Are Current School and Work Dress Codes Necessary?

Are Current School and Work Dress Codes Necessary?

The issue of restrictive dress codes has made it big in the media in recent years. More high schools are being lampooned for having oddly strict rules regarding what girls are allowed to wear, such as only being able to wear tank tops that have a strap as wide as at least two fingers’ width, and banning leggings/yoga pants. Unfortunately, this also is a problem in the real world.

Year-round, it’s common to see media reports of students fighting back against restrictive dress codes. Schools have asked female students to change or sent them home for wearing leggings, which allegedly distract boys from learning. In that example, it’s easy to question why sending a girl home for their choice in pants is not distracting from their learning. Even asking a girl to change on her way to class can be distracting, as it may cause her to be late, or feel socially humiliated for having to change.

For special events, some dress codes can be even harsher. A school dance chaperone told one high school girl to cover up her beautiful dress for not adhering to school code standards. In response, her mother told the local news station, “How have we gotten to the point that we look at shoulders as if they’re somehow pornographic? As if they are this shameful thing.” Similar stories come forth every winter formal, spring dance, and homecoming season, ranging from dresses that expose too much thigh, heels too high, or dresses that reveal too much back.

It doesn’t stop there, however. California’s Marin County Bar Association came under fire earlier this year for publishing an article in their June newsletter that criticized how professional women lawyers dress in the courtroom. Authors Jill Sperber and Susana Perczek wrote, “We had heard that female lawyers in Marin are not winning their cases in the Style Department.” What the two fail to understand is that the point of being a lawyer, well, is to win actual legal cases, not a Project Runway-esque showdown. Secondly, the article did not criticize male choices or implore them to dress better in the “Style Department.” If the authors were so bent on making Marin County lawyers dress better, perhaps they could also look into the suit cuts and colors of males.

On July 27th, a former JCPenney employee tweeted pictures of the outfit she was sent home from work for. The outfit consisted of a sleeveless blouse paired with shorts from JCPenney’s career clothing section, yet was deemed inappropriate by management. With her situation, it gets a bit trickier – she also tweeted an image of her flipping off the camera, which may not have been the most professional move. However, her statements hold truth, as evidenced by the kind of response she received.

While we need to be cautious about our clothing choices in a professional setting, and understand where too much or too little is inappropriate in schools, we shouldn’t go to extraordinary lengths simply to restrict people from choosing what they can wear. Instead, we should evaluate what can be done to make dress codes more acceptable, while maintaining our individuality and respecting others’ choices.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.