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Julie Seedorf: How strict should dress codes be at schools?

Sprinkled Notes by Julie Seedorf

 

Watching my cousins get ready for school while I was a visitor to their home in California many years ago, I was thankful. Yes, kids can be thankful. I was in my early grade school years. I was thankful because they had to wear uniforms in their Catholic school, and back in Minnesota I didn’t.

We had a dress code, but it didn’t involve uniforms. Girls had to wear skirts or dresses, and boys had to wear dress pants and dress shirts. In the winter in Minnesota it gets cold, so we would put on pants underneath our skirts and dresses to get to school and then take them off from under our dresses and hang them up until the end of the day. You didn’t see jeans and T-shirts, but you also didn’t see uniforms.

Parents whose kids wore uniforms to school were in favor of it. It made school shopping much easier. There were no fights or arguments about who was wearing what and if someone was better than someone else because they all looked the same.

I did a little survey on different schools in Minnesota, Iowa and California by reading their student handbooks and occasionally asking one of the students about their dress codes.

I checked out the parents and students handbook from Loyola High School in Los Angeles. I have relatives that attend this school. It is a private, all-boys Catholic school. Their dress codes still are much stricter than public schools. No over-size apparel, military-style fatigues, sweatpants, torn or ragged clothing pr tank tops. Mode of dress is collared shirts, pants or shorts. Hair must be its natural color, and certain hairstyles are restricted, such as mohawks, lettering or lines, braids, dreadlocks, spiking or excessive hairstyles. No flip-flops or sandals. Also, boys must be clean-shaven.

At their sister high school for girls, the rules say no excessively low-cut tops, shirts, pants or shorts. No bare midriffs. No backless shirts. No ripped or torn jeans or excessively tight or baggy clothing. There are more restrictions as to jewelry, shoes and hair.

I also checked the dress code for Ankeny High School in Ankeny, Iowa, as I have a relative there who attends the high school. It states no clothing advertising items that are illegal for use by minors or no clothing with displays of vulgarity, profanity or sexual remarks. No clothing that exposes the midriff, cleavage, buttocks or underwear, or pants that expose skin. Shoes with cleats and bedroom slippers cannot be worn or shoes with wheels. That’s right, wheels, not heels. Also, according to the student no chains or spikes.

At Shakopee High School in Shakopee, what I found in their student body handbook was much shorter than the other schools. It was a short paragraph — again no lewd or discriminatory words or safety hazards such as illegal activities. Students must cover their midriff, have no bra straps showing and all students must wear shoes.

I also looked up the dress code of United South Central School in my hometown, and I was impressed by their dress code list. It was more extensive than the big city schools, all except for the private Loyola High School. Though it contained much of the same, it was more detailed such as, “Any holes in jeans must be below fingertip length when fingertips are fully extended.” And “No short shorts/skirts(must be longer than your fingertips when fully extended) spaghetti straps, bare, exposed cleavage, bare midriffs, halter tops, backless tops, underwear showing, hood or gloves etc., etc.” The entire list is very detailed.

If you are wondering why I am obsessing about the dress code in schools, it was because of an article I read by the Associated Press in a Sunday paper, which highlighted a school in Alameda, California. The title of the article was on how school dress codes are seen increasingly as targeting girls. The gist of the column was that they are relaxing their dress codes and adopting a more permissive policy that is less sexist. Students now have the freedom to wear anything, as long as it includes a top, bottom and shoes, and it covers their private parts. According to the statements, if they have rules such as no midriff tops or low-cut blouses, they are targeting one group and are singling out girls. Students can now come to school in hoodies, ripped jeans and even pajamas if they want.

My parents, and I suspect the parents of all my friends, would have been aghast at these new dress codes. According to the article, teachers are relieved they now can focus on teaching rather than on how their students are dressed. I wonder how long it will be before other public schools adopt this dress code. I wonder if the difference in dress codes will be split between rural communities and private schools with a more stringent dress code and the city schools with the more relaxed mode of dress.

I never thought of the dress code specifically targeting women. However, in talking to female students in these schools, I was told the article was correct. They felt they were unfairly targeted. For example, in a couple of the schools, girls cannot wear a shirt that shows off their shoulders, such as the style now with cut-out shoulders, but they tell me if a guy wears a shirt, they can cut the sleeves off and shorten the shirt and show their shoulders, chest and stomach. Another complaint is that male student-athletes for cross country and track run with their shirts off as well in practice. Not that the girls want to take their shirts off, but they just feel there is a double standard.

I must admit that it makes sense, especially when a male teen in the article in the Sunday paper stated, “If someone is wearing a short shirt and you can see her stomach, it’s not her fault that she’s distracting other people.” Of course this is from a young gentleman who is for the relaxed dress code. I guess it isn’t the male student athlete’s fault if he is distracting the teenage girl with his shirtless body.

I am split in my feelings about this. I actually really like the dress codes and rules of Loyola High School. I feel they are teaching respect in dress and in manner. I noticed one of their rules apart from the dress code was no profanity or it would be punished. That doesn’t happen anymore in our public schools.

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, we celebrated when we could have a jean day in high school. Usually it was during Homecoming week or a special Friday, otherwise it was business as usual with dresses, skirts and dress pants for boys and casual dress shirts.

All in all, no matter the dress code in the school, it is up to parents to control what their kids wear to school and to approve apparel that won’t offend or entice. Then maybe there wouldn’t be a need for a dress code, although after thinking about it in this designer world, I might vote on the side of school uniforms for everyone. It would solve the clothes wars — and maybe class wars — because everyone would be dressed the same.

Wells resident Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Thursday. Email her at hermionyvidaliabooks@gmail.com.