Are School Dress Codes Fair?

Dress code controversies are in the headlines—violations, protests, even arrests! Are our bodies distracting others? Or maybe clothing standards are just part of growing up? 

Once on a marching band trip, one of my classmates showed up wearing a shirt with a Confederate flag on it. I remember feeling uneasy contemplating the views that this person had—it seemed like they were promoting hate. The band director wasn’t allowed to tell the student to change their shirt because our school’s dress code doesn’t cover flag T-shirts, so she asked all of us to put on our uniforms instead. It was an awkward situation that made many of us feel anxious. If a student is wearing something that makes their peers feel uncomfortable or unsafe, teachers should be able to say something about it—and a dress code gives them the justification they need to do just that.

I’m the first to admit that dress code rules have gotten way out of hand lately. We should be allowed to express ourselves within reason, and I don’t think we should be punished with detention or sent home for a one-time offense. Sometimes kids just make a mistake or don’t realize that what they’re wearing isn’t exactly appropriate for school. That’s OK.

What’s not OK is when a student intentionally wears something that is super revealing or promotes hate or violence. In those instances, a teacher needs to be able to refer to a dress code so they don’t waste time pondering which kinds of clothing are unacceptable or the best methods of handling the situation. After all, they’re busy and they want to resolve the situation as quickly as possible so students can get back to learning. Honestly, I even think school uniforms can be helpful because they prevent kids from wearing improper clothing—and they also make it less likely that someone will get bullied for what they’re wearing. So many students get made fun of for what they wear when what they’re wearing might be all they can afford. Uniforms could make this problem irrelevant.

Dress policies exist for a reason: to make education a priority for all students. A written code, enforced fairly, ensures that we are treated equally. 

I go to a performing arts school where there is no dress code, so students get to express their style through fashion. Our outfits are never considered distracting— they’re more like inspiration for other kids to step out of their comfort zones and express themselves as well. From fluffy tank tops to vibrant track pants, we’re free to wear what we want with no judgment from teachers or administrators. It’s a welcoming, creative environment that makes everyone feel accepted. I don’t want a uniform or a dress code that sets limits on what I can wear; that would make me feel bland and robotic. Instead, I relish the chance to reveal my individuality through my clothing.

In addition to suppressing our personalities, a dress code could also be unintentionally sexist by making girls worry more about modesty than boys have to. How is it fair to make girls cater their outfits to the way boys might react? Personally, I love picking out what I want to wear without worrying about whether my clothes will be deemed distracting—and I firmly believe that all high school students should experience that freedom. Our society has finally started encouraging people to embrace their bodies, and we should celebrate that by letting both boys and girls wear whatever clothing feels right.

Besides, are boys really going to be that bothered by girls’ clothes? I think they’re probably used to it by now—after all, people in the real world wear crazy things to show off their uniqueness all the time! We won’t be able to ask others not to wear certain clothes around us when we’re older anyway, so we might as well learn to deal with it now.

Fashion should be a safe way for teens to channel their creativity and explore their interests, rather than something that makes them feel bad about themselves. I’m happy to see so many students speaking up about these unfair rules in their schools—and I hope they don’t stop until we’ve eliminated dress codes once and for all. 

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