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10. 21. 22

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I am strutting down the linoleum-tiled hallway of my highschool, feeling confident in the new baggy jeans I thrifted and my favorite crop top, when all of a sudden a tap on my shoulder and a quick “find something to cover up your midriff or go home” stops me in my tracks. My once self-assured stride dissolves into an embarrassed shuffle as I awkwardly hunch over to cover the two inches of exposed stomach that sent my dean into a frenzy. How does what I’m wearing have anything to do with the education of myself and those around me?

The first school dress code law was established in 1969 by the US Supreme Court in response to a group of students who wore black armbands to school in a planned protest against the Vietnam War. Ever since, dress codes have evolved to serve the agendas of the educational institutions that enforce them. Whether it be strict adherence to a school uniform or sexist regulation of a school girl’s jean short inseam, dress codes have continued to be a fundamental part of many schools’ rule books. Many institutions claim to enforce these often-antiquated dress codes as necessary to the success of the academic environment. Hampton University in Virginia claims that their dress code “better prepares students for the standards of the real world.” But one must beg the question: How relevant are these claims in today’s working experience? Remote work uniforms and increasingly relaxed wardrobes have been the norm in a post-pandemic workplace setting, leaving students to wonder how we actually benefit from these dress codes.

As it is with most institutions, what do these schools and districts stand to gain monetarily from the dress codes? On the more extreme end of the dress code spectrum, we have school uniforms. Many private schools, and an increasing number of public schools, enforce school uniforms. In addition to limiting student expression, these uniforms can cost around $25- $200 per outfit, and often can be bought from the schools themselves- as an additional cost to regular tuition. Other school districts enforce a dress code but do not provide the clothes themselves,which forces many students to go to stores like JCPenney and Old Navy. These stores see a ‘uniform-boost’- gaining lots of business from these outdated rules that dictate what students can wear in the classroom.

As students at a university that allows us to choose how we dress, it is fascinating to examine how the way we were taught to dress at a young age continues to influence our self-expression. Being told that our exposed shoulders, stomach, or legs make it difficult for others to focus in the classroom can become ingrained in our belief system throughout those formative years. Not only does this condition students to restrict their individuality and self-expression, but it also implies that the sexualization of young female bodies is fixed within our education system.

Surely many of us have heard the phrase, “look good, feel good.” But how does this phrase really apply to the outfits we choose to wear to school and how we learn throughout the day? Much of it lies within one simple explanation: confidence. Take it from someone who had her mom blowout her hair before taking the ACT so she would feel good- confidence can be everything in academic environments. Regulating student’s confidence by means of their clothing can only have negative effects in the classroom.

Academic institutions must re-evaluate whether dress codes are still relevant to our learning experience, and how damaging they can be for self-confidence and self-expression. Educational environments should be spaces for fostering growth and personal style, not constrictive places of rules and regulations. There aren't many avenues to show off personal style at school. Class periods and class choices are regulated, tests are standardized, and most students are just trying to get through the day. School dress codes further limit the already suffocating bonds of student expression, in a world where dress codes have no significant purpose.

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