The Annual "Who Can Wear What" Discussion

There were two stories in the news around the clothing that girls are choosing to wear.  (And I hope everyone sees that I'm leaving the comments section up.)

The first story - very widely publicized- came from an incident last weekend where girls traveling with an adult who works for United airlines got stopped from boarding the plane because of the leggings that they were wearing.  There was a high-profile mom activist in line who saw this and started a Twitter frenzy that included a couple of actresses who stepped in.  United answered back but left out a key point (which hurt them).

The point was that for flyers using United's "buddy" rates, the airline requires a higher standard of dress (for men and women, boys and girls).  It was not that that what the girls were wearing was objectionable but that it was not up to the code.  The airline didn't explain how they created their code and frankly, I don't think they have to. 

They make their employees wearing uniforms and I would think that getting a big discount for your family might be worth dressing up more than you normally would to fly. 

One key issue here is this debate over whether leggings are pants or not.  To me, they are not.  I noticed at Facebook that many adult women say yes, they are pants and worn with a long tunic and boots are an acceptable outfit in public.  I would agree but the majority of women and girls who wear leggings are not wearing long tunics. 

The nature of leggings is that they are very clingy.  I think some of that is because in some activities, like yoga and ballet, the line of the leg is important to see.  That's fine for those activities.  And yes, they are super comfy but then again, so are pj's. 

The other story was about a high school that created a "do and don't" list for prom dresses.  To make matters worse, it came out just a week before the prom when many girls had already purchased dresses. It was pretty patronizing BUT I do see the point somewhat.  


I have to smile because when I was in high school (in the Fred Flintstone years), the idea was to look pretty, not sexy.  I am pretty astonished at how daring and glamorous many of these dresses are. 
“Since the beginning of the year, females at Stanton have been targeted for wearing running shorts, leggings, shirts that show shoulders and wearing what the outdated dress code deems ‘inappropriate,’” she wrote. “This was the last straw for the student body and we decided to take a stand against it.” 
Asked about the controversy, Amie Hess, a professor of sociology at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., wrote in an email that the flier promoted a “hidden curriculum” that “suggests that young women’s bodies are objects to be consumed by men, and that it is up to women to police the behavior of men.”
This argument over clothing in school and public places seems to revolve around three issues.

1) Why girls seem to have more dress code restrictions than boys?
2) That the problem with dress codes sometimes seems to be how principals and teachers handle/enact them than the actual code itself.
3) Does having a dress code with an eye to modesty there because boys can't control themselves and/or it's distracting to boys?

Well, duh, girls have many more choices of what to wear than boys.  I think that's fairly obvious.  With boys, it's "pull up your pants, no underwear showing, no drug/swearing/racism on your t-shirt and no tank tops or shirts that don't cover the midriff."

I find with these stories that this problem is the one that seems to come up again and again.  And it's this public shaming of girls - "shame on you for wearing this piece of clothing" and it happens in front of a class or other students. 

I recall from when my son was at Eckstein that if any kid, male or female, was dressed inappropriately, the principal had a collection of XXL orange t-shirts that could cover any situation.  And that's what the kid got to wear the rest of the day (didn't have to bother mom or dad at work).  The kids got the message.

But, the conversation was not done in front of other kids.  I think doing it in front of other students conveys the message that the principal or teacher thinks the girl looks, well, slutty, and that gets passed on to other students.

Here's where I want to bring in the word that I think really applies - appropriateness.

I am willing to bet that every single adult here, at some time, was apprised about what was appropriate dress for different situations.  It may have got more casual through the years but you're still going to find that many businesses require uniforms or appropriate professional dress.  We dress in different ways for religious services, weddings and funerals. 

Now are kids "working?"  No but school is their training ground for how to behave out in the world.  Many schools have programs about shaking hands, looking someone in the eye and how to do an interview.

When I was co-president of the PTA at Roosevelt and we did tours, I would give a short speech.  Part of that speech - to both parents and kids - was this. 

"About the dress code.  Look, you do not have to dress like you are going to Grandma's or church but you can't come dressed like you are going to the beach or a party."  

That was it and that left plenty of middle ground.

As for the issue of boys.  I raised two boys and I was around a LOT of teenaged boys and guess what? Teenaged boys are interested in looking at other people's bodies.  That they are sometimes very overt in their viewing and very aggressive in their talk is not appropriate at school and they should not be talking about anyone's body at school unless they are talking about anatomy in biology class.

It certainly is not up to girls to dress more modestly to fend that off because, in the history of the world, it hasn't really worked.  

But, is it distracting to boys? I think so. 

Another story that I may have told before was when I tutored at Eckstein.  I was in an LA class the day before Thanksgiving break.  The teacher had allowed students to either go to the library or stay in class and they were doing some kind of trivia contest.  Most of the kids went to the library with some staying for the contest.  Three girls who had left for the library came back and sat right on front of some boys.  (Now keep in mind, this was at the height of low-rise jeans.) 

I glanced over at the boys and they just stared at the girls and lost interest in the contest.  Just like that.  I got up and moved over to their view and there were two bright pink thongs showing.  I asked the girls to come with me and gently told them it was not appropriate to wear jeans so low that when you sat down your underwear was exposed.  One of them glared and me and hissed, "I know; you're the third adult today to tell me that."  I said, "Maybe that should tell you something."

So yes, boys should have the social courtesy and discipline to pay attention in class.  But kids in puberty are not that good at ignoring what is right in front of them and if your 14-year old son was sitting in algebra with a bright pink thong in front of him, I think you might see the difficulty.  But ditto if a girl was sitting in back of a guy with his boxers exposed.

It's not appropriate.


Jet City mom said…
Were these utfits that they would be allowed to wear to school?(& it sounds like they would be), then they should have been able to wear them.
I assume you mean the leggings? Again, this is United's rule for employees using their discount flight program. Apparently, it's clearly laid out how United wants employees (and their guests) to present themselves when using the program. I'm not sure it's fair for United to know what is allowed and not allowed in every school district in the country.
Anonymous said…
Wearing slightly dressy clothing for free or inexpensive flights is a good tradeoff. The airline was not policing the clothing of random ticket holders. Non-rev travelers know the deal. As I heard the story, the girls had dresses with them they pulled on over the leggings and were good to go. They are representing the company while they fly free and know they need to dress up a little (and it is NOT very restrictive; you can even wear long shorts these days).
--been there
Anonymous said…
Jut because you are getting a cheaper ticket doesn't mean the airline can be discriminatory. Would you be OK if they made girls wear burkhas? Just another example of how females are always being judged and exploited. -Boycott United!
Parent said…
I appreciate all the information you share about Seattle Public Schools. This is a disappointing post, however. I don't think it was appropriate for you, as a classroom volunteer, to speak to students about how they were dressed. If a volunteer spoke to my child about her clothing I would contact the school. "Modesty" is a loaded and sexist word used to shame girls. It should not be part of a public school dress code. Pants (in the US) are clothing that covers the legs. It's not up to other people to judge whether someone's pants are pants or not. People who worry about this need to find more important things to worry about. Girls wearing leggings and yoga pants at school are not a problem. I see evidence that this is not a problem every day at school.
I used the word "modesty" because that is what I have heard school districts use.

As for what I said, it appeared that teachers had already talked to the girls. I guess I could have just asked the girls to move without explaining why.

If clothing that covers the legs are pants, are pantyhose pants? Thick tights? What about shorts? Only half pants and how long should those half pants be?

It's a slippery slope.
Jet City mom said…
I really dont see how it is immodest for a ten yr old to wear leggings.
I don't either Jet City but United gets to make their own policies (and I guess the public and their employees can act accordingly.)
Anonymous said…
I am not sure it is discriminatory since males do not get to wear lycra either, and girls can wear the same jeans and long shorts males can. If United said that men and boys were all right to wear lycra running tights or bike shorts but girls couldn't wear leggings, for example, I'd be right with you.
-been there
Been There, you are right but one issue in this incident is that the dad was wearing shorts.
Cheryl Z. said…
I can't believe school rules must be made to fill a void in parental common sense. As a former teacher, parent, & tax-payer, I've always believed that the jr/senior high school's mission is teaching real-world, valuable subject content with minimal distractions. A child's JOB is to learn that content. As a responsible parent, my JOB is to support the teacher's effort & assure my child is not disrupting the learning process in any way. Raging hormones are distractions enough at this age. Anything parents & teachers can do to eliminate unnecessary distractions is worth doing. These posts above (& many others elsewhere) are not about how to help our kids learn to solve an equation or how to write an organized book report. Instead, we're reading lots of parental passion pro & con about certain clothes worn to class & related issues of sexism, modesty, body-shaming, etc. So it's obvious to me that certain clothing IS a distraction or this thread wouldn't be necessary...
Rondy6 said…
I think everybody should wear what he or she likes, till that moment when it influences the others. It doesn`t matter you have Billie Eilish look or casual style. If you don't offend anybody, everything must be okay)

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