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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jpfsmom jpfsmom

I understand your lament to some extent but I have to say from personal experience I preferred having a uniform (I transferred to catholic school my junior year and at first poo pooed having to wear one but it actually made my life easier, I didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn trying to figure out what to wear) but I personally don't think what we are wearing encourages gang activity or anti social behavior. We had some kids at the catholic school in uniform that would give the trench coat mafia a run for their money in anti-social behavior

Marj Pike Hatzell

In our area, the dress codes are more to level out the playing field than to prevent gangs and whatnot. Honestly, it's because some kids are very, very poor and if they are wearing uniforms, at least no one is teasing for what thy are wearing. Except that the kids with more money buy theirs from LL Bean and LandsEnd and the poor kids buy them from Walmart and I guess that totally invalidates my point.

Having gone to Catholic School, I have no problem with uniforms - in a private school. Requiring public school kids to dress in similar clothing is ridiculous. Now, dress codes I get - ten year olds in spaghetti straps and short shorts and flip flops are NOT dressed for school and their parents are idiots.  Biut all one color? Certain color? No logos? WHATEVS.


Glad our local school has no dress code!

Sweet... Sweet_Britt

My kids had uniforms and loved it. 

And "pretty little white boy -- it's kinda obvious he's not in a gang"? Really? Because gangs are only made up of hispanics and black people, right? 


miche... micheledo

I can only imagine having NOTHING that would fit the dress code.  VERY frustrating and expensive.  I think I would be buying my son 3 outfits and doing a ton of laundry!! :D

On a side note - your comment about shorts/skirts being finger tip length made me LOL!!  My youth pastor decided to make that a rule and I spoke up and said something.  I have short arms and my finger tips BARELY come to the bottom of my rear! 

Katie Hines

So Sweet_Brit are you saying only black people and hispanics are in gangs? wow...... for shame

prplecat prplecat

My son had to wear uniforms when we lived in Memphis.  I HATED them!  Having said that, I found that JC Penney sells Izod uniform shirts at a DEEP discount just before school starts.  THey wash and wear well, and you can BLEACH the white ones...which works well for a boy!  Watch the sales.  The shirts will be less than half price, if prior years are any indication.

butte... butterflymkm

It sucks they won't let him wear dickies, when I read the line about pants my very first thought was 'o she can get some dickies, they are pretty cheap & durable...' but no.

kelli... kelli0585

The Catholic school uniform situation is much different than the low-income public school uniform situation.  I experienced both.

Here is the problem with low-income public school uniforms.  Students are not created equal.  Despite the uniform, there is still a huge difference in social class.  Many of the students looked "scraped together."  They are hanging on by the skin of their teeth to enforce dress code, resorting to unkempt and dingy clothing.  A rag-tag bunch, where as if they wore normal clothing, they would look much better.  Because public schools have colors and collars rather than a trademarked uniform (like Catholic School), the types and quality run across the gamut.

<<<to be continued>>>


kelli... kelli0585

Between classes, teachers line the hallway with yellow tickets, ready to dole them out to children not in compliance with the dress code.  NOt because they are baring midriff or wearing something with a bad word on it, but because their BELT IS NOT BROWN.  Poor children who need education are instead sent home or to detention because their shirt is not white enough or is bleach stained.

Meanwhile, while the teachers are so distracted with being the Fashion Police, there are TWELVE YEAR OLDS having sex in the bathroom.  True story. The gang activity continued.  Kids were still skipping school and breaking the law.  Test scores were still very poor.

While I like idea of uniforms in theory, they do absolutely nothing for low income public schools.

1blue... 1bluemonkey

Racist, much? Sorry to burst your bubble, but pretty little white boys join gangs, too.  

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