For my Catalyst Conference project, my first intuition was to use the project to get back at my middle school principal, who once dress coded me while I was playing ultimate frisbee because my cropped sweatshirt had risen up. I was so mad that I had been dress coded. She told me to cover up and I had to leave the game I was enjoying. In my middle school, and middle schools and high schools across the country across the United States, students are constantly being told to “cover up” their bodies so that their male constituents will not be “distracted”. There are stories across the news:
- 12 y/o forced to quit chess tournament over ‘seductive’ dress
- Walker High senior threatened with expulsion over hair length
- Students in Hawaii Are Furious Over “Discriminating and Insulting” Prom Dress Code
Unfortunately, these are hardly difficult to find. Students are often pulled out of class and told to change, not only taking away their education but telling these young students that their education is second to that of others.
So, for my local source interview, I sat down for a meeting with the head of my high school. Along with being an administrator, she is a former teacher and a mother of two. Her stance on dress codes in school is pretty simple and liberal. She referred me to this Oregon NOW Model Dress Code created by the National Organization of Women, a progressive outline of dress code regulations I think to be equal and sufficient.
The interview went very well. Aline, the head of school, held a very similar approach to dress codes as I do: Dress for the task at hand.
As we were nearing the end of the interview, I asked one last question: Do you think that you, as a woman, are held to a higher standard in terms of appearance than your male constituents?
Her reply was this: I do not think that I am held to a higher standard than others in the administration, but I do think that I spend more time thinking about it.
Her answer struck me as very interesting. Appearances are things that I think most people think about. How do we appear to the rest of the world? But Aline suggested that while she didn’t feel compelled to dress nicer then everyone, she definitely spent more time questioning if her outfit would be appropriate.
This response caused me to expand the scope of my project. Instead of looking solely inside schools, I decided to look at dress codes in a larger and more social contexts: the expectations of appearance and expression that are not talked about, that go without being said.
Attire in My Community
Because this is an issue that affects many in my community, I asked a few friends why they chose what they were wearing that day. Here’s some of their responces:
The history of enforced dress codes dates back centuries and can be found as early as the 4th century BCE with the γυναικονόμοι, (“controllers of women”) that controlled women’s attire in Ancient Greece. Throughout history, dress codes have been implemented to curb the individual’s right to self-expression and to reinforce traditional gender roles. This article and this article include more comprehensive timelines of dress codes throughout history. Through this project, I hope to research the history of restricting self-expression, from it’s historical uses to the current day enforcements that take form in schools and shopping malls.
A Study: Pinterest
To look at some of the unwritten expectations of dress, I went to a site that I visited often during middle school to get my inspiration: Pinterest. Here are the links to three categories of dress: “Streetwear“, “School Outfits“, and “Work Attire“. Please note that this is the exact thing that I plugged into Google. The majority of the images are catered towards women or those wearing “feminine” clothing. While there are definite expectations for men or those who dress “masculine” to look a certain way, I have found in my research that most of the expectations lay on females. Please look at these links and see for yourself what expectations are so easily found.
The Role of Body Shaming in Our Society
The next part of dress code enforcement that I looked at was the discrepancy between the implementation of dress codes on different body types. This can be seen in many situations. Unequal enforcement occurs with bustier girls when their cleavage is considered “inappropriate”. A Huffington Post article, written by Kristin Houghton, gave some great examples. In the article, titled “Dress Code Discrimination: Different Figure, Different Rules?”, Houghton gives the example of the 2010 controversy with Lane Bryant and Ashley Graham. Ashley Graham, a well-known “plus-size” model, posed in fancy underwear for this shoot, something not uncommon for models in the industry. “The lacy bra Ashley was wearing showed the same amount of cleavage as models in Victoria Secret ads promoting add-a-cup push-up bras — not a big difference in what the French call ‘décolletage'” Houghton writes. Because of her fuller figure, “The networks said they would only run the Lane Bryant ads after 9 pm at night even though it was standard to see commercials for Victoria’s Secret (featuring thinner models in similarly skimpy attire) in earlier time slots”. It was interesting to see this difference in discrimination that occurs all the time.
So, What To Do About It?
So, obviously, there are some problems here that aren’t so easily fixed. That being said, these are some of the tips I have gathered through my research and conversations that might help to raise awareness of the situation.
The Oregon NOW Model Student Dress Code is a great resource for schools and workplaces. This model creates a safe space where freedom of expression is allowed and celebrated, while the norms of a school/workplace are held.
What I’m Doing About It
Right now, I am in the process of reaching out to schools in my Portland school district to try to get them to implement the Oregon Now Model. I have found that this model is the best example I have found so far of an all-inclusive, gender neutral dress code that will not take away from students education while creating a safe and respectful school environment between students. teachers. and administrators. The head of my school is already in the process of implementing the general ideals presented in the Oregon Now Model. I believe that this dress code is a great model for not only schools but workplaces as well.
So, In Reflection
This project has been really eye-opening to me, just thinking about the ways in which I cater my attire to the situations I am in and the people around me, especially school environments. I want to further research the problems of dress code enforcement and unfair dress codes in schools by continuing to reach out the school administrators around me and work with them to find a better solution to pulling students out of class and making them change. Schools ad workplaces should be safe places where students are allowed their freedom of expression while maintaining a positive working environment.
Kumar, Kamles. “12-Year-Old Forced to Quit Chess Tournament over ‘Seductive’ Dress | Malay Mail.” Malaysia | Malay Mail, Malay Mail, 28 Apr. 2017, www.malaymail.com/s/1366231/12-year-old-forced-to-quit-chess-tournament-over-seductive-dress.
Grueskin, Caroline. “Walker High Senior Threatened with Expulsion over Hair Length Turns to Social Media to Fight Back.” The Advocate, 28 Mar. 2018, www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/communities/livingston_tangipahoa/article_4d767452-32c7-11e8-b9dc-bf2af1a512ae.html.
Ballard, Jamie. “People Are Furious Over ‘Discriminating and Insulting’ Prom Dress Code.” Good Housekeeping, Good Housekeeping, 21 Mar. 2018, www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/news/a48204/prom-dress-code-protest/.
Bond, Sarah. “What Not To Wear: A Short History Of Regulating Female Dress From Ancient Sparta To The Burkini.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 31 Aug. 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/drsarahbond/2016/08/31/a-short-history-of-regulating-female-dress/.
Redferd, Corrine. “Timeline of Dress Codes: History of Men Telling Women What to Wear.” Marie Claire, Marie Claire, 9 Sept. 2016, www.marieclaire.co.uk/reports/timeline-of-dress-codes-men-telling-women-what-to-wear-295043.
Houghton, Kristen. “One Size Doesn’t Fit All When It Comes to Office Dress Codes.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Feb. 2012, www.huffingtonpost.com/kristen-houghton/dress-code-discrimination_b_1173582.html.
Lahiri, Shoma Chaudhury, and Sarbani Bandyopadhyay. “Dressing the Feminine Body.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 47, no. 46, 2012, pp. 20–24. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41720373.
Yuracko, Kimberly A. “SOUL OF A WOMAN: THE SEX STEREOTYPING PROHIBITION AT WORK.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review, vol. 161, no. 3, 2013, pp. 757–805. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23527821.
Podgers, James. “What to Wear: Courts Agree on Principle of School Dress Codes, Disagree on Their Reach.” ABA Journal, vol. 81, no. 11, 1995, pp. 60–63. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27837392.
McCombs, Emily, “Sexist School Dress Codes Are A Problem, And Oregon May Have The Answer.” HuffPost UK. N. p., 2017. Web. 21 Mar. 2018.