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Stifling creativity and perpetuating misogynistic culture: Dress codes only go so far

Dear Abbey

By Abbey Gingras, News Editor

I was 12 the first and only time I got in trouble in school.

It was sixth grade graduation, the pinnacle of my elementary school social calendar. The transition from childhood to adulthood (read: middle school). I had been preparing for the event for weeks - I bought a new dress and new shoes. I borrowed my mother's jewelry. My moment was finally here.

My teacher called my classmates and I to attention and told us it was finally time to begin. The room was stifling - an unseasonably hot May evening in a gymnasium without air conditioning. We were about to walk onstage as I discarded my unnecessary cardigan in the corner before I stepped out from behind the curtain.

The next day, I was in the principal's office for breaking dress code. I missed all my classes that day and had to write about my egregious crime - wearing a dress with straps that were only two fingers wide rather than three.

For a type A child who cried the first time she got a B in a class, this punishment was devastating. My pristine record was forever tarnished.

This is what dress codes do to kids, especially girls. And this unnecessary judging isn't left behind in the hallways of elementary and high schools.

Just this week, Fox News brought three adult women onto the air who were all wearing leggings. A panel of men then judged whether the women were dressed appropriately. One panelist said, in his house, "if it's not worn in the monastery, it's not worn out on the street."

Why is this news? Why are these men granted authority to discredit women's appearances?

Whether I'm wearing a strapless dress or shorts that are shorter than my fingertips does not change my character. These measurements don't show my intelligence, personality or values.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of public schools in the United States have a dress code of some sort. That means there are millions of students across America who are being shamed for their clothing choices.

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I'm not against rules for attire. Dressing appropriately for certain occasions can and should be enforced. But there's a distinct difference between an office requiring business casual clothing for professionalism and making girls line up in hallways with their hands at their sides to judge "appropriate" shorts length.

Rather than creating superfluous rules that shame girls for wearing shorts and tank tops when the weather is hot, why not encourage students to express themselves? To wear clothing they feel comfortable in? To respect their classmates for their clothing choices?

Dress codes create more problems than solutions, and they promote a misogynistic culture that begins in elementary school and carries on throughout life.

Miami doesn't have a dress code. I've never been asked to leave class for wearing my Nike running shorts or a Comfort Colors tank top. Shockingly, I haven't failed out of college and my classmates haven't fainted at the sight of my shoulders.

Without dress codes, I'm able to dress comfortably for the weather and wear clothing that represents my personal style. This isn't harmful to me or anyone around me.

After the infamous dress-gate of sixth grade, I endured many more years of dress codes. My high school years were marked with days of standing in homeroom so my teacher could inspect my shorts length. Apparently, wanting to wear shorts in a building without air conditioning - that reached nearly 100 degrees on many days - was not an excuse.

It's 2015, and it's time we move past the outdated dress expectations of the past and instead teach students to dress in clothing that expresses who they are - regardless of length or material - and to respect one another.

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