How do you feel about dress codes? 

My eleven-year-old started middle school this year. She was apprehensive about the first day, not because she was going to a new school with new teachers and a totally different schedule, but because she was worried about the dress code.

When her older sister attended the same middle school two years ago, she was humiliated by a male teacher for not abiding by dress code. We had just moved and she was new to the school, had a broken arm and was wearing a sleeveless shirt (to fit over the cast).

To help her younger sister avoid the same embarrassing fate, she warned her sister about the middle school dress code, and the strict guidelines. My sixth grader’s fear of being called out for her clothing choices made starting middle school a little nerve wrecking.

I have done my best to buy clothing that is school appropriate, but it’s difficult to find shorts that are long enough for my very tall and thin daughter. Someday she will love being tall and thin, but right now, finding clothes that fit her waist and are long enough for school dress code is a challenge. It seems her only choices are Bermuda shorts or long skirts, neither of which she likes to wear.

Last year, we didn’t struggle with dress code issues because my girls were in elementary and high school. Both schools have a dress code, but do not make a practice of calling kids out and sending them home if they do not conform. There was no looming fear about a teacher noticing hem lines and sleeve length. My kids wore what they wanted and enjoyed school, and it was wonderful.

School dress codes are a problem, because they are inherently sexist. My boys have never had to worry about their pants being too tight or their shirts being too low. They have never had to have the length of their shorts examined by a school teacher or administrator. Dress codes mostly dictate how a female should or shouldn’t dress, implying responsibility for how their clothing makes others feel.

If we want to teach our kids how to be responsible, shouldn’t we start by teaching them ownership for how they treat others? Shouldn’t schools let the parents be responsible for their children’s clothing choices?

An angry mother, who’s daughter was sent home for wearing a tank top, forwarded me this model dress code policy produced by Oregon’s National Organization for Women. It outlines a safe, non-sexist, approach to school dress codes along with guidelines for enforcement. She is in the process of meeting with her child’s school administrators in the hopes of changing the school dress code. I plan to email my school district with a similar request.

How do you feel about your school’s dress code?


Melanie Flake

Melanie Flake

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