Are school dress codes beneficial?
- Merriam-Webster defines a dress code as “formally or socially imposed standards of dress,” while a uniform is “dress of a distinctive design or fashion worn by members of a particular group and serving as a means of identification.”
- According to the Education Commission of the States, Massachusetts is the only state that “prohibits the use of dress codes unless there are health or safety issues.”
- In 1969, the US Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that students should be allowed to wear black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War, stating that they do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
- A 2017 Today poll revealed that 78% of respondents feel that “there need to be standards for school attire for children and teens,” while 94% of parents of teen girls find school dress codes to be “too confusing.”
Equitable and inclusive school dress codes aren't just sensible; they're essential in preserving student well-being and safety. When minors are in a place of learning, extra and unnecessary opportunities for distraction and division are never a good idea. Increasingly, modern policies intentionally allow for individuality while promoting acceptance.
By prohibiting provocative, gang-related, or otherwise offensive attire, schools support an equity-based environment where students are encouraged to dress for success and instead aim their attention towards their coursework and less superficial interactions. Redirecting the focus away from physical expression, comparison, and criticism can make way for more meaningful forms of expression and connection.
It's important to note that 'dress code' does not mean 'uniform.' Still, failing to acknowledge and address the ways extreme variance in student dress can cause certain young people to be targeted would ultimately contribute to larger issues. Removing elements of social competition offers students an experience that is more conducive to learning and fair. Parents and students should not be subject to added pressure to earn or display their socio-economic status. Eliminating this burden is an easy, positive strategy to reduce the potential for discrimination. Moreover, a sense of belonging and community can be fostered when students have more in common.
Dress codes have been shown to increase attendance and boost test scores, while students who stress about their looks perform worse on cognitive tasks. Dressing appropriately and following guidelines for one's appearance is the accepted norm in the workplace. As such, practicing respecting such rules and professionally presenting oneself will serve students well in the long run. Compared to the absence of a dress code, the benefits are too clear and measurable to ignore.
Students and activists have joined forces to challenge dress codes for a reason.
When it comes to students, dress codes are 'unconstitutional.' The First Amendment guarantees that all individuals may express themselves freely. However, dress codes limit self-expression since students are stripped of the freedom to decide their clothing.
Dress codes are also 'distracting,' but not for the reason schools believe.
Common punishments for dress code violations include missing class time or facing suspension. Considering how schools believe dress codes are for students' welfare, they should keep students in class actively learning.
Moreover, dress codes are 'biased.' Students and activists believe they discriminate against girls, especially Black girls and curvier students.
Dress codes are equally problematic for gender non-conforming and transgender kids. Students expressing their identities have been disciplined or excluded from major events such as yearbook picture days.
Because of these reasons alone, dress codes are 'antagonizing.' But, if a student also belongs to an underprivileged household, they could be subject to teasing. Even the difference in shoe brands can establish socioeconomic differences.
In addition to students, their parents may suffer trying to abide by 'costly' dress codes. Around four in ten families are struggling with their finances. So, when pitted against putting food on the table, purchasing a new wardrobe that adheres to school rules pales in comparison.
Dress codes don't benefit students or their parents. That's why organizations such as NYRA empower students to fight for their rights. And hopefully, they'll succeed in abolishing dress codes altogether soon.