Examining the Dresscode: Does it Treat Everyone Fairly?
This strange school year has brought about many changes to the Saints community. One change that students and teachers alike seem to enjoy is not having a dress code. Students are able to dress comfortably and express themselves in ways that the previous dress code restricted. Students also do not have to worry about being called out for breaking the dress code, which is an experience many describe as being humiliating and uncomfortable.
Whether or not there will be a dress code next year and the years to follow is unknown. A dress code of some kind is likely, but could it be more relaxed than it’s been in the past? “I think this year we’ve proven that without a dress code, students can still make positive clothing choices” says Dean of Students, Ms. McGuire. Ms. McGuire explained that even though this year has been fine without a dress code, as things go back to normal, the dress code will most likely follow suit. She says that, “even though people have begged to go back to school, there will be some drawbacks.”
This year, students can be seen wearing a variety of different clothing ranging from pajamas to skirts. “It’s nice to just be able to throw on anything and wear whatever you want,” says junior, Lindsay Howard. “Personally I like to get more creative with what I wear but it’s also nice to be able to wear sweatpants to school now.”
There is a lot less emphasis on looking presentable and more of a focus on comfort as we are all navigating the effects of a global pandemic. This takes a lot of stress out of getting ready for school. “I think it’s so much easier to find clothing in the morning or the night before,” freshman, Madi Sandy states. She also expressed that in the past she used to worry a lot more about finding clothes that fit the dress code. For example she described how it can be difficult to find skirts that are the right length.
Finding clothes that fit the dress code can be particularly difficult for girls who are tall or curvy. “I think if you’re curvier things fit in such a way that you could have on the same skirt or pants (as someone else) and it’s like exaggerated visibility,” says Director of Equity and Diversity Ms. Davis. “If someone is 6’7 and everyone else is 5’10, you’re going to see them first and if the norm is not curvy you’re going to see that. You might look at a thinner person with leggings on and might not feel like that is not as inappropriate as someone with a bigger bum or rear. It’s unfortunate because I don’t think it’s intentional; it just has a lot to do with implicit biases and what we expect to see and there’s: ‘I don’t think you should wear that if you’re a certain size’.”
Senior and Woman’s affinity member, Ana Bach says “the girls definitely have more restrictions than the boys and I think those restrictions come from a place of sexism. For girls the dress code is so specific about certain things.” Ana goes on to explain how the dress code essentially teaches girls that in order to be presentable they have “cover-up.” Looking at the “dress code photo album,” it’s evident that most of the rules are targeted towards girls.
On a similar note, senior Amy Gastright describes the dress code as, “unfair to everyone in the school. In the dresscode’s eyes you’re either male or female. For the females, you’re expected to look tidy and domestic and homely because- if god forbid- anyone saw a glimpse of your collarbone or your shoulders, they could become ‘distracted’ and their education could be put in jeopardy which is disgusting beyond measure because that takes your own agency and your own education out of your hands and places it in the hands of others.”
In an anonymous survey sent out to Upper School students, one question asked whether or not they thought having a dress code can prevent people from becoming distracted. Out of the 85 student replies, 73.8% said no, 16.7% said maybe, 3.6% yes, and the remaining survey takers replied with their own answers. One student wrote, “People wearing non-school sweatshirts is not distracting, but girls wearing bras as shirts is so unseemly for the school which makes it distracting for everyone.” Some students further elaborated on their answers to the question. “Distracted is another stupid and sexist word used when men can't keep it in their pants. If someone is wearing a crop top, or spaghetti straps, it is not their issue that the people around them cannot keep it together when they see a girl literally just living her life,” wrote one student. A male student answered, “This is my first year but I have heard from friends that girls have to have shoulders covered up. I think it is a little distracting because some girls try to make it apparent they are trying to look a certain way.”
The idea of female bodies being a “distraction” to their male counterparts is a very controversial idea. As Amy and the survey respondent described, this idea is extremely “sexist” and “disgusting” to many. Many girls feel sexualized and objectified by the dress code. They don’t think it’s fair to blame girls for dressing how they’d like, rather it’s an issue of boys and adults sexualizing the female body. “If we show off our body or shoulders or an inch of our stomach even, we’re distracting to men’s education and their learning experience,” says Lindsay Howard. “I think that’s a terrible message to send to young girls: that they’re bodies are only viewed as a ‘pleasure source.’ Overall (the dress code) is kind of a sexist institution.”
“I think it’s harder for girls to be in the traditional, feminine clothing that we’re expected to wear and to find clothes that fit,” says Chemistry teacher, Ms. Oaks. “I don’t know if the dresscode is the problem or if it’s the way we as a society view and sexualize girls.”
The 2019-2020 dress code allowed leggings but not joggers or sweatpants. Blue jeans and ripped jeans were prohibited, but colored jeans were acceptable. Skirts and shorts had to be “thumb length or longer” and athletic shorts were not allowed. Graphic tees were not allowed and, although this is not included in the “dress code photo album,” wearing cropped tops was a dress code violation. Shirt straps had to be one inch or wider and no sleeveless tops. Lastly, flip-flops, slides, dirty sneakers, and slippers were not allowed.