I Followed a High School Dress Code for a Week

Dress codes are not inherently bad. They inform students of the expected visual standard of the school and insure a productive learning environment. However, the problem is that while most of the rules could apply to males and females, there are rules that specifically target female clothing such as halter tops and skirts as well as the female body.

To get a closer look at how dress codes sexualize women, I followed Murray High School’s dress code which is pretty standard. Many of the rules made sense such as not wanting students to promote drugs, alcohol, or violence. It was rules five and six that were the hardest to follow.

Day One:

Monday morning I almost broke the rules. I had planned on wearing a shirt that had sleeves and covered my cleavage, but a portion at the top of my back was cut out. Instead of finding a sweater to throw over it, I changed because wearing a sweater in 90 degree weather is awful. Why are girls forced to wear jackets over tops such as this one? According to the dress code, the top was some combination of “distracting, suggestive, [or] revealing.” What makes my back more distracting than my arms or a guy’s hair legs? Also, the top didn’t reveal my bra or an inappropriate section of my body, so why was it revealing or suggestive? Rules against showing a section of your back suggests that backs need to be hidden; it sexualizes them particularly in women as there aren’t tops made for men that have cut-outs on the back.

Day 2:

The farther I got through the week the harder it became to follow the dress code. Most of my cute tops are sleeveless, and most of my shorts cover everything that needs to be covered but are on the short end. The shorts I wore for day two barely fit the dress code, but they had a few inches before they would reveal anything other than thigh. So why did my shorts barely make the cut? Why do dress codes implement the rule that your shorts need to be past your fingertips when your shorts could only reach the top of your palms and still cover everything? Women have historically struggled with dress codes from wearing dresses to pants, from revealing the ankle to revealing the knee. Now women can reveal more than ever before, but we’re still fighting over those last few inches of thigh because women’s legs are ingrained in society as a sexual symbol.

Day 3:

Like with day two, I had to wear a jacket to cover my shoulders. Removing the jacket wouldn’t have revealed my bra straps or my cleavage, so why was the jacket necessary? The only reason my shoulders are seen as revealing or suggestive is because the dress codes imply that they are.  

Day 4:

I caved and wore a t-shirt because it was hard to find a shirt that wasn’t sleeveless or revealing. To refresh my memory, I read over the dress code again and noted the vague wording. The main point of the dress code is to prevent clothing from interfering with the learning environment, but why would my shoulders, back, cleavage, or thighs interfere with another student’s ability to learn? They don’t have to look at my shoulders or back, and as long as I’m not flashing anyone, my shoulders, back, and thighs shouldn’t be distracting. By forcing students, particularly girls, to cover these parts of their bodies and to shame them with a dress code violation if they disobey, it teaches them that these areas of their body are inappropriate, sexual, and distracting which is a bad message to send to teenage girls.

Day 5:

I was so glad that it was my last day. Being restricted in clothing options made dressing nice in warm weather difficult.

Overall I discovered the ridiculous extent to which the female body is sexualized. How sexy can a back or shoulder really be? High school dress codes reinforce the idea that women and girls are objects of desire by creating rules directed mostly at women that suggest we must be covered to a certain degree otherwise our bodies will be distracting and suggestive. These rules perpetuate female sexualization by trying to cover up girls rather than teaching girls to embrace and own their own bodies.