"Excuse Me, Young Lady"

“Excuse me young lady” is what one of the deans of discipline would always yell whenever she saw a girl breaking our dress code in high school. And I can guarantee that every time someone heard her say that, their stomachs would drop and their faces would burn in embarrassment. Everyone knew what was about to happen whenever that was said and as someone who did break the dress code, it’s awful. But let me describe our dress code to you.

Girls couldn’t wear shorts, skirts, or dresses that were shorter than where your fingertips would land, plus one inch, on your leg. Rips in jeans would have to be in that same area as well. We weren’t allowed to wear leggings, yoga pants or jeggings, anything that was tight was subject to being called out. You couldn’t see our stomachs, cleavage or underwear and this underwear includes bralettes. Tube tops/dresses, halter tops/dresses, off the shoulder tops/dresses, and spaghetti strap tops/dresses couldn't be worn. Shirts with slits on the side that can expose your chest weren’t allowed either. Pants couldn’t sag and you couldn’t wear anything depicting violence, drugs, alcohol, offensive pictures/language either. Students couldn’t wear hair rollers, bandanas, scarves, hoodies, beanies or wave caps.

This wouldn't be allowed at my high school. I think it looks perfectly fine and not at all offensive. Photo courtesy of Pexels

While I understand some of the dress code, I don’t agree with dress codes at all, especially the ones my high school had, especially when the reality of the dress code included way more than what was listed. I’ve had to deal with dress codes and restrictions on how I can dress for most of my academic career. I went to a private elementary and middle school and I went to a charter high school. I have issues with dress codes because of what they stand for and the type of culture they perpetuate. If we ran an actual study of how many girls were dress coded and how many boys were dress coded, girls would be the ones who were dress coded the most. Why is that? What’s the reason we are the ones who are looked at more?

                                           This wouldn't be allowed in most schools. Photo courtesy of Pexels

The amount of times I’ve heard that girls can’t wear certain things because it’s distracting is absurd. I don’t think it’s fair that girls are the ones that have to change out of their own clothes into school clothes, just to make it easier for guys to learn. We get taken out of class or made late for class and sometimes even sent home because guys can’t control themselves.

Dress codes perpetuate the sexual harassment and rape culture within schools and within society. Dress codes are literal rules that say girls can’t wear something because our bodies are distracting. By enforcing these rules, this also means that there’s no education or rectification for guys to learn how not be distracted. Guys are free to look and if girls dress a certain way and a guy harasses her because he notices her shoulders or her legs or her stomach, it’s not the guy who “initially” broke the rules. It was the girl. This leads to perpetuating the culture of victim blaming; this is why people ask, “What were you wearing?” when someone says they were sexual harassed or raped.

This type of school environment isn't helpful for anyone. It's up to us to change it and to understand that the culture we set for the real world starts in our schools. This is where we learn to interact with each other, we learn unspoken social rules, and we learn about what we can and can't get away with. We encourage learning and growth in the classrooms of schools, but we don't challenge the social stereotypes or the social constructs that have been long set up.