Dress code Crossfire: Is the dress code justified?
April 15, 2016
Clothing shouldn’t have to defy dress codes for you to be confident and secure, people shouldn’t feel the need to wear what they see on magazine covers to feel comfortable with their bodies. Stacy London, professional stylist and host from TLC’s What Not To Wear, stated: “Your self-esteem won’t come from body parts. You need to step away from the mirror every once in awhile, and look for another reflection, like the one in the eyes of the people who love you and admire you.”
Dress affects one’s ideas about the self (attitudes, values, beliefs) as well as self-directed behaviors. For example, according to researchers Nancy Rudd and Sharron Lennon, believing that one’s body is in any way unacceptable to others can motivate individuals to engage in risky body modification behaviors in an attempt to achieve an acceptable body shape or size. This psychologically explained idea is especially prominent in women; so while some may wonder why women seem to have a more detailed dress code, they should also wonder why the woman is dressing the way she is. This isn’t to send all women under an umbrella, and this isn’t implying that all women who wear shorter skirts or lower tops are attempting to sway others’ feelings. According to Medical Daily in 2014, 54 percent of women ages 18-40 were unhappy with their bodies, which can lead us to believe that they may “engage in body modifications” which can include clothing that reveals more or gives the illusion that more is revealed.
A dress code for women is not to keep from “distracting men,” contrary to popular belief, but rather to encourage women to not feel the need to change their image, or show more skin, just to feel better about their bodies. Women should dress for their bodies and not for society. In my opinion, when women develop a style that is both fashionable, and most ideal for their unique body type, they feel more comfortable and confident in everyday life.
Concerning the idea that a dress code for women is solely to “protect” men, is preposterous. It’s just as distracting for any other woman. According to CBS News, in 2013 a study was conducted that found that “the women were just as guilty of the ‘objectifying gaze’ as their male peers.” Using eye-tracking technology, psychologists Sarah Gervais stated, “We do have a slightly different pattern for men than women, but when we looked at their overall dwell times-how long they focused on each body part-we find the exact same effects for both groups. Women, we think, do it often for social comparison purposes.”
A dress code is set into place for all people, and in the school environment, this is necessary. The purpose of school, whether you like it or not, is not to “express yourself” or even to find friends (while important and healthy, that’s not the reason why a student attends school). The end purpose of school is to learn and prepare for the future and/or college, and everything else is an added bonus. If someone’s dress is distracting anyone from their learning, then yes, that person’s dress should be addressed and dealt with appropriately.
Because one of high school’s main purposes is to prepare for both college and the workforce, a dress code is necessary. This simple psychology can be explained through a 1990 study, where researcher Mary Lynn Damhorst, conducted an analysis of 109 impression formation studies to determine the kind of information that was communicated by dress. She found that in the majority of the studies 81 percent of the content information communicated by dress was competence, power, or intelligence; and in nearly 67 percent, the messages were about character, sociability, and mood. Dress affects opinion, a fact that we’re never going to break away from. Even though people shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover,” doesn’t really change the fact that they do. School is attempting to train us for these facts in life, and teach us how to dress with confidence and style, while still being professional.
It can be argued that some high schools actually take dress code too far. In some public high schools across the United States, males are not allowed to have sideburns that come below their earlobes, facial hair of any kind, as well as hair past the base of their neck. In other instances, women had to wear long pants in 100 degree heat with no air conditioning. Even though a dress code is necessary and important, doesn’t mean it is never taken out of context, over exaggerated, or biased.
According to the SHS school handbook, “student dress needs to convey respect for self and others,” leaving the question, “how does one convey respect?” The matter of appropriateness has complete versatility in it’s meaning; each and every person will have a different opinion that cannot apply to all others. In dress code, inevitably, bias overtakes rationality; gender, popularity, family name, extracurricular activity participation, height, body type and personality are all determining factors in the overwhelming prejudice that surrounds dress codes. As undefined standards invade dress codes many places, including SHS’s, it’s clear that examination is necessary.
Schools across the United States have repeatedly made open claims that the purpose of the given dress codes are to remove the academic distraction of students, especially male students. This has the obvious potential to teach sexist values and has been stigmatized with dress codes. While statements such as these are not encouraged regularly at SHS, sexist values are still being inadvertently instilled. It is a constant distraction to the student body as a whole to have their classmates singled out, removed from class and sent to the office to change or sent home. Those are best case scenarios, and it has been commonly reported, most likely by students, that teachers overstep their boundaries and, whether intentional or not, end up belittling and embarrassing students. In the process this destroys students’ safe learning environment, thus defeating the entire supposed purpose of a dress code. Nowhere in the student handbook does it state how teachers should proceed when a dress code violation occurs, leaving students virtually unprepared for how to recognize the difference between the appropriate and inappropriate behavior of their authority figures. Manner of dress is an extremely sensitive topic. Teens are at a critical point in their mental and emotional development, being sexualized and objectified while also being insulted by an authority figure can cause serious damage to that development. Is the benefit of a dress code such as SHS’s outweighing it’s ever growing cost?
I have found that the largest contradiction of policy in the SHS handbook is volleyball. While the handbook states that shorts and skirts must be no shorter than mid-thigh length, volleyball players have continuously worn spandex that have an average inseam of only 2.5 inches which is much shorter than mid-thigh range. The players are photographed throughout the newspaper, yearbook, and in several other publications throughout the community, yet they are not deemed disrespectful to themselves or others. Understandably, spandex provides maximum range of motion and benefit the players. The spandex, however, still does not follow the school dress code, but little is said or done about this.
High school’s purpose is to prepare students in a semi-realistic environment to be prepared for real everyday life. I suggest that instead of teaching students that they should judge by appearance and take fault in other people’s rightful decisions, teachers and school authorities should be teaching acceptance. A person that can accept difference in choice and difference in opinion will go further than a student who is stuck at a superficial level. Preparing students to learn in uncomfortable situations, is without a doubt more beneficial than providing optimal conditions for learning at the equal expense of a large portion of the student body. There is a need for a dress code, yes, but the policies in place exhibit sexism and other serious flaws, while also leaving far too much margin for error. If uniformity is the goal, uniforms should be set in place. However, uniformity is and will always be an impossible feat that should not be encouraged in a learning environment. A completely new policy should be constructed, one that is nondiscriminatory and inoffensive.