Most public schools enforce a dress code on students and punish them when they break it. However, dress codes are not perfect. What are the pros and cons of dress codes in public schools?
The pros of a public school dress code include limited distractions in the classroom, rival gang fight prevention, and the ability of students to express themselves. The cons of a public school dress code include difficulty finding dress-code-appropriate clothing and public student humiliation.
Listed below are the pros and cons of a dress code in a public school.
Pros: Limits Distractions in the Classroom
Dress codes can limit the number of distractions inside of the classroom because certain, large, and distracting items and forms of clothing are not allowed. This means that students can focus on learning and what their teachers are saying. (Source)
Dress codes enforce appropriate clothing, which means that pants aren’t hanging low and no low-cut tops are worn. This means that students are not distracted by what other students are wearing, and they can understand the curriculum and pass their classes relatively easily. However, there is more to this issue that is included further down.
Can Prevent Rival Gangs from Fighting On Campus
Dress codes can prevent members of rival gangs from fighting on campus. Although you may not think that students belong to gangs, especially in middle schools, it does happen. If a student is seen wearing a gang sign or insignia, they are asked to remove it and put it where it can’t be seen. (Source)
However, many schools do this by banning bandanas, which seems stupid to those who are not in a gang and want to wear a bandana for some reason.
Schools don’t typically ban colors that are associated with gangs, because it is nearly impossible to ban a certain color from a student’s clothing, but they do ban seemingly insignificant bandanas. My middle school and high school banned bandanas for this very reason.
It is hard for teachers to ban gang insignias because more are constantly being created every day, and most teachers don’t know anything about gangs or their insignias. This means that administrators have to learn and teach their teachers about them and how to identify them, which requires a lot of work and makes teachers go to long meetings when they could be grading papers or spending time with their families.
Students Can Still Express Themselves
Although many school dress codes are relatively strict, they are not as strict as schools that make their students wear uniforms. Students can still express themselves through their clothing, they just have parameters that said clothing needs to meet.
Students can still wear bright or dark colors unless they are only allowed to wear certain colors associated with the school. They can wear trendy clothing, accessories, and jewelry as long as they aren’t loud or distracting. However, something that a teacher finds to be distracting may not be considered distracting by students. (Source)
However, most dress codes prohibit t-shirts that have potentially offensive phrases or pictures on them. While that helps prevent clothing that has inappropriate pictures, it also prevents self-expression.
For example, if a student wears a shirt that shows they support the LGBTQ+ community, they are sometimes told to cover up or to change their shirt, even though it doesn’t have any inappropriate or offensive phrases or pictures on it. The teachers or administrators just take offense to it, so students are asked to change.
Cons: Doesn’t Prevent Bullying
Although some schools and professionals believe that dress codes prevent bullying among students, it doesn’t. Bullies target the quality and appearance of clothing that their target is wearing. It doesn’t matter if it fits the dress code standards, bullies will attack other students in any way that they can.
Dress codes are supposed to prevent bullying because they require clothing to be worn that doesn’t have large holes in it and fits the person who is wearing it well, but that is not always possible to enforce. Students wear hand-me-downs that don’t fit them extremely well, even though they do fit, and bullies sometimes target people based on their clothing.
However, bullies don’t only target students who aren’t wearing high-quality clothing that fits the student well. They target weaknesses outside of clothing as well, so dress codes can’t prevent bullying, as much as administrators and faculty want to believe it can.
Hard to Find Dress Code Appropriate Clothing
Nowadays, it is extremely hard for students, especially female students, to find clothing that fits the parameters of the dress code. Have you recently walked through the juniors and pre-teens female clothing section at your local clothing store? All of the jeans have large holes in them, the shorts are extremely short, and the shirts are either low-cut or have no sleeves, especially during the spring and summer seasons.
If students want to wear a skirt to school, they struggle to find one that is long enough. Sometimes, the ones they find that are long enough are extremely tight, which is often prohibited by school dress codes.
Budget-friendly school shoes are sometimes hard to find when you go shopping in the summer because many shoes are strappy sandals rather than sneakers or tennis shoes. When the weather is warm, no one wants to wear sneakers with socks and full-length jeans, and it is hard to find flats with support or other shoes that won’t stifle your feet in warm temperatures.
It is especially hard to find clothing that follows the dress code when looking for clothing to wear to formal school events like homecoming and prom. The dress code is always enforced at school events.
Many schools repeatedly remind students of that fact, and some even hold assemblies and show presentations so people won’t forget. While that isn’t often an issue for male students, as they wear a suit or a dress shirt and formal pants, it is a large issue for female students.
Formal dresses often are strapless, have sheer straps, are low-cut, are see-through in some areas, or are extremely short and don’t follow the dress codes of many schools, even if they are advertised as prom or homecoming dresses. This means that teenagers have to spend hours looking for a dress and sometimes wear one that they don’t like or doesn’t fit them properly, all to follow the school’s dress code.
Hard to Enforce the Dress Code Equally
It is extremely hard for teachers and administrators to enforce the dress code for every student equally. Most often, female students are dress coded rather than male students, even if male students are also breaking the dress code. This shows a gender bias in both the dress code and the faculty of the school, and that makes female students feel targeted and self-conscious.
Public school dress codes often have more limitations for female students than males, but that is only part of the issue. Even if a female student is wearing clothing that doesn’t show any inappropriate skin or undergarments, they are asked to change or to stop wearing the clothes they are wearing.
Some female students are asked to stop wearing leggings, even if they are not extremely tight or see-through, but other female students who are thinner are not asked to change because people in charge find it more visually appealing. This is appalling behavior and should not be tolerated, but it often is. (Source)
Female students often feel like they are being targeted by the dress code while boys skate by and ignore the rules. Male students are supposed to wear appropriate clothing that fits on their waist well and doesn’t sag, but when their pants sag it is often ignored.
This is especially prevalent on days where the weather is extremely warm, as female students sometimes wear tank tops and shorts to school, especially if the air conditioning doesn’t work in some of their classrooms or they are extremely hot because of the number of students inside of the rooms.
Even if the tank top is not thin and doesn’t show cleavage or their bra strap, they are told to cover up or change. They are forced to wear a jacket indoors, even when the classroom temperature is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or go home and change. (Source)
Meanwhile, male students who are wearing tank tops and basketball shorts are not lectured about their clothing, even if it is against the dress code. Female students are told that their clothing is “distracting the boys,” even if it isn’t.
Some teachers persecute because of religion as many schools don’t allow people to wear head coverings. There are supposed to be religious exemptions, but that is sometimes not enforced because of the beliefs of the teachers and faculty. Meanwhile, clothing depicting a religious belief, phrase, or quote like a t-shirt or sweatshirt is allowed, even though other religious clothing sometimes isn’t allowed.
Faculty and administrators can’t enforce the dress code to every student, but those who are dress coded and see others feel like they have been targeted for various reasons because they see people who are wearing similar clothing items that aren’t being dress coded, even minutes after they were lectured or told to change into something dress-code appropriate.
Students are Humiliated when Confronted with a Dress Code Violation
When students are told that their clothing isn’t appropriate, it is humiliating. They are often confronted in front of their peers and told to leave class. When they come back in different clothing, they are still embarrassed, especially if the teacher who told them to change comments on the change.
If a student doesn’t have other clothing with them or their parents aren’t able to bring clothes to them, they are forced to either miss school for an entire day or wear clothes from the lost and found. Clothing from the lost and found is disgusting and makes students feel embarrassed. Oftentimes, clothing from the lost and found is ill-fitting, which makes the student feel self-conscious and frumpy.
They then have to wear ill-fitting clothes for the rest of the school day and return them the next day, which takes time out of their busy schedule that they usually use to spend time with their friends.
Students Miss Class
When students break the dress code and a teacher or administrator calls them out on it, they have to miss class to change into different clothing. This means they are missing out on their education, even though they didn’t think that the clothes they were wearing were inappropriate or broke the dress code.
Students are often sent to the office so they can call their parents so they can bring other clothes or to change into something from the lost and found, which is disgusting as you never know when that clothing was last washed or who wore it last.
Sometimes, if a student wears clothing that only slightly breaks the dress code or if they don’t break the dress code often, they are given a warning. This often happens when a student wears sandals or flip-flops, which are often against public school dress codes. However, this doesn’t often happen, especially if a student is wearing a tank top or extremely tight clothing.
Sometimes, students are suspended if they break the dress code multiple times or they refuse to change into different clothing. This means they miss a large amount of class, even if they simply wore a tank top or shorts that were slightly too short, but didn’t show anything inappropriate.
It is good to have a dress code to ensure that no inappropriate clothing is worn, but it must be enforced equally and allow students to express themselves.
Overall, the purpose of a dress code is to keep students safe, but it often takes attention away from the real issues at the school because teachers and administrators are busy trying to enforce the dress code.
The overall cons outweigh and outnumber the pros of a dress code, so there shouldn’t be an extremely strict dress code at public schools. Students should be allowed to wear what makes them feel comfortable and stylish.
Public schools should consider the clothing options available before they write and enforce a dress code, as it is often difficult to find clothing that fits in the parameters, especially if the dress code has not been updated recently.