Are school dress codes sending the wrong message to girls?
Students and an administration weigh in on a difficult subject


Shoulders exposed and flip-flops are a no-no

By Nina Verissimo
The nuances of enforcing a school dress code fairly remain a hot topic amongst students, faculty, and parents alike.
Forbidding of showing of shoulders,
Mandatory undergarments in which students need to wear (such as bras)
Appropriate lengths of shorts and skirts.
Female students and their parents often say that they are concerned over being treated as a “distraction” to male students.
Elieen Coyle, a 2016 graduate of Delaware Valley High School shared her view of the dress code situation “I understood school dress code as a statement from school officials that students are expected to dress appropriately to prepare them for their adult lives, while teaching professionalism for college, job interviews, etc- and employers judge appearance when hiring people.”
In contrast Karileigh Tretola, a current student of Delaware Valley High said she had mixed feelings about the dress code and its enforcement. “I feel that … girls are definitely more susceptible to being ‘dress coded’ than the guys, although I don’t know that it’s simply just a result of not wanting us to be a distraction” she said. “For example, showing shoulders was an issue, but at the same time teachers wouldn’t yell at male students for sagging shorts.” Could this type of double standard in enforcement be sending the message to female students that they are held to a different standard then their male counterparts?
On the topic of a double standard in dress code enforcement Anna Boese a student of Goshen High said “I’ll think about how I’ve become accustomed to always covering my shoulders, even though when I walk into school I’ll see boys wearing tank tops with armholes so low you can see their entire chest. But I hear stories of other girls who had to change, or cover up, or even go home because the way they dress isn’t how the school wants them to dress.”
Another Goshen student Rowan Moses- Westphal gave a male perspective also suggesting there may be a double standard “While dress codes aren’t bad, and in fact necessary sometimes, they often target women. One of the more common examples is girls being unable to show their shoulders in school. If boys also had to cover their shoulders, that would be fine (ie the school is expecting a more professional look from the students and everyone has to carry it out), but since the majority of the time boys aren’t restricted by a dress code, it’s unfair and detrimental to girls’ learning environments.”
Delaware Valley High School handbook. “Administration will have the final determination on whether the clothing is appropriate. Students who violate the dress code will be asked to change into appropriate clothing. If they do not have appropriate clothing in school, the student will call home to ask a parent/guardian to bring in appropriate clothing. This will serve as a warning and the students will be assigned to the in- school suspension room until they receive the appropriate clothing. Future referrals for violations of the dress code will result in the following: a. First Offense- one (1) Detention b. Second Offense (1) day in-school suspension c. Third Offense- two (2) days in-school suspension”
When asked about the dress code policy Superintendent of Sparta Township Public Schools; Michael Rossi and the Sparta High School’s principal; Janet Ferraro said:
“The perennial dichotomy with student dress code is how current fashion trends stand up against traditional norms in school. Most often teenagers are influenced by what they see on television, movies, and other media outlets. Public schools in particular craft dress codes in a manner primarily designed to keep attention on teaching and learning as opposed to attire. That is a big factor in school uniforms. Students will tell you it is hard to buy clothing that is not ‘current’ and if those trends are not consistent with school policy it is hard to make it work all the time. Hearing from students and parents, along with teacher insights as to what keeps the focus on instruction, is key.”
So the question remains, is there a dress code double standard? West Milford High School’s dress code Dress and Grooming policy begins “A pupils dress, like his/her conduct, is and should be a personal matter. Insistence by the school on rigid conformity is prohibited”. However, when you read deeper into the policy you find mostly discussions of halter tops, tanks, and shirts that show the small of the lower back, seemingly directed more towards female student’s attire.
In September of 2017 NBC’s TODAY surveyed 17,000 individuals regarding schools having a student dress code, and 71% of people surveyed agreed schools should have some form of dress code.