OPINION: Dress code enforcement has gone too far



Three girls pose with their corsages before homecoming 2019.

RedEye Staff

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are supposed to change colors, the weather becomes cooler and school is officially in full swing. Football and, soon, basketball dominate the school and pep rallies for the big games are expected every other month. The ballots go out for king, queen, prince and princess and everybody gets ready to walk across the football field during halftime; it’s homecoming season. 

Homecoming should be one of the best times of the school year. Girls get the chance to go out with their dates and dress up nice. They get to go to the mall and pick out one of the dresses from the special part of clothing stores filled with beautiful dresses, but that dream is becoming harder to live out as dresses get shorter and school dress codes get tighter. 

At Eastern High School’s homecoming dance a couple of weeks ago, many people were turned away due to “inappropriate clothing” that didn’t fit their dress code. Surely when you hear that phrase you probably think of thin strap or outright strapless outfits that go down about mid thigh, right? That’d make sense to turn away for a school setting, but that’s not what these people were wearing. The outfits turned away were dresses that went past the fingertip rule and only about three to five inches above the knee. 

Dress codes set by schools and the way clothing is made make it hard to wear just about anything in a school setting. Dress codes also sexualize and target girls of different body types.

Fashion versus dress codes

The start of a school year is always an exciting time to get new clothes, especially if the dress code doesn’t require a uniform. The options to wear whatever shirt, pants, dresses, skirts or whatever and express yourself is fun and a chance to add to your closet is a fun time, but it feels like it gets harder every year. Every year you go back to the mall to get new clothes, the shorts get shorter, sleeves get shorter and strapless grows more and more into fashion. 

While guys tend to not have this problem, as many do not like to wear short shorts, girls have a hard time finding clothes that will fit dress codes. Why should a girl be forced to wear a skirt if she wants to wear something shorter than pants because all of the shorts at a store go four inches down her thigh? The problem gets worse when dances come around because dresses, over the years, have become tighter and shorter. 

The dresses girls wore at Eastern’s homecoming were actually fairly loose though, as many of the pictures show dresses that fit normal on their bodies. They aren’t tight but they aren’t so loose they have anything showing, but the administration went the extra step in measuring the length of their dresses from their knee. 

According to Eastern’s dress code, dresses may not go higher than two inches above the knee making it extremely hard to find a dress that will fit these requirements. After the incident, Eastern sent out a letter to families showing examples of dresses that were considered appropriate for the dress code and all three of the examples were floor length dresses. Floor length dresses, while nice, are not homecoming dresses and can be expensive for families to purchase. 

The fashion industry makes it very hard to find clothes that cater to school dress codes which makes it harder for students to find clothes that fit under the tight regulations schools enforce. And the industry isn’t trying to. Clothes are getting over-sexualized, especially towards kids of younger ages, meaning it doesn’t look like this trend will stop anytime soon. 

Build you up and tear you down

Dress codes can also be taken as body shaming and making you feel bad about wearing certain types of clothing. The dress code, at almost every school, is never equally enforced by teachers and it targets specific body types, in particular, bigger people. Skinnier people are typically able to get away with wearing shorter and tighter clothing while bigger people are the ones who will get called out. 

For some people who deal with body issues and hate their bodies, it can be very damaging to be told you can’t wear those shorts or that those yoga pants are too tight on you. The same goes for taller girls who have long legs, making the “above the rule knee” even harder to fit under. 

Clothes should be something that you feel comfortable wearing and students shouldn’t have to feel ashamed or fear they’re going to be told to take off what they’re wearing. At Eastern’s dance, many of those girls were excited about a night out with their friends. To get the chance to pick out a dress and go out and take pictures with their friends. Their nights shouldn’t have ended with them running around the outside of the school, crying because they didn’t know what to do or what they had done. 

One example of how body type affects what clothing people can and can’t wear comes from Eastern’s dance, where two girls, wearing the exact same dress tried to enter the dance. In the photo below, the girl on the left was let in but the girl on the right wasn’t. Why, you might be asking? It could be that the girl on the right is showing about two extra inches of skin because she’s taller.

Two students who attended Eastern’s homecoming dance. The girl on the left was let in but the girl on the right was denied. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Henninger.

In a world where being the skinniest is such an obsessive idea and social media beats down on our bodies and minds, we should be trying to build each other up and the dress code should do the same. 

Enough with the shoulder excuse

Nobody should ever be denied the chance to go out with their friends to a school dance because their dress goes four inches above the knee instead of two. Those expectations in today’s world simply aren’t realistic and are damaging to girls especially. While a dress code should be put in place to stop people from coming to school wearing completely inappropriate things, nobody should be distracted by a thigh or shoulder being exposed. If people feel comfortable enough to wear a tank top or shorts when they deal with body issues, we should encourage them to feel okay and good with themselves. If we can stop the dress code debate, then we can move on to focusing on our school, our classes and most importantly, ourselves. 

So enough with the excuses that too much skin distracts students from learning or paying attention in class. Enough with throwing students out of dances. Let us live a little and learn to appreciate ourselves.

Feature Image Citation: “Homecoming Dress Girl Teen School Dance Prom” from Max Pixel is labeled for commercial use under Creative Commons 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication. No changes were made to the original image. Use of the image does not indicate photographer endorsement of the article.