In Praise of School Dress Codes

I have a very vivid memory of sitting in American history class as a senior in high school and looking over at my friend Ali. She was covertly gesturing at the guy next to her who was wearing a tank top. We were in suburban Connecticut, not Florida–which is to say that tank tops were not exactly fashionable attire for males, even in the late-1990s. I didn’t know what all her gesticulating meant until she whipped out the Ani DiFranco lyrics she knew I would recognize. “PALE PURPLE!” I grimaced. She could see this dude’s nipple.

I’ve been thinking about this story a lot lately. There seems to have been a rash of outraged blog posts and news segments about girls getting sent home from school–or being otherwise punished–for failing to meet their school’s dress codes. Some of the stories seem outrageous. Othertimes, some of the shorts actually do seem pretty short¬†and if you knew what the dress code was, why didn’t you abide by it?¬†Parents cry foul when their daughters are reprimanded for wearing short-shorts/skirts, spaghetti strap tank tops, and beyond. They gripe that boys aren’t “shamed” for their wardrobes–and that girls should not have to care whether boys are “distracted” by their bare skin. It would be easy enough to throw up my feminist hands and say, “Right on! Wear whatever you want, grrrrl!” But I feel like something important is being ignored in these discussions. Continue reading