What Can Girls Wear?

It's prom season and it's soon to get warmer and that means....dress code issues.  One huge issue: are leggings really pants (my young adult sons say no)?  From the Huffington Post:

Younger girls often wear them as pants with little fuss. But as those same girls approach middle school, leggings have become a clothing accessory that's increasingly controversial — and seemingly, the favorite new target of the school dress code.

Haven Middle School in Evanston, just north of Chicago, took what turned out to be a contentious stand: If you wear leggings, you need to have a shirt or skirt over them that reaches at least down to your fingertips.  In other words, girls need to cover their behinds.

I can't necessarily disagree with this.  Sometimes leggings are made of different materials and, if they are not thick enough, can show underwear.   As I used to tell the boys at Roosevelt who had baggy pants, I'm not interested in seeing your underwear.

But is a distraction factor or an expectation of what students should wear to school?  (I always told prospective Roosevelt students on tours - you don't have to dress as if you are going to church or to see your grandmother but don't dress like you're going to a party.)

Clearly frustrated with the debate, Haven Middle School teachers posted this statement on the school's website to explain the reasoning behind the leggings policy: "We believe, through years of experience and professionalism, that it is essential to our school's climate that we set a standard of expectation and decorum."

They denied that they acted because leggings distract boys, as has been alleged by some parents.
"The notion that girls' clothing affects the way boys learn is not, and never will be, our message," the statement said.

At least one former teacher who's now an expert in education law advises schools to continue to focus instead on safety — and to ignore students' unusual dress, if it's not disruptive or disrespectful in some way.  Beyond that, Nancy Hablutzel, a professor of education at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, says consistency is important.

CNN has a story on prom dresses which I think is a far trickier issue.  It truly is a dress-up night and NOT a day at school.  As well, girls have different bodies and some dresses might be more showy on one girl than another.  But again, it's an evening out.

For Holly Manson, a mom of three teens in Oakland, Maine, one simple saying has made the difference between absolute dread during prom season and actually welcoming the rite of passage.

"'I always told my girls to 'dress classy not trashy' and so when they make their clothing choices, they tend to go towards the classy stuff," said Manson, who responded to a request for comment on CNN's Facebook page.

One school sent home a notice, complete with acceptable and unacceptable dresses.   It is kind of funny because the "good" dresses are mostly flouncy while the "bad" dresses are either very tight or tight and shiny.  

Here's what Seventeen magazine is suggesting; looks good to me.


Lynn said…
Public school dress codes should be limited to issues of safety and legality. Anything beyond that should be left up to students and their parents.

These rules disproportionately target girls. I don't like the messages they send to girls about their bodies and about who gets to make decisions about their bodies.
Lisa said…
Not only do the rules target girls disproportionately, they also discriminate against heavier girls, who cannot help having an against-the-rules amount of cleavage.
Anonymous said…
Your right to a public education shouldn't turn on whether you have the same taste in clothing as the school administration. Period. Full stop.

Josh Hayes said…
I have been advised by my instructors that, as a male teacher, I should say nothing at all, ever, about a female student's choice of clothing. (We were advised to tell a female colleague and let HER deal with it.) My feeling is, I should say nothing at all about ANY student's choice of clothing: I regard it as a speech (expression) issue. If a student wants to say something that makes him or her look foolish, that should be that student's choice. As long as my classroom continues to work, I see no reason to treat clothing any differently.

I do wonder sometimes what exactly students are trying to say with the clothing they choose: the "sex worker chic" leaves me cold. But maybe I'm just an objectifying old fogey.
mirmac1 said…
My daughter's school used to have the CYA rule for leggings, but like pants and skirts above-the-knee, styles lose their shock value and the rule was relaxed.

I remember getting sent home for wearing pants to school in the snow. Yeah, I'm old.

Some of the rules can bite me. My daughter looks great in her manga leggings.
Lynn said…

I like your attitude.
Anonymous said…
My daughter is very curvy, but not plus size. We cannot find jeans that fit her, so she has a choice between leggings and sweatpants. I am not going to make her wear sweats every day. And she does not look like a sex worker.

Josh Hayes said…
Having already put my foot in my mouth, I may as well wiggle my toes around in there. At my internship placement, last Fall I was seeing a number of the female students in extremely short shorts with knee-high boots and leather bustiers (I believe that's the correct term) with substantial bare midriff exposed. I was seeing the same outfit a couple of blocks from my house, out on Aurora, with some regularity. I know the school dress code bans bare midriffs, but I was certainly not going to say anything about it: I'm an intern. That stuff is way above my pay grade. I apologize if the "sex worker" remark offended, but sadly, as I said above, I do see sex workers at work near my house, and there seemed to be a significant overlap in outfits.
Jet City mom said…
Have you seen what a Broward County Florida board member is proposing?
She wants a dress code for parents.
mirmac1 said…
Josh, you're cool. I guess I'm still mad that I couldn't wear my plaid bell-bottoms in the snow.

I'd never let my daughter wear that to school. Kids learn the hard way that people will judge them by their behavior and appearance. If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it's a duck.
Anonymous said…
The problem as I see it is not "what girls wear" but that there are already dress codes in place stated on the SPS school websites. Leggings alone are not allowed. As a parent this puts me in a complicated situation if the dress codes are not enforced. I don't want my daughter summarily removed from school when/if the codes are enforced on a whim. Meanwhile, I look like an idiot trying to get my daughter to conform to a dress code that is never enforced. We've had many silly arguments about this in the morning. I realize the schools want a "paper trail" so that they can condemn students on a case by case basis and my daughter understands that as well. Still, it goes a long way toward building a disrespect for authority. I think it is foolish to impose a dress code in the public schools - where you draw the line is difficult to articulate (what about jeggings for example???). And I would prefer that the SPS NOT spend time trying to articulate and enforce a complicated dress code. It is sufficient to control where and how much skin is exposed for girls and boys (i.e. no midriffs). But I think the no spaghetti strap rule is stupid - are we to measure our straps in the morning??

-Lets be practical
Practical, as the article says, consistency, by both parents and school, are necessary to make any dress code work. Principals don't care so it's really just a paper document.
mirmac1 said…
Lets be practical, yep, we've got out the ruler some days....
Po3 said…
My rule is - at school you will dress for success.

A young women should never show up at school with cleavage (or any navel) exposed and should always CYA regardless of their size and school dress codes.

Unknown said…
I still remember when I was in high school (in the early 90s) and my teacher made a comment about the way that I was dressed. I was wearing these really cool new leggings that I was proud of and an oversized sweater. In general I was a pretty conservative dresser- this was risqué for me. We had no dress code, I went to a big urban school for gifted students, so there was definitely a mixture of what students wore. Anyway my teacher kind of tsked at me and told me that I had to be careful, because I didn't know how beautiful I was. She did not say this in a nice way, and I can still remember the way this shamed me. No one else ever said anything to me, but I never wore that outfit again. Stupid teacher, taught me to be afraid of my body. It wasn't that bad of an outfit. I guess if someone with a different body wore it she wouldn't have said anything? I was tall and curvy... and she was right, I had a more negative impression of myself than reality.

Anyway I agree with all of the above that teachers shouldn't say anything, and the decisions should be left to kids & parents about what to wear, as long as there's no safety issue. My kids are still little, but I hope they will not ever have a teacher make them feel bad for the way they look or what they wear. That is much worse than when a fellow student does it, which is sure to happen- kids are pretty cruel, but you expect the cruelty from a kid.
Anonymous said…
I think dress codes are more distracting for a learning environment than anything that anyone could wear. Once there is a dress code teachers & administrators become clothing police rather than educators. And the students come up with ways to get around the dress code, or they waste time & energy rebelling against it.
Po3 said…
One thing all young women should ask themselves when dressing for school - do they want to be a distraction, especially to the male students and if so why?
TechyMom said…
PO3, that is a completely reasonable rule for you, as a PARENT, to make for your kids. It is not a reasonable rule for a school to make for other people's kids. Dress codes are too open to interpretation, and their enforcement by the human adults in the school can often have the sort of unintended consequences Unknown describes. If we're that worried about teenagers showing their bodies (and I'm not), we should have uniforms. At least then the rules are clear, and there is less room for selective enforcement and shaming.
Josh Hayes said…
Okay, Po3, I'm going to have to disagree here. Men, and boys, need to own their own behavior. If BOYS are distracted, then BOYS need to stop being distracted: it's their job. The suggestion that women should wear burkas because men are such weak vessels that, poor things, they can't control themselves, is hogwash. (Of course I'm exaggerating.)

Put simply: if a boy is distracted by what a girl wears, it's the boy's fault, not the girl's. He needs to fix it, not her.
TechyMom said…
And a giant +1 to Josh!
TechyMom said…
One more point...
"I realize the schools want a "paper trail" so that they can condemn students on a case by case basis and my daughter understands that as well." -- Let's be practical

This is a real problem. The system is designed for selective enforcement, subject to the biases of the adults in the building. It also encourages kids to see how far they can push. Bad stuff all around.
Po3 said…

So when a male students wears their pants around their knees it is the girls fault if she is distracted (or disgusted) by this dress style?
Anonymous said…
For some reason, dress code and playground rules seem to multiply, when best practice for teaching is the fewest rules possible, and only ones that are enforceable.

And of course, the right dress code will ensure that teenagers are never distracted by the opposite sex. Cover kids enough, and their ankles will distract each other. Learning how to get things done despite life's distractions is a necessary skill.

And I wasn't offended by the sex worker comment, just thought it was a strange leap.

mirmac1 said…
One person's (or culture's) standard of modesty can differ greatly from another's. It's not right or wrong. The other day my daughter and her friends went to a "women only" swim at the local pool. The blinds were drawn and nearly all the women were East African and nearly fully covered. And everyone was having a great time without shame or judgment. I'm glad my daughter saw that other cultures and their values can be beautiful.

What would be wrong is if others were to impose their standard and say "What's wrong with you? Who wears leotards and long sleeves to swim? You don't need your own private swim time!"

I agree with Josh. The only way to stop the "rape culture" on campus is to place the responsibility of control on the "distracted" males. And I respect Po3's right to dress her own children as she sees fit.
Anonymous said…
I don't agree with the most of the commenters here before me.
I think a school is a WORKplace, the students' job is to learn there (not no be distracted by really provocative pieces of clothes) and also, you have to think about the teachers, administrators, adults, who try to work in this environment. Just think about the fully developed middle and high school girls and boys, they do mean distraction to the classmates and the young adults in the community.
Also, I firmly believe to prevent any incident by not provoking it.
I hear as most of you are saying: "but the USA is a free country so anyone can dress, act, talk how do they want". I think in order for our students to learn how to behave responsible (free?) as they grow up they have to learn the limits first, and the dress code in school could be a step to get there (as part of the learning culture). This still means that the students could dress freely how they want when not in school.
Ps.: I had a similar feeling driving on Aurora from IHS/BHS a couple of times before, as someone earlier...
-Yes for DS (dress code)
mirmac1 said…
Yes for DS,

I know where you're coming from. I was born in a patrician Latin American family. Never been one of the free swing 70's hippie chicks (more 70's nerds). Upbringing is key and must done by parents. If the school has an issue they should only raise with the parent, and if there is no satisfactory response, have an equitable non-shaming way to bring things in line.
Lynn said…
Yes for DS,

A school is a workplace for adults. They choose their workplace and are compensated for the work they do there. An adult who chooses to work in a middle school or high school environment goes into it knowing that they'll be working with teenagers. If they're unhappy there, they've chosen the wrong workplace.

For students, a school is the place they receive services the state is mandated to provide to them. They are required by law to attend school. They do the work of learning there, but it's not their workplace.

What do you mean when you write I firmly believe to prevent any incident by not provoking it? What kind of incidents can children avoid by wearing the proper clothing?

Teaching my children how to dress and behave in various environments is my responsibility - one I'm not willing to pass on to the school district.
mirmac1 said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
As I said before, I think that students should dress with some degree of understanding for where they are and why they are there. School is not a party.

I recall my younger son, when he was in high school, saying that when the weather gets nice the girls tend to not cover up. I asked him if that was a bad thing and he said,"Not for me right now but my daughter won't ever dress that way. Too distracting."

Acting in sexist or aggressive ways based on how someone is dress is wrong. But noticing a girl's body is not a crime.
Lynn said…
I'm confused. Are we discussing what students should wear - or whether schools should be involved in that decision?
Students aren't always students so they can wear what they want outside of school (at least within what parents say/pay for).

Should schools be involved? As others have mentioned, there are safety issues so the school has the right to curtail some clothing choices for that issue.

Students aren't always students so they can wear what they want outside of school (at least within what parents say/pay for).

Should schools be involved? As others have mentioned, there are safety issues so the school has the right to curtail some clothing choices for that issue.

Students aren't always students so they can wear what they want outside of school (at least within what parents say/pay for).

Should schools be involved? As others have mentioned, there are safety issues so the school has the right to curtail some clothing choices for that issue.

Anonymous said…
Just saw a poster with a woman's face at the UW. Text was: "My outfit is not an invitation."

That's the bottom line. End of story.

-- get real
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the discussion everyone.
Mirmac, you are right, I was born in another country the same way as many of our fellow citizens (not in South America though). But I don't think this fact has anything to do with the question we are discussing here.
Yes, parents should educate their children about the clothing their should/could wear in school. But there are many parents who are failing this job (which is quite obvious if you go to any MS or HS and just look around). In this case I think that a dress code that is written in the school policy book and enforced on a regular basis, could help the community in a positive (and not a shameful) way. I think that what we have in SPS is the worst case scenario: we do have written policies but no one enforces them on a regular basis (and this sends a wrong message to our students for sure).

Lynn: Answering your question: "What kind of incidents can children avoid by wearing the proper clothing?"
Any kind of incidents, starting with the every day bullying that is going on in our schools. And I don't think a HS student should be called as a "child" when if they are 17, they could be charged as adults for their actions.

- Yes for DS
Lynn said…
Bullying doesn't happen because children wear the wrong clothing. Bullying happens because someone chooses to be a bully.

We are talking about middle school and high school students - who range in age from 11 to 18 years old. I'd consider most of them to be children. If you're looking for a legal definition, I believe in Washington parents can be held liable for damages caused by their children under the age of 18.

These are public schools, and they exist to fulfill the state's responsibilities to our children. While I expect my children to treat everyone with respect, I don't think we should cede more authority to the schools than is strictly necessary. This is one area where I think schools are pushing those boundaries.
Anonymous said…
When sex is involved one could say things get very complicated or very simple. Along with eating, sex is a fundamental compulsion of all animals. As humans we have in many cultures entwined clothing with sex. To say clothes are not an invitation to something is dishonest. Not to sexual assault, but a message of authority, occupation(including sex worker), intimidation, prosperity, respect for society, etc. When kids put on clothes, they are expressing themselves, something we want. We just have our own ideas of what we want them to express. Sometimes they only want to rile up adults and sometimes get attention from peers and sometimes just fit in with their friends or kids they'd like to have as friends.
These yoga pants are distracting to many males but soon they will be mundane and something else will come along. Maybe long dresses. That would shock for awhile.
Anonymous said…
Since we design both Prom Dresses and wedding dresses, I would say that the trend for them to look similar stems from the fast fashion world we live in today. It used to take a long time for runway and celebrity fashion dress trends to trickle down to the wedding dress and prom world. Today, with the internet and social media, bloggers take photos of celebrities and the runway fashions on their phone and spread the news styles throughout the world mere minutes later.

This creates an instant desire for these styles from consumers, and dress designers respond in both the fashion and wedding worlds by taking their inspiration from the hottest new trends that consumers are looking to purchase. Additionally, strapless styles in particular are really popular because they are flattering for a wide range of body types, and can be paired with a variety of different types of skirts. Strapless dresses can be paired with a full ballgown skirt, an elegant column skirt, and also a fit and flare mermaid skirt - so you see a lot of dresses designed with a strapless top for both prom and wedding wear.

Hope this helps!

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