Dress Code Opinion Piece

Valentina Ayala

Hello West High!

Today I want to talk about the school dress codes in some schools and how they target girls.

In an article from The New York Times, Sophia Trevino (Cobb County, GA) had worn ripped jeans, and a Los Angeles shirt. Her mom had helped her pick it out and asked her friends and they all agreed it looked so cute! But Simpson Middle School did not think it was very appropriate. The next day, as Sophia walked into school, she was asked to put her hands next to her jeans, to measure if the rip in her jeans was lower than her fingertips. It was not at all. 15 other girls and Sophia had been written up before 1st period.

Since then, Sophia and other students at Simpson Middle School have worn t-shirts that denounce dress codes as “sexist” “racist” and “classist.” In a statement, a spokesperson had stated that the dress code “encourages a focus on learning for all 110,000 students in Cobb, not on what students prefer to wear”. She had also added that “the student dress code includes a minimum standard of dress and exists, per the policy, so students dress in a way that is consistent with the formality of the school.” 

Instances like this are in no way unique to Sophia’s school. In 2019, Houston parents laughed at the principals’ “suggestion” on how they should dress when picking their kids up. Many people have said this has to do with racism and classism. White people could go to school and pick their kids up in pajamas and be fine, while people who are not white would be looked at suspiciously. The year before, a girl was removed from her class because she was not wearing a bra. 

In a 2020 study, written by Todd A. Mitchell, a professor at the University of New Hampshire who has been researching the litigation of dress codes in public schools and how they target girls aka making girls “cover up.”

Recently, in 25 New Hampshire public schools, researchers found that the dress codes target girls that need to cover their breasts, cleavage, collarbones, and shoulders. Strapless shirts and tank tops are a no because they are considered “sexy.” Schools believe that female students wear clothing that is “designed to attract attention from other male students.” Sabrina Bernadel at the Nationals Women’s Law Center has stated that dress codes are sexist: “they put the responsibility on girls to not be distracting or not call attention to themselves instead of putting all the responsibility on all students to respect everyone’s body.” 

Sabrina has also said that when it comes to people getting punished for what they are wearing, black and brown girls get written up the most, followed up by black boys then white girls, and then white boys. For black people, it’s not necessarily about what they are wearing, it’s about them developing earlier than other students and, as a result, looking too “grown” or “adult” to administrators. Girls getting dress coded can also provide less instruction time, hindering academic performance. Now when girls, (specifically black girls) get dress coded, it makes them feel ashamed of their body, and like they can’t express themselves in ways that they want to.

According to the Simpson Middle School dress code “all shorts, skirts and dresses must be at fingertip length (meaning when students hold their arms against the sides, their fingertips must still be touching fabric) The code also specifies that there must be no skin exposed above the fingertip.

Sophia had said that her main issue with the dress code is it singles out girls and how it makes them responsible for boys actions: “ In school, they think that the boys are just drooling over our shoulders and thighs. They aren’t. They don’t care. And even if they do, that’s their fault, not ours” says Sophia.

Sophia’s solution to the dress code is simply “shirts, bottom, and shoes”. She hopes that the dress code can change and be more gender-neutral. Now with this new “policy” the only rule is that it has to cover the groin , buttocks and nipples. Sophia has actually said that her protest and proposed dress code has not received too much backlash and teachers seem to be pretty supportive. She does have to shoot a dirty look to whomever she thinks is judging her. 

So, in conclusion, do you think the dress code is sexist? Racist? Or classist? If you do, you can start to combat this by having conversations with your peers at school, because even seemingly small actions can make a huge difference in the long run.