The dress code rebellion

My sister was sent home from high school for wearing culottes. They were considered too close to shorts, which were banned. Girls had to wear a dress or skirt that hit no higher than mid-knee. Flip-flops weren’t banned because it never occurred to anyone to wear them to school. These were the rebellious ’60s. All our energy went into our hair.

Dress code rebellions are springing up across the U.S. and Canada, reports the Huffington Post.

Two dozen Georgia middle school students were suspended on charges of “terroristic threats” a Facebook post urged classmates to violate the dress code on the last week of school.

 By Thursday, the post escalated to, “Everything they say we can’t wear, wear,” and, “We need the hallways packed and out of control” with everyone participating.

The end of the post threatens whoever might snitch.

Every student who shared or commented was suspended.

This is just one of many outbreaks, reports the Huffington Post. Girls are rejecting the idea that their clothing — or lack thereof — might distract boys.

In March, over 500 students at Haven Middle School in Evanston, Illinois, signed a petition opposing what they’d been told was a full ban on leggings and yoga pants.

Seventh grader Sophie Hasty explained to local news that teachers said the clothing was distracting for other students — rather, the boys. “We just want to be comfortable!” Hasty wrote to the Evanston Review.

Students at Wauwatosa West High School in Wisconsin want to wear short shorts. “They are just legs,”  sophomore Elizabeth Kniffin told the local TV news. “Is that really too distracting? I understand that girls shouldn’t be coming to school with their butts or chests hanging out, but there has to be a happy medium.”

About Joanne


  1. There is a simple solution that would solve several other problems at the same time….go back to single sex schools.

  2. Ruth Joy says:

    Even then,though,you need a dress code.

  3. SuperSub says:

    Our suburban district has a relatively benign dress code. No bare midriffs or underwear, no spaghetti straps or muscle shirts, no ridiculously short shorts or cleavage.

    And it fails, horribly. When I worked at our middle school, right when it began to warm up, a team of teachers, the principal, and nurse would stand right in the lobby and corral dress code violators right into the office (male and female) for them to call parents.

    About 1 of 5 parents would apologize and bring in a change of clothes. The others would refuse to bring in clothes, refuse to take their student home, and would tell the school to deal with it. The school, faced with either putting 30 dress code violators constantly in internal suspension or letting them go, let them go.

    Ditto on cell phones. I’ve heard parents state that if the school confiscates a cell phone for repeated use in class, even for just a day, they’ll just go buy another for their child.

    Contrary to what some may think, schools have little power to enforce cultural standards. Whatever power they had was as a proxy for the parents, and a school cannot stand against parents.

    • cranberry says:

      I feel dress codes measure the school administration. We found our local, affluent, suburban district to be lax about dress code enforcement, due to _parental_ entitled behavior. Enforcing the existing dress code would bring public parental complaints; one parent complained in public about the school requiring students to remove hats indoors. Now, it not only violated the dress code, wearing hats indoors is not a good habit for a young person to develop, that is, if that young person wants to be employed one day.

      In comparison, the private schools have clear, reasonable dress codes, which are enforced. At the day schools, they receive demerits, and/or the parents are called. Sometimes the students must wear the dress-code compliant, dorky shirts the nurses have on hand. At the boarding schools, the students get demerits. They may get work details, if they accumulate enough demerits. They may miss class time, because they must return to their rooms to change. Most dress code violators start adhering to the dress code, especially once they realize their (college-focused) peers find them to be silly idiots rather than leaders for their antics.

      Some students perfect the art of skirting the edges of the code (pun intended.) Some enjoy repeated conversations with the Dean of Students. At some point, though, they knock it off, as long as they’re happy at the school, because they are aware of the opportunities the schools offer them–and they are aware of how much their parents are sacrificing.

      I have no sympathy for the girls who want to show off their bods. Sorry, it is distracting to their fellow students. It is a form of female competition, and the wealthier the family, the more the girls love to compete. Boys and girls deserve appropriately clothed fellow students. One way to deal with the problem would be to send the dress code violators to gender-segregated internal suspension. First time: dorky t-shirt, in a really large size. Second time: t-shirt, and stay after school. Third time: internal suspension, without members of the opposite sex in the room, but with dorky t-shirt.

      • SuperSub says:

        Your contrast of affluent public vs private schools demonstrates why it’s not just an issue with the administration. If the public school followed the dress code as it was written, the district administration would be flooded with complaints and the school board would likely be forced to change the policy.
        On the other hand, private schools have parents who place the reputation and success of the school at such a high level that they will pay extra to send their children there, and in the case of a truly rebellious student, they’ll be expelled.

        Public school parents are able to control the school administration through the school board. Private school administrators are able to control parents through the threat of expulsion.

  4. Modesty–in dress but not just in dress–is not a concept readily understood in late modernity.

  5. “Not distracting the boys” is not really a good rationale for a girls’ dress code. It would probably be fairer and easier to talk about school being a serious place and students dressing in a semi-professional manner, like the developing adults that they are supposed to be.

  6. palisadesk says:

    We have very little trouble with enforcement of the dress code — actually, a *uniform* requirement, which is more restrictive than a dress code — in our large, low-SES K-8 school. Kindergartners are exempt, but grades 1-8 must be in uniform. These need not be purchased from a uniform supplier, but the requirement is for white shirts with collars and sleeves, no logos, for both boys and girls; navy/dark blue pants (no jeans or track pants), navy vest or pullover (no hoodies). It’s a pretty unisex look but we have a few Muslim girls who wear a long navy skirt that comes to mid-calf length. Shorts and T-shirts are not permitted except for gym.

    Violators are given a warning the first time, after that will be sent home or sit in the office until picked up, though sometimes we have on hand some extra shirts or slacks that the child can wear for the day..

    Do parents complain? Maybe, but their complaints won’t have much effect, because the parents were the ones who lobbied for a uniform in the first place and it passed by a healthy majority vote of the parents community and no effort has been made to rescind it; it has real safety implications (intruders are easily spotted, both inside and out), and it keeps costs down and minimizes competition in dress and fashion fads.

    Parents who complain to their school board representative will be told that they can choose to go to another school. However, many of our neighbor elementaries also have uniform dress codes.

    Consistent enforcement, especially at the beginning of the school year, has meant there is very little problem with it. Perhaps because it *is* so cut-and-dried, it is easier to enforce. Of the past 5 K-8 schools I’ve been in, 3 had (and still have) uniforms, whereas the other two had “dress codes” — and those WERE always being tested by those who loved to push the boundaries.

    With the uniform, you’re either wearing a white shirt with a collar and sleeves or you’re not. Not much wiggle room there;-)

    Now, secondary might be a whole different story. One of our neighboring high schools just voted to have a uniform requirement but I haven’t heard how that has worked out (or maybe it is to start in September).

  7. How about going to school uniforms, that would solve a large amount of the issues in question. Wait a minute, this would make too much sense 🙂


  8. cranberry says:

    Supersub, I have never heard of a student being expelled over dress code violations. Never. Now, a student who pushes the envelope in one matter might do the same in other areas. Much of the time, though, they can be terribly earnest about the Meaning and Implications of dress codes.

    The private schools I am most familiar with are schools parents and students choose. There are involved application processes, with tests, interviews, essays, etc. Most students apply to several schools. It is not uncommon for students to refuse to look at schools, due to dress codes. Some schools are very proud to have no dress code.

    Choosing the school community makes an enormous difference in how one perceives the community’s rules. It’s easier to follow rules you knew about before applying, than to follow rules imposed by others without consent.

  9. We have no trouble with short shorts, that is not the style. The trouble is with the dresses and skirt/blouse ensembles that are obviously for clubbing or stripping. The parents must agree to it, bc their children wear these type of outfits to graduation as well as the normal school day.