A few days before school started, my daughter Annie and I joined the kids and their parents who filled the school auditorium for seventh-grade orientation, excited and expectant, as the principal and assistant principal prepped us on school policies. They spent a lot of time on the dress code: “Girls, listen up, because our dress code violators are almost always girls. Nothing sleeveless at all. Even if it’s not a tank top. If it doesn’t have sleeves, you’ll be wearing the scrubs. If your skirt or shorts are more than five inches above your knees, you’ll be wearing the scrubs. Some girls last year used to think that it was okay to walk around looking wearing leggings, looking like Kim Kardashian or Buddy the Elf, but if you wear leggings this year, you’ll be wearing the scrubs. Same with sheer tops, even if you wear a tank top underneath. ” Cheerleaders (in tank tops and tiny skirts) shared the stage with the administrators as they explained the policy.
She had her first day of school outfit planned weeks in advance– a black skater skirt measuring exactly three inches above the knees, a colorful t-shirt, and ballet flats. They sat on the chair in her room, a signal that summer was drawing to an end.
I greeted her at the door when she got home after school, “How was your first day?”
She was quiet. Too quiet. Something was up.
“Was it good to see your friends again?”
“Yeah. . . . But I think I almost got in trouble.”
Annie isn’t a girl who gets in trouble. She would probably do just about anything to avoid being in trouble. “Really? What happened?”
“I was walking down the hall, and this guy, a teacher but I don’t know which one, called out to me and said that my skirt looked too short.”
The scrubs of shame are bright yellow and green, with “DRESS CODE” written in large letters all over the pants. Bryce, my eighth-grade son, says the kids who wear them look like prisoners.
“Mom, K got dress coded today.”
“She was wearing a t-shirt with wide sleeves, and even though she had a tank top on underneath, I guess you could see a tiny bit of bra under her arm, peeking out above the tank top.”
“I was about to go downstairs when a ninth-grader warned me that I needed to pull down my skirt all the way to my knees because there was a teacher down there who was on a rampage.” It was school picture day. By the end of the day, dozens of kids were in the scrubs.
“I don’t get the whole dress code thing. One guy in my class had a shirt with a naked lady on it and he didn’t get dress coded,” Bryce said.
Principal’s Announcement: “Girls, we’ve been having an issue with skirts. You girls may be look at yourselves in the mirror in the morning and think your skirt is long enough, but don’t forget, you have a bump in the back, so the skirts may be shorter in back than you think.”
Is your child’s dress code similar? Does a dress code make you feel better or worse about your child’s junior high experience? What do you think about putting the onus on twelve-year-old girls while letting the boys off? Does too much emphasis on what people wear backfire and reinforce sexualization? If increased enforcement of a restricted dress code is not the answer, then what is?