Debate: Are School Dress Codes Sexist?

Which side are you on? Can clothing—like leggings—really compromise students' ability to learn?

Stacy Baker

Last March, middle schoolers in Evanston, Illinois, protested a ban on leggings and yoga pants, which female students say they were told are “too distracting” to boys. So we were wondering: Can clothes really compromise your ability to learn? And does enforcing dress codes inadvertently favor boys—and shame girls? Two teens weigh in.


  YES:    Dress codes are unfair to girls—and underestimate boys' maturity.

The idea that a visible bra strap or a pair of leggings will prevent a teen boy from learning is absurd to me. And I should know, I’m a teen boy! It suggests that a school’s priority is to create an ideal learning environment for males, while ignoring factors that may help females learn. (For example, a girl might want to wear leggings to be comfortable in class.)

The worst part is by calling a girl’s clothing “distracting,” you imply that she is responsible for any disruptions. That’s like saying that because a store has a cash register, it’s the store’s fault if it gets robbed! So stop and ask yourself which is more distracting: a girl’s outfit, or a rule that makes her uncomfortable at school?

A truly ideal learning environment is one where we are all taught to respect each other—regardless of our clothing choices.

Jackson Brook, 16, a high school senior in Palo Alto, CA

  NO:   Dress codes are simply rules that prepare you for the working world.

Girls in my school often complain about not being able to wear tank tops or yoga pants, but does that mean dress codes are sexist? No! While they often focus more on girls’ clothes rather than boys’, that’s just because girls have more clothing options—which include more revealing choices too.

Dress codes should be simple: Everyone has to wear clothes that cover the same areas. Shirts should cover shoulders, shorts should reach the knees, and so on. It’s not misogynistic to enforce that code for girls if you require the same of boys!

I believe in the right to express yourself, and fashion is a good way to do so. But high school is also the training ground for real life. Many jobs have dress codes, and you must comply. There is plenty of time to wear what you want outside of school and work!

Ally Del Monte, 16, a high school senior from New Milford, CT

Join the Conversation!

Special thanks to our WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? partner, HuffPost Teen. To debate this topic and others—and to check out more teen writing on the issues that matter to you—head to or follow @HuffPostTeen on Twitter!

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