Some students say high school dress code sexist, biased, figure-shaming

Graphic by Jack Christian
With nearly all sophomores, juniors and seniors believing that there is some gender or body type bias in the dress code, according to a Sept. 26 Octagon poll, the dress code is one of the most controversial rules on campus. 

On Sept. 28 sophomores Aaron Graves and Naomi Turnbull, junior Nate Jakobs and senior Amalie Fackenthal violated the five clear-cut rules of the dress code, but none were caught.

The handbook says that the school does not want to mandate a “formal dress code.” However, there are some elements of clothing that are not “appropriate school attire.” 

This includes wearing anything “excessively ripped” or distracting; showing areas “normally covered by underwear;” wearing something with a reference to drugs or alcohol; wearing pajamas; and the newest rule of wearing shorts with less than a three-inch inseam. If a student violates a rule, they will receive an email from dean of student life Patricia Jacobsen.

Graves wore pajama pants; Turnbull had excessively ripped jeans, and her bra strap was showing; Jakobs wore a hat advertising a beer company; and Fackenthal wore shorts with a two-inch inseam.

Yet none were dress coded.

And the only one noticed by their classmates was Turnbull.

“People came up to me and asked me if I had been dress coded yet all day,” Turnbull said.

Jacobsen said that the reason not all students who break the dress code are warned is because dress coding is not her priority. 

Jacqueline Chao
Sophomore Naomi Campbell breaks dress code by donning ripped jeans and a tank top that shows her bra straps.

“I don’t walk around the quad and look for people who are wearing short shorts, showing too much skin or wearing inappropriate slogans,” she said. 

“(I) refuse to treat this place like a prison.”

“The dress code is a guideline because we want (the students) to learn to make good decisions about how (to) represent (themselves).”

In the Sept. 26 poll of 80 sophomores, juniors, and seniors, 88 percent said that the dress code is biased. However, only nine students said they had been dress coded this year. All were girls. 

History teacher Sue Nellis, former head of high school, said poor decision-making is exactly what led to the creation of the inseam rule. 

“Enforcement is always difficult,” she said. “But if the girls didn’t push the envelope, then this new rule wouldn’t have been added.”

Jacobsen said she came up with the new rule after shopping online for shorts and noticing that they were organized by the length of their inseams.

“I thought, ‘Oh, that would really make my life easier as the dress code person if I just had a rule, like (shorts) had to be three inches long,’” Jacobsen said. 

However, students like junior Grace Naify don’t like the new rule because they don’t own any shorts with a three-inch inseam. 

“I have chosen to wear (long) pants all year because of it,” she said.

Like Naify, Fackenthal does not like the rule and thinks that it should be removed.

“It’s such a ridiculous rule because I don’t know where you can find shorts that have a three-inch inseam, (and) I don’t own any,” she said.

“As long as you are covered in your private areas, then (the length of your shorts) really shouldn’t matter.”

Jacobsen said another reason for adding the shorts rule was to try to make the dress code more equal to every body type. This is because last year she was accused of dress coding only a specific body type, she said.

Jacqueline Chao
Junior Nate Jakobs wears a hat with inappropriate alcoholic references, something that is not kosher under the dress code.

“Last year someone told me that I only dress code skinny girls because they are the ones who wear the short shorts,” Jacobsen said. 

“Then about a week later I heard from another person who thought I was only dress coding a different body type than the one the other person told me.”

However, even after the new rule was added, 38 percent of students still believe that the dress code targets a specific body type, according to the Sept. 26 poll. 

One is senior Yasmin Gupta, who said that the dress code targets her because she has been dress coded for wearing things that “skinny girls” get away with wearing. 

Jakobs disagreed and said that he doesn’t think that there is a body-type bias in the dress code and that certain body types simply need to wear different sized clothing due to the shape of some of their features.

“I don’t see a problem with the dress code,” Jakobs said. 

And most boys agreed. In the Sept. 26 poll, 90 percent said that they think no part of the dress code should be changed.

On the other hand, 62 percent of girls disagreed with Jakobs and want changes.

Turnbull had some suggestions.

“We should be able to wear ripped jeans if we want to because all we’re showing is skin,” Turnbull said. “(And) girls wear bras; it’s not a big deal if their bra straps are showing.” 

But Fackenthal said she has no issue with the bra rule. 

Jacqueline Chao
Sophomore Aaron Graves wears pajama pants, breaking dress code.

“That makes sense to me,” she said.

However, Fackenthal said that boys that break the dress code, such as by wearing pajama pants or drug and alcohol slogans, aren’t dress coded as often as girls.

And most students agree. In fact, in the poll, 90 percent of students said that they think that girls are dress coded more  often than boys. 

(The other 10 percent said they think that boys and girls get dress coded about the same or they didn’t know. No student thought that boys were dress coded more frequently.)

And Jacobsen agreed.

“Girls get dress coded way more than boys do,” she said. 

“It’s not stylish for boys to wear short shorts. For some reason our society doesn’t tell boys that the only way they can be attractive or valued is by showing off their body.” 

Jakobs said that the reason that girls are dress coded more often than boys is less complicated.

 “There aren’t that many ways that guys can dress conventionally that breaks the dress code,” he said.

But, based on her experience, Nellis disagreed.

“It completely depends on what each gender is wearing,” Nellis said. 

“When the boys wore those shirts that had really large openings in their arms (bro tanks), we had to deal with that too.”

—By Jackson Margolis 
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