Holyoke Public Schools Needs To Reform Dress Codes


Nevaeh Lopez and Luis Melendez

Dress codes in schools have been around for a very long time, just like uniforms. While they have changed with standards, these codes have maintained relatively the same structure. The reasoning for uniforms does make sense. They aim to unify students, prevent bullying and practice professionalism in the school community. 42.8% of schools in the district are now fully under uniform policy, while 14.2% of schools are under an optional uniform policy. The schools with optional uniforms have to follow a strict dress code, as well as the remaining schools without uniforms. We understand safety concerns, especially when it comes to the safety of students, whether it is about closed-toed shoes or students wearing hoods that cover their faces. However, some of the things I have read about dress codes at individual schools are concerning. Dress codes have been known to discriminate against girls. The basic “reasoning” is to keep students focused and not distracted, but when these “distractions” are based around girl’s bodies or clothes that they typically wear, we think student distraction is just the surface issue. 

To start off, boys are never subjected to the same dress codes as girls. For example, if a boy arrives at school without a shirt on, he is given a pass. However, if a girl arrives with a short shirt, she is given detention or worse, a suspension. I never understood the purpose of dress codes until a 6th grade assembly when teachers spoke about girls not wearing skirts or dresses that were above their knees or that exposed their shoulders (no spaghetti straps). It was mostly targeting women rather than males, with the reasoning being that other peers were becoming sexually aroused. This thinking is not only absurd, it may also make females or students in general feel very uncomfortable in a setting where they should feel safe, at ease and eager to learn. 

This also brings up another issue in which boys are criminalized and girls are sexualized. This is a very significant topic that adolescent boys are exposed to. Some males may not have that mentality, but when staff members, teachers, or even school assemblies bring up the subject, it instills in them the idea of targeting or harassing girls based on their clothing choices.

Along with the mental effects that dress codes may have on girls, we begin to realize that distractions are preventing students from learning. When reading through one school’s dress code guidance, I found a quote that brought me back to middle and elementary school. “Student’s dress will be checked on arrival at school each day.  If a student is wearing an item that does not meet the dress code, the school will reach out to the family to make arrangements for a parent/guardian to bring a replacement item to the school.  If arrangements are unable to be made, the school will attempt to provide a replacement item before sending students back to class.” I recall being in second grade when uniforms were first introduced to my school and being pulled out of class by my male vice principal because my skirt was too short. I remember even hating the skirt because it felt too long for my liking. However, because it was not far enough past my knees, I had to miss a few classes. I was also very embarrassed and uncomfortable around my vice principal. He made me feel like it was my fault for deciding to wear a skirt in hot weather. His actions also implied my seven-year old body would keep my classmates from learning and my teachers from teaching when I was the one that was missing out on my learning. I know I am not the only student that has been negatively affected by school dress codes.

My sister is 12 years old and in seventh grade. Every morning features a constant battle of her finding something to wear to school that is weather appropriate and follows dress codes. She, along with the rest of her classmates, are growing up and discovering their own styles. However, that is complicated when they are restricted from wearing certain attire. They are not allowed to wear spaghetti straps. Furthemore, if they wear tank tops or tee-shirts, their sleeves must be two finger thickness. They are prohibited from showing their belly-buttons, and their shorts need to rest an inch or two above their knees. Schools become very hot during the day during the warm summer months. Not all of her classrooms are air conditioned and neither is her bus. The conflict comes in when she wants to wear shorts and an airy shirt that may show her belly button. She is not allowed to wear this clothing. Our school system needs to be reformed when it comes to dress codes. We have too many young girls growing up and we do not need to push the stigma of insecurity or misogyny. Our school system claims to be based around community, but administrators will not listen to our concerns.