Dress-coding by staff causes students to feel uncomfortable
February 2, 2016
Dress-coding happens when a staff member deems either an article of clothing or entire outfit of a student inappropriate for the high school environment. Six students at the high school who were dress-coded in the past were interviewed for this feature. Below are the various questions and responses of the students.
According to senior Lea Churchill, she was walking down the hall when she was dress-coded by a teacher whom she did not know personally. Churchill said that the teacher asked her to “cover up.” Churchill answered questions below on dress expectations at the high school.
Q: How do you feel about teachers who dress-code their students?
A: I think that as a young woman, I look up to my female teachers for guidance. I feel like I would expect this type of harassment from a male person, just from my experience in my life of being targeting for what I’m wearing or for the way that I look. But, I feel like it is more painful or scarier when it comes from another woman because as another woman I feel like she should be looking out for young girls and their self esteem, and the way that she acts and the way that she addresses it, and the way she dress-codes someone and the effect that this has on the female student.
Q: Do you think that the high school environment necessitates a professional dress code?
A: I feel really professional in what I’m wearing and I feel like I could do good school work, and be productive and I just feel really comfortable in it. Professionalism is used only against women. Guys don’t get dress-coded for wearing stained clothes and sweatpants. It is an excuse to hold girls to an arbitrarily higher standard, and if BHS was really about professionalism then boys would not be allowed to wear shorts because in professional offices men always have to wear long pants.
Q: How do you feel in what you are wearing?
A: I feel really professional in what I’m wearing and I feel like I could do good school work and be productive in it and that’s the most important thing.
Senior Maya Jakubowski was dress-coded by her drama teacher during her sophomore year. According to Jakubowski, when she was headed to the stage to perform an act in front of her class, her teacher told her to “pull her skirt down.” This made her feel more nervous than she already was, Jakubowski said. Jakubowski responded to questions regarding the dress expectations at the high school below.
Q: What does it feel like to be dress-coded?
A: If you are dress-coded it really throws you off for the rest of the day because afterwards you’re wondering about how other people are perceiving you. I think people are always thinking about how other people perceive them but when someone points it out in a way that’s like, ‘the thing you are doing or wearing is wrong,’ then you can’t really focus on your academic stuff. During the week I would have to think, ‘Even though I wanna wear this on this day I can’t wear it because I have this class.’ That’s such an extra mental space that’s being used up when it could be used for something else.
Q: Who does dress-coding affect?
A: This really only happens to female-bodied people. Even when people dress-code boys, they are not dress-coded in a systematic way and they are not gonna feel the same way emotionally afterwards. Sexism affects all genders but it systematically and institutionally oppresses female-bodied people. I don’t want to negate or diminish struggles or body image issues that men have, but I think that in society and in our school culture girls have to abide to certain moral terms and social terms. But girls think, ‘I have to look this way to be cool or attractive to guys, because that’s the ultimate thing.’
According to senior Talia Roland-Kalb, an email conversation was started between teachers regarding an outfit that she had worn a few days prior to her finding out. She found out about this situation from a teacher that was not directly involved in the correspondence. Roland-Kalb said that, although her name was not stated in the email, the entire incident made her feel very uncomfortable. Roland-Kalb answered questions on this topic below.
Q: What did it feel like to be dress-coded?
A: I felt like people were making judgements about me based on something so superficial as what I was wearing. They did not know me or who I was or what I stood for. They only knew me as this outfit and a body underneath it. I felt pretty objectified and disrespected. For weeks after, getting dressed in the morning was hard because I didn’t want to give in. I stand so strongly for people being comfortable in their bodies and people loving themselves. Body image issues are something that I’ve had to work so hard to overcome. I finally got to a place where I was feeling really good about myself and to be shot down like that made me question everything about the way I was presenting myself. I found myself wanting to wear what I wanted to wear, but not wanting to be called out because it made me feel really bad about myself and about my body. I didn’t want to cover up and let the whole system win.
Q: What do you wish for the high school dress code in the future?
A: My wishful thinking is that we won’t have a dress code and, instead, we’ll have a blurb in the handbook that says students are encouraged to be mindful with their clothing and encouraged to help create a productive learning environment. The words “productive learning environment” are actually in our handbook and I think that’s important. Respect is probably the most important of anything. Students should respect themselves and respect others with what they wear. There should be rules about profanity but the words “excessive skin” and “excessive undergarments” leave so much up to the teachers and that’s really hard because it’s so subjective. Teachers could call you out for anything and that’s scary. It’s scary to come to a place everyday and know that anybody could call you out for anything.
Q: What are your suggestions for others that were in the same position you were in, being dress-coded?
A: I think the most important thing is to be confident in yourself and to love yourself. We should be encouraging girls, especially, to look in a mirror and be happy with what they see and not be thinking about who is going to call them out for what they wear today. Being confident in yourself shouldn’t come with the toll of being dress-coded and being objectified in that way.
Senior Rory Redgrave was dress-coded at a concert choir performance for elementary-aged children. According to Redgrave, they were walking out of a room and their teacher motioned for them to pull up their shirt. Redgrave also said that they have been dress coded more than once. Redgrave responded to questions on the topic of dress code below.
Q: How did the dress-coding incident make you feel?
A: It sort of just felt like I wasn’t aware of how I looked so he was helping me figure it out. I know how I look. I dress the way I do on purpose.
Q: What do you think of the dress expectations at the high school?
A: We don’t have a specific dress code . This is one of the biggest problems because it’s open for teachers’ interpretation. I don’t think there should be any type of dress code. I think mindful dressing is different than having a dress code. Mindful dressing is important. It means people learning how to dress for themselves and not other people. It doesn’t dictate what you wear; it just dictates why you wear it. You can come to school in a T-shirt and baggy sweatpants and be fine, but that’s not professional. I’ll dress professionally for school when I’m being paid and hired to be here. The way my body looks has nothing to do with how professional or how serious I should be taken.
Senior Talia Putnoi was dress-coded many times in her drama class for wearing leggings. Putnoi is currently working on the dress code committee and said that she wishes for more dress-related education in the future. Putnoi responded to questions on the dress expectations below.
Q: What are the problems with the dress expectations at the high school?
A: I think the main issue right now is that it’s really unspecific so any teacher can say that an outfit makes them feel uncomfortable and call the student out on it. First of all, we need specific language. I’m really in favor of having, ‘No nipples, no butt crack, no genitalia,’ and that’s the extent of the dress code. The rest is up to you to figure out. I also think that if we want to make reforms in dress code, we need to have a conversation about it. You can show skin for many reasons. It can come from an empowered place, or girls are taught that showing skin is for guys, or the opposite sex attraction. That is sexualization.
Q: What can we do in the future regarding the topic of dress code?
A: You cannot just have a dress code reformation without knowing that there is so much more education that needs to go into this. We need to teach how to empower ourselves to dress, which is something that we don’t do currently. This is something that needs to start way before high school. It needs to start when you’re in pre-K. You need to learn about this stuff, or else you’re just going to internalize things in a different way. The dress code is almost always inherently sexist, which is really why you need to unpack it if you want to make a change.
Sophomore Emily Jack was dress-coded by her social worker. Her social worker made her wear a sweatshirt over her sleeveless shirt, causing her to feel not only overheated, but also very uncomfortable. Jack answered questions on this topic below.
Q: Can you describe the time(s) when you were dress-coded?
A: I’ve been getting dress-coded basically ever since I grew boobs, so since beginning of middle school on. The last time I was dress-coded was at the beginning of last June. It was warm outside and I was wearing a tank top. My social worker came up to me and gave me a sweatshirt. She said, “Your shirt is too low.” I was very upset because she knows how I feel about being dress-coded and how uncomfortable it makes me feel. It was like 70 degrees and I had to wear a sweatshirt. Everyone was like, ‘Why are you wearing a sweatshirt? It looks like you’re about to pass out,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t really have a choice at this point.’ I guess at that point I felt powerless.
Q: Do you think that dress-coding is necessary at the high schooL?
A: I think it is definitely valid that teachers can feel uncomfortable. That makes sense but at the same time it is my body and I want to wear what I want to wear.
Q: What are your thoughts on dress expectations?
A: I think that there should be limits, but I also think that people should be able to express who they are. Your education should not be taken away from you because you are wearing a top with spaghetti straps or because you have boobs. I think that the dress code is mainly targeted towards curvy girls – girls that have stomachs, or boobs or butts. That is also very difficult because I could wear a tank top or not wear a bra and get in trouble for it, but when my friend, who’s like an A cup, wears that she won’t get in trouble. I find that very upsetting. It does make sense, to a certain degree, and parts of me don’t want to accept that. I don’t know.