feelings about this photo:

Another Image from Facebook from Fall 2014

Another Image from Facebook from Fall 2014

On one hand, I’m a huge believer that we need to look at how children are socialized and work on teaching them that no one deserves to be objectified and no one should feel pressured to be in that role. If you find someone attractive, learn how to look discreetly.

On the flip side, I agree that visible bra straps and short shorts have no place in the classroom and it’s fine to make any student who is violating the dress code to go change. But that has nothing to do with gender roles.

Speaking of gender roles, these images made me think about what dress code I would create if I was responsible for a school. I support the idea that the same dress code should apply to boys and girls in regards to what garments may be worn and how long short/skirt lengths should be. I have no issue with a biological male student wearing a dress to school as long as they adhere to the same standards regarding dresses as the girls. Here’s the list I came up with:

  • Your appearance must be clean and neat – no ripped or stained clothing. Your hair must be neatly styled.
  • No facial hair.
  • Workout attire should only be worn during P.E.; exception for athletic shoes and socks.
  • No excessively baggy or tight clothing. No see-through clothing. No backless or sleeveless tops or dresses. No exposed cleavage or midriffs. (You should be able to raise both arms above your head without exposing any torso skin.)
  • No visible undergarments.
  • No leggings may be worn as pants but may be worn under shorts, skirt, or dress. No “skinny jeans.”
  • The hem of your shorts and skirts must be at least 5 inches from the bottom of your hip bone.
  • No visible tattoos unless you are at least 18 years old (because you have to be 18 to legally get a tattoo) and the image or verbiage must not be offensive.
  • No verbiage on your clothing except for small logos, unless it is official apparel from a legitimate school or college.
  • Your top must have sleeves.
  • Your shoes must have a closed toe and heel.
  • No hats or hoods may be worn in the building.
  • No pajamas, including slippers.

I’m sure some people will think that it’s odd that someone like me – who wears t-shirts professionally and participates in the annual No Pants Ride would endorse such a conservative school dress code. (My high school alma mater’s dress code is actually more conservative than this.) But here’s the deal – I’m an adult. I know how to dress myself according to the situation. For many people, this will be the type of dress code you will have at your first job. Plus, I want young people to understand that they are more than their appearance. They’re in school to develop their minds so they can have the future that will give them the lifestyle (including dress code) that they want.