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The issue of the vast and sometimes exhaustive list of dress code policies of what cannot be worn has not had any resolution across localities and countries.
The problem with trying to develop a set of guidelines for school dress code policies is that the implementation or restriction of dress is just not about the clothes that kids wear. Dress code policies are mired in larger contested debates that have to do with gender identity, race and sexuality, reflective of a broader public discourse .
The infractions for noncompliance exacerbate the shaming of girls’ self-perception of their worth. And yet it points to the basic assumption that girls’ bodies are shameful — something that is to be covered, evaluated or objectified.
And when their bodies are not covered, it supposedly sends a clear message that girls are at fault should something wrongful be done to them; they somehow deserved such a fate.
This narrative, whether intended or not, plays to the broader social movements beyond simply that of dress codes. Dress code policies mask broader issues such as one’s right to their own bodies.
Dress codes minimize the increasing public outcries over sexual harassment and assault that have been made so public with the explosion of the #MeToo movement. Conversations around issues of systemic racism or discrimination are also further cloaked.
If schools are going to remove this shackle of the perpetual dress code wars in schools, let educators and policymakers call it for what it is – a diversion behind the more significant public issues that remain intensely contested and vociferous.
If educators and policymakers are genuinely worried about the safety of their students or the decorum of dress codes, schools could simply follow the steps of one school administrator from Evanston Township High School in Illinois. The high school’s fundamental “rule” mandated that certain body parts must be covered for all students at all times. Specifically, students must wear their clothes in a way that fully covers their genitals, buttocks, breasts and nipples with opaque fabric.
Such a simple yet inevitably provocative dress code policy removes the broader contested aspects of gender, sexual identity, faith or systemic discrimination.
If society is concerned about cultivating students’ attentiveness regarding etiquette and decorum in light of our community values, let’s make space in schools to discuss the root of these issues through meaningful political dialogue rather than using dress codes to obscure and cloak the more pressing and substantive issues.