Dressing to the Code

Katie Sluiter

Nothing riles up the Facebook like someone posting a photo of an unfair dress code “violation,” am I right?

I see a lot of parents–mostly mothers–disgruntled about dress codes, and I understand their frustration. Like them, I get mad when I see posts about girls missing class time because they had a hole in the knee of their jeans or because their collarbone was showing.

I fully agree with the sentiment that it seems that girls are the main target of dress codes and boys are way less affected, and that many of the “regulations” seem to be shaming to girls and absolving to boys. The rules seem to put responsibility on girls to make sure boys are not distracted.

And I totally get the argument that schools are not the place to be telling girls (or boys) how to dress appropriately. I mean, “appropriate” for whom, right? This is a parent’s job. Parents should be guiding their children to make the right choices for them.

I have two sons and a daughter of my own. I want them to know that people are more than their clothes. I want them to feel good in what they wear. I want them to love themselves. I want them to have a strong sense of self-worth and all of that stuff and not to dress for anyone but themselves. I don’t want them to miss class because they are having their shorts measured. My daughter needs to know she is not to blame for a boy’s thoughts just as my boys need to know that a short skirt does not excuse them for anything.

Parents, I hear you and I am on your side!

As much as I would like to rage against the dress code machine, I am also a secondary teacher for grades 8-12. If you could stand in the hall with me between classes just for one day, you would realize why we have to have some sort of code for how kids dress.

One thing that has become painfully evident to me is that many kids don’t have a positive role model at home. They may not even be taught to value and respect themselves at home. Their tastes in clothing – as well as everything else at that age – come from friends and media. I’m not blaming the rap videos for girls coming to school dressed like she is going to be in the new Miley Cyrus video. I’m also not blaming Wiz Khalifa for why boys want to walk around with pants’ waists around their thighs with their boxers showing to everyone. I’m saying that some kids have parents who talk to them about these trends and others do not.

The majority of kids are not dressing inappropriately, but there are some kids who would be happy to push the line of obscene if we didn’t have a dress code. So who decides? And how? We make rules about necklines because we have seen a LOT of boob. Is that okay for school?

And I get that it’s harder for some girls (because there are way more rules for girls than boys, I know).  I’m not small-chested; there are definitely some shirts that would be totally appropriate for teaching on some people that, on me, would look like I was trying to get big tips at Hooters. Tall girls have problems with the “finger tip rule”. I get it. So how do we make a rule? Or are we supposed to let girls walk around with skirts that advertise they aren’t wearing underwear (yes, I’ve seen that happen)? Do we let boys show their underwear to everyone by just holding their pants up when they walk and letting the waist be around their calves (I’ve seen this too)?

I shake my head when I see things posted on social media that make it seem like administration is busy policing hemlines and necklines rather than doing more important things like building relationships with students and making sure quality teaching is taking place. I also understand the administrators not wanting to look like they are picking on certain kids though, thereby “busting” everyone. I get the “safety” of a zero tolerance policy. It takes the subjectivity out of it. But it also takes the common sense out of it.

How are we supposed to teach our kids to make good choices regarding what they wear when we pick on silly things? And yet, where do we draw the line?

I am afraid I don’t have answers.



Dressing to the Code

This post was written by Katie Sluiter exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC.

Just a small town girl…wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a high school English teacher, college adjunct instructor, freelance writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.