Anna Galipo: Should dress codes be a thing of the past?

Real Talk

I learned from a very young age that shoulders are evil.

I know this because in first grade, whenever a student had his or her shoulders exposed, even when it was the middle of August without air conditioning, it was a catastrophe. That student would be sent to the principal’s office, get a detention and usually force a parent or guardian of that student to come up to school and bring that child attire that was deemed suitable. If the parent was not able to bring their child new clothing, the child was forced to wear an oversized, smelly t-shirt from the nurse’s office, the origin of which was unknown. Thus the child would be publicly humiliated for the rest of the day. If it sounds completely overrated, that’s because it is.

This all-too-common chain of events would occur because of an exposed shoulder. However it wasn’t always a shoulder. Sometimes an extra inch of thigh was exposed, so that the child’s shorts did not end at exactly the middle of the thigh. Whatever the so-called “violation” was, it was something that, if it had not been pointed out by a teacher, no one would have even noted.

The frivolity of such strict dress codes has recently been brought more to public attention. A simple Google news search shows the contention surrounding the issue of dress codes today, with headline after headline declaring that this or that high school is being unfair towards its students. This is especially true in the way guidelines for dress tend to be much more limiting to women than men. This is one of the main problems with dress codes.

For example, in my experience, if a male student were to have a shoulder exposed while wearing a tank top, most teachers would not feel the need to report the student because, for them, it does not seem like a distraction. Meanwhile if a female student were to have the same amount of skin exposed, that teacher would be much more likely to report the student. Female students tend to draw unwarranted attention just because of the fact that they are women.

An exposed shoulder on a woman is made out to be a much greater offense because the male students could get “distracted” (the excuse many schools use for implementing strict dress codes). Female students, on the other hand, are not supposed to have a problem with whatever male students choose to wear. Dress codes are a clear form of institutionalized bias that still exist today.

Though it seems as though, for college students, dress codes are a thing of the past, they actually play a much bigger role in our everyday lives than most people realize. I have been enrolled in courses where the professor has put in the syllabus that students should wear certain attire to the class, to “promote a professional learning environment.” However I’m sure many students would agree that the way they perform in a class has little to do with what kind of clothing they chose to wear when they woke up that morning.

While I do agree that there should be some sort of standard of dress which people should adhere to (no bathing suits in class, please), it seems difficult for an institution to declare that one style of pants, for example, is more suitable than another.

Students should be able to wear what makes them feel comfortable, confident and ready to learn, within reason. Dress codes limit students’ autonomy at a time when they should be learning to become independent and make their own decisions.

Anna is a fourth-year English and political science major.