If you are still following this thread (YOU ARE AMAZING), and you probably have even more questions now. By now you have learned the importance of finding and correcting gender bias in school dress codes. You have hopefully also looked at your school’s dress code to check it for gender biases. So now what? Great Question.
More than likely, you have discovered at least one concern within the wording of your dress code. Developing and refining a dress code should occur on a regular basis (yearly or perhaps even quarterly). Next, please keep in mind that there is more than one solution pathway and to work within the organization of your school district. The remainder of this blog will focus on steps teachers and administrators can take to make changes to improve the school dress code.
- Discuss your concerns with colleagues
- Highlight the wording to share with others
- Suggest that your colleagues also conduct a review of the dress code using the same coding phrases
- As a group, express your concerns to your administrators or equity team
- If your school district does not have an equity team, then I would strongly suggest that you raise the concern that this team does not exist and make this the first step in your process
In addition to the steps teachers can take, administrators have a few a more options available to pursue.
- Raise your concerns to the staff, school and district level administrators and ask for them to conduct a similar review using the same coding phrases.
- Be deliberate in stating why and how the gender biases within the dress code is harmful for all students!
As you begin the process of raising concerns and making positive changes, remember that some individuals will be personally against making changes to a “long standing” code or they accept the norm that females are responsible and should be held accountable as to not distract males. Additionally, social constructs, both identified and unobserved, that are present around “appropriate” attire, cannot and will not change overnight. Develop a long-term plan with critical conversations and multiple opportunities for input from all stakeholders.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to share some “non-traditional” suggestions for the revisions to your dress code. All suggestions are based on reducing bias in general. A quick fix is to set a school uniform and limit all clothing options for all students to the apparel items explicitly included in the school store. However, as you know choice in clothing is a major way in which teens express their individuality and begin to learn who they are. So, how to develop an inclusive learning environment while including parameters within student choice.
- Targeting Women’s Clothing Items: The easiest way to limit this is to never ban a clothing item. Especially not a gender specific clothing item. Instead of banning spaghetti straps you would need to ban all tank tops (men’s cuts as well as women’s cuts).
- Focusing on Cleavage: My main suggestion is to not focus on this idea at all. If you believe there needs to be limitations in your dress code, you need to ban clothing categories not the fit. You cannot focus on too tight or too revealing, the easiest way to address it is to ban all “v” necks for men and women. This starts limiting dress codes too much, and all students start struggling with wearing “appropriate” clothing.
- Too Short: This is almost a lose lose category. Any idea of shorts being too short is already targeting women. Currently, the average inseam length for men’s shorts is about 6 inches (until about 2 years ago the average was sitting right around 8 inches). On the other side the average inseam for women’s shorts is 3.5 inches (until recently the average was 2.5 inches). Meaning it is now “easier” for women to get longer shorts. But the typical rules around length of short is based on the average inseam for men’s shorts. My suggestion with required length is two-fold.
- First, use fashion averages to make your dress code. If the average women’s length for shorts is 3.5 inches, then that is what is acceptable in your school. If 3.5 inches is average that means 3.5 inches is socially acceptable as an average.
- Secondly, after setting the inseam requirement do NOT base violations on how an item of clothing is fitting a specific student. It is not a student’s fault for having long legs (which makes shorts look shorter). If the item of clothing is being worn as its “intended style” and meets the qualifications it is appropriate to be worn at school.
- No Midriff: The same idea as shorts being too short should be applied to the idea of no midriff. Even 5 years ago crop tops were not average. Now I urge you to go into a department store to the women’s (or juniors) section and find what percentage of clothing can reach your waistband. Hint – it is not a very high percentage. Finding an average length of shirt will be a bit harder.
The main take-aways to inform your revisions within your dress code:
- Use fashion averages to set your dress code. Your dress code should be ever changing from year to year (maybe even semester to semester).
- Do not check individual students’ attire by fit. Use the description of the item (as long as it has been unchanged) to decide if it is allowed. Example, if me and my friend go to the store and buy the exact same item (that is within the regulations) neither of us should be in violation. THERE SHOULD NEVER BE MENTION OF ITEMS BEING TOO REVEALING FOR ONE PARTICULAR STUDENT.
- All violations should be addressed on more of a case-by-case basis and done so in private. Things to address.
- The specifications of the item as on the companies’ website.
- Altered clothing items may be scrutinized harsher. Example: if shorts have an inseam within the regulation, but a student cuts the shorts shorter then they may be out of dress code.
- Clothing is worn in its intended fashion (as per the company who produced the item). Example: if the inseam of a pair of shorts is long enough, but a student rolls the top or the legs of the shorts to make them shorter. The fit may become out of regulation.
I want to thank you for following this three-part blog series. I hope you have found inspiration as well as a call to action to make changes to eliminate gender biases within school dress codes. Please reach out to me if you have any questions or would like additional information.