School Dress Codes Do More Harm Than Good

white dress shirtsThe school my son attended in Washington state was a good public school that got good results. They had the typical dress code -- no spaghetti straps on girls, skirts/shorts had to be longer than the tips of fingers (which I think is still kind of short), and a few other loose rules.

We just moved into a much lower income area, that also has much lower test scores. It's been one of the things I've been worried about, and had we had better options, I likely would have passed on this house because of it (and no, homeschooling isn't an option).

A month out from starting school, I just learned they have a dress code ... but not just any dress code, but such a strict one that my son literally doesn't have a single article of clothing he can wear to school now. Crap.


Reading the dress code, I saw "no shaved or notched eyebrows" (Wha?), "no red or blue belts/shoelaces" and "[nothing] that display the numbers 13, 14, 18, 31, 41 or 81" amongst other things. Given our area, I assumed then that they're avoiding gang-related wear. We're close to Columbine high school, and while my school district has retracted the "no trenchcoat" rule, this local district hasn't. Then I scrolled down and saw that they have what they call an "enhanced dress code." My stomach dropped. The allowed clothing:

Pants: black, khaki or dark blue (no Dickies, Southpole or jeans).
Shirts: gray, white or yellow, must have sleeves and collar (no patterns, designs, or logos other than the school's logo)

Well @!&^%. Thinking of my son's wardrobe, I'm fairly sure he has absolutely, positively NOTHING that fits that criteria. And by nothing, I am not exaggerating. He loves Star Wars shirts, monsters, camo, and owns no polo shirts. His one pair of dark blue, non-jean pants? They're Dickies.

Doing the best pricing I can, I'm still looking at around $200 worth of clothes we neither need (I wasn't expecting to need to buy him new clothes for over a YEAR!), nor even want (yellow shirts? REALLY?). Local consignment stores all ended up being unhelpful, and we're likely going to move again next summer, likely making all of the clothing then worthless. An argument for dress codes is that students wearing too large or tight or weather-inappropriate clothing are distracted, but what about kids whose families can't afford the right sizes or comfortable uniform clothing either? Poor argument.

Rowan made a friend in Washington by finding common ground when the other boy wore a Star Wars shirt. I keep thinking how removing individuality doesn't detract from differences, but instead brings to light other differences children AREN'T in control of, such as maintenance of clothes, teeth, or in my son's case, speech issues.

And let's face it -- it wasn't the trench coat that made those boys at Columbine shoot anyone, nor will wearing blue Dickies turn my son into a gangster. He's a pretty, dorky little white boy who doesn't know what a gang IS -- it's kinda obvious he's not in a gang, and a pair of Dickies won't change that.

Rowan was really starting to enjoy trying to express himself a little more through his clothing choices and gaining self-confidence in doing so, and I remember expressing myself through so many different styles as a teen and of course, choosing clothing that was flattering for MY body and that I felt comfortable in. I can't help but think that dress codes are merely a misguided attempt at control that really does more harm than good, especially for a public school in a low-income area.

How do you feel about dress codes? Do you feel they prevent shootings or gang activity?


Image via Old Navy

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