Dress Codes are Outdated, Here’s Why:

Students protest restrictive dress codes in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Photo courtesy of Suhei Rivas

Dress codes are a touchy topic across America, and for good reason. Many schools use the reasoning of “distraction,” and “modesty,” to justify their sexist and classist policies. All across America, students and communities are protesting restrictive dress codes and fighting for their right to an education. At Northside High School in Fort Smith, Arkansas, students organized a protest on the night of their school board meeting. At Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, Florida, students protest in their school during the lunch hour. People are angry, and with school transitioning back to fully in-person, people are realizing how dress codes affect students negatively. The link to the Palmer Ridge Student Handbook, which contains the official dress code, will be included at the bottom of this article.

The Student Handbook gives examples of dress code violations.

Here at Palmer Ridge High School, our dress code is plainly stated in the student handbook that we are required to sign at the beginning of the year. It includes the phrase: “No bare midriffs. Shirts and tops should come to the top of your pants or skirt and not ride up when you move.” Many people at Palmer Ridge have been dress coded, and most of them are girls. However, one male student, Mark Bernard (12) said that he had been dress coded for wearing short-shorts and a crop top. Another PR student, Samantha Neptune (12) told her story about being dress coded for wearing short-shorts. She said that in her 8th grade history class, an administrator pulled her out and had her go to the office to pick out pants from the Lost and Found, or call her parents to bring her clothes before she could go back to class. This type of environment fosters the idea that young girls, 12 or 13 years old like Samantha, should be sexualized and restricted for the benefit of boys and teachers. Why do schools not teach young boys to control themselves, rather than force young girls to be ashamed of their bodies?

Mark Bernard, a senior at PR, has been dress coded by a teacher for wearing shorts that are, “too short,” and a shirt that is, “too cropped.” In an interview with Bernard, he told me he was wearing the same shorts he was dress coded for. The shorts seemed to be quite a bit longer than many shorts worn by girls at PR, and Bernard assured me his shirt showed no midriff or skin.

Mark Bernard (12) shows khaki shorts he was dress coded for. Photo by Mallory Sale

Not only do these dress codes negatively affect peoples perceptions of young girls, but they also show that young men who decide to dress in a way they feel comfortable in are not welcome unless they fit into a group of other men. Although midriffs are not allowed to be seen, PR football players often wear their jerseys on game day, which clearly expose midriff and their waistline. This also means that their underwear can be seen above their pants, which is technically not allowed. However, these students rarely get dress coded for these things as it is seen as their “uniform.” This also applies to both volleyball players and cheerleaders, both of which are often required to wear their uniforms on game days.

The volleyball and cheer uniforms have very short bottoms that expose much of the athletes thighs. They are also completely skintight, and football jerseys often show midriff of players on game days. None of these are dress coded, as the players are required to wear them on game days.

It is also important to note that as girls grow into adulthood, they may develop larger breasts, hips, and thighs. This is natural, and taught to us in freshman year with our health class. Why then do school officials treat these things as taboos, and things to be ashamed of?

Kendra Schleiker, an administrator and the main faculty member responsible for dress coding students, commented on the controversial code. When asked why the dress code is necessary at school, she said, “The folks that put the dress code in place believe that a standard of dress was necessary to ensure everybody is on an even playing field. So to speak.”

This is probably what the administrators originally wanted and hoped that a dress code would keep everyone on an, “even playing field,” but this is simply not true at this time. In regards to whether she believed the dress code is consistently enforced, she stated that, “It’s difficult to thoroughly enforce because there are people uncomfortable with telling females that their belly is showing or that their breasts are showing . . . some individuals want to steer away from that.” Schleiker notes that staff can be uncomfortable with enforcing the dress code, specifically for dress code violations against females, as this might mean they are looking at those specific places.

Kendra Schleiker speaks on dress code.

Former security staff, Marcela Lopez, commented as well. She said, “I think it should be appropriate to come to school dressed in a certain way, not just for academic reasons but to show respect to each other.” She said she had dress coded students for, “shorts being too short, belly showing, camis [spaghetti straps], and hats. Across the board, female and male.”

However, this problem is not only affecting Palmer Ridge. Schools all across America deal with the repercussions of restrictive dress codes, with some school restricting things like ripped jeans. In Fort Smith, Arkansas, a group of students from Northside High School protested their restrictive dress code. Senior Samantha Rivas organized the event and started the hashtag, “FREE THE MIDRIFF” on Instagram. Her sister, Suhei Rivas’ posts about the protest held at the Fort Smith School Board meeting got national attention and garnered over two million likes. Her posts are pictured below.

There are many who believe that girls are choosing to sexualize themselves through their clothes; however, many young girls simply want to dress comfortably or in a way that expresses their personality. There is also an argument that students should act and dress professionally to prepare entering the workforce, yet the same people saying these things argue that “children” or students, should act and dress as children, not adults. This is quite a confusing thing for students to hear as we do not know what our administrators want from us. In places like Fort Smith, students want to voice their frustration and confusion. But here in Monument, students aren’t as forthcoming about talking to the school board or teachers. Allegedly, some parents of both PR and LP students are organizing a way to talk to the school board asking to repeal the dress code entirely.

The current dress code is outdated, restrictive, and harms students more than helps them. I am not sure if the dress code should be repealed completely, but I do know that at the moment, it needs to be reviewed and changed to be equal, not sexist.

These are my personal opinions and do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bear Truth or Palmer Ridge High School.

The PRHS Student Handbook: HERE