Cassie Chenoweth is a high school intern with the ACLU of Ohio.
While many people around the world are rightly taking a stand against discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, among others, we sometimes miss how discrimination works through cultural elements like vernacular or clothing style. It is widely thought that one is in control over these traits and could easily change them. However, the truth is that they should not have to.
Cracking the Code
I am a high school senior in Columbus City Schools, where the dress codes are quite vague. A portion of the dress code states that clothes may not be ‘tight or form-fitting;’ ‘low-cut or revealing tops’ are not allowed, and shorts may be no shorter than mid-thigh.
Each of these rules are clearly aimed at fashion trends among women, placing a stigma on the female body. Also, it’s important to note that this stigma against female bodies extends to retail as there isn’t much sold for women that is not form fitting or below mid-thigh. A middle-school student from Kentucky produced a video detailing the negative impact dress codes have on young women’s self-esteem.
When we remove young girls from the classroom because of their clothes or prioritize conducive learning environments for young men, we are telling girls that their education and learning environment is less important.
Dress codes place more restrictions on females due to assumptions that men tend to dress more modestly than women, or that ‘inappropriate’ clothing like shorts can create a distraction for male students. When we remove young girls from the classroom because of their clothes or prioritize conducive learning environments for young men, we are telling girls that their education and learning environment is less important.
Clothing Makes Meaning
Women are not the only group marginalized due to dress codes. Saggy jeans are seen as socio-economic and racial symbols. There are schools that allow students to wear leggings, but not saggy jeans, despite the fact that leggings are often more revealing than baggy jeans. However, leggings are allowed in these places because they do not hold the same socio-economic connotations. Also, transgender or gender non-confirming students come under fire when they wear clothes that express their identity.
Clothing choices are a part of someone’s identity. We entrust schools with the education of our young people, and they have a responsibility to ensure that policies regarding clothing are not discriminatory, in both how they are written and enforced.