Opinion: Are School Dress Codes Necessary?


Students protesting against dress code policy at Rush County High School. (Change)

Myles Chapman, Opinion Reporter

Various types of school dress codes are excessively discriminatory and unjust. These dress codes discriminate against many genders, minorities, and gender identities. With how controversial, inequitable, and problematic school dress codes are, the question, “are school dress codes necessary?” should be considered. 


There are many school dress codes that discriminate against girls and females. School dress codes in place for girls are very sexist and unjust. Many of these dress codes sexualize young girls’ bodies. They imply that showing female body parts are ‘distracting’ or ‘inappropriate’. Many people argue that these dress codes for girls are necessary as boys will be distracted by their bodies. Instead of having girls change how they dress in order to conform to others’ standards, we have to teach young boys to not sexualize girls’ bodies. Girls should not be responsible for the ways boys act. There is also a double standard presented within these dress codes, as a boy wearing the same garments would not get the same disciplinary action. 


A study from New York Times says, “In an analysis of dress codes at 25 New Hampshire public schools, the researchers found that most had policies specifically targeting girls, with policies on covering breasts, cleavage, collarbones and shoulders. The study notes that some of the garments prohibited in many school policies, such as tank tops and strapless shirts, are “prohibited because they are considered ‘sexy.‘ This is very invalid because girls should not have to be defined as ‘sexy’ for the clothes they wear. Showing skin and body parts is not going to distract people from getting an education. Ultimately, school dress codes in regards to girls are unnecessary and discriminatory. 


There are also many school dress codes that discriminate against black people and African Americans. Dress codes that discriminate against black people include prohibiting head coverings, like durags, bonnets, or scarfs, and hairstyles like dreads, braids, or locs. Many schools give their reasons for prohibiting these garments because they are ‘gang-related’, but associating these things with gangs is essentially anti-black and sets racist undertones. When dress codes reinforce white norms, being black becomes a violation. Controlling black bodies and the ways in which black people should portray themselves stems from white supremacy ideology. 

Survey of different demographics in their experiences of dress code violations and disciplinary actions. (Phi Delta Kappan)

DeAndre Arnold, who attended Barbers Hill High School, has experienced this exact discrimination. DeAndre was suspended for his dreadlocks in January 2020 because they violated the dress code; he was told he cannot walk in his graduation as a result of this. Being told you can’t have an education and can’t graduate because of your hair is very unjust. Furthermore it shows how dress codes that discriminate against black people perpetuate white supremacist ideologies, are inherently racist, and oppress black people from getting an education. However, because of how widespread this incident was in the media, DeAndre has been granted many opportunities like endorsement deals with hair companies, meeting many celebrities, and interviews


Students should be able to have a right to express themselves through their clothes and accessories without being denied an education. Dress codes strip students away from their identities and who they are as people. The clothes that students wear are one of the ways that they can show their personality and the interests that they may have. Fashion and clothes also give students pride and power in themselves, helping them build up their confidence.  


According to the National Center for Education Statistics, In the 2017-18 school year, 42.6% of elementary schools, 61.6% of middle schools and 55.9% of high schools reported they enforced a strict dress code for their students. 


There have been countless students who have protested against these dress codes. People are tired of being discriminated against and having their rights to wear what they want stripped away. Students at Don Antonio Lugo High School held a student-led protest combating the school’s dress code policies. The protest lasted throughout the day, happening during lunch, and after school. 

Students protesting after being turned away from the homecoming dance due to their clothes violating the dress code at Brookwood High School. (ABCNews)

These efforts toward ending discriminatory dress code policies show how problematic and controversial they are. Students are passionate more than ever to get things changed in regards to discriminatory dress codes.  


“I think school dress codes are dumb, because kids aren’t able to express their true identity,” said Sophomore Jennesse Byrd.


“I don’t think school dress codes are necessary. It contributes to rape culture [and] it pushes the idea that how you dress is how you should be perceived and treated by others.” said senior Tsion Gebretsadik, adding that a teacher has said to them, ““You’re beautiful, you do not need to be doing all that.” Gebretsadik said that, “It made me feel like I was displaying myself for the rest of the world when I was just trying to express myself,” 


“I don’t think school dress codes are necessary. I feel like the teachers are more distracted by a girl showing her shoulders than the kids,” said Senior Aysia Rathpakdy.


Ultimately, Dress Codes are meant to create safe, positive learning environments in schools, but many of them have the opposite effect, discriminating and shaming students, and disproportionately targeting female students and students of color. The fight to end discriminatory dress codes continues, students will keep protesting unjust dress codes and spreading awareness about the topic.