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Dress Code Debates get louder

I recently watched a YouTube of a very eloquent young lady (somewhere between 17-20) who was nearly indignant with frustration at a recent high school dress code punishing someone for a visible bra strap.  I tried to find this video again, so I could share her well-argued points with you.  She was, I am not being sarcastic, logical, proud, assertive.  Though I didn’t find this particular “v-log” again… there are a LOT of ladies out there who are quite peeved at dress codes.  Not all concerned parties are high school aged; some contribute to Huffington Post.  This is a hot topic among many!  Search online for high school dress code debate and you’ll see the debate occurring live.

So, one extreme position is that schools must set and enforce strict boundaries with their primary goal being to train adolescents for a vocation – a “one for all” mentality without room for negotiation; resistance fosters anarchy and downfall.  One goal for modern schooling may be to help socialize kids to, at the very least, comply with accepted norms, if not adopt them.  This may be gender-bias because it seems that most of the uproar is about girls’ clothing; there are many (alleged) examples online of school codes requiring females to cover shoulders (and hide bra straps), outlawing leggings or forbidding yoga pants.  I think the agitator here really centers on the fact that boys do not get sent to the principal’s for dressing “too provocatively” (or subscribing to stereotypes, for dressing too aggressively). And so I do think dress code enforcement is probably gender based.  Boys are not culturally expected to highlight their sexuality, and girls often defend their right to reflect modern fashion, not recognizing or deflecting the sexual messaging in modern fashion.  

This is exactly the point I wanted to make of the video above; the young woman was very eloquent but didn’t allow any give-and-take for any communal “relationship”, instead requiring absolute acceptance of her “right” to wear her choice of clothing.  (Also, I think women are more vocal about this issue in the schools, but also on the internet; it is a new sign of women’s power that they complain about persecution rather than try to generate sympathy.  And, there are also rules against boys sagging their pants and wearing “muscle t’s” and “inappropriate” advertising but these male points and counter-points do not make the internet debate. )

Sadly, I think a much more controversial reasoning for fashion-control is the “hormonal justification” that boys are powerless to their testosterone and subsequent animal nature.  Despite seeming ridiculously outdated and wrong-headed and tending to vilify the victim, this rationale still circulates in present-day schools – that girls must not tempt boys’ or mens’ (!) dark nature and girls are often shamed for their allegedly short-sighted, short-hemmed clothing.  And this patronizing approach invokes an outrage that swings the dress code argument’s pendulum radically the other way, where a lot of the online shouting now focuses.   

The other, equally extreme perspective is “all for one”, that adolescents have a right to wear whatever they want, if it’s comfortable or alluring or expensive, and that any restriction is some (adult and/or male) sexualizing their body.


Both of these perspectives – the enforcement of boundaries and of kids’ right to self-expression – are absolutely based in logic and I expect that is why this debate is actively engaged.  It would be a better world if adults and adolescents could wear whatever they felt most comfortable in.  It would be wonderful if schools could only focus on cutting edge education and students would work as one community for their own edification.


The internet is certainly helping some of us express ourselves, and hopefully others are listening.  This outreach for understanding “the other side” does seem like the missing piece to this puzzle.  Maybe this cacophony of monologues is the place to start… where now there is lots of talking but not enough listening yet, nor “sides” seeking to understand the other.


Patrick Logan, MS
is a former wilderness therapy program manager and now IT consults with programs and websites.