How Far is Too Far When it Comes to Dress Code?

When I entered high school the idea that had me the most excited for the journey ahead was the idea of independence. Yes, in middle school you transition to having classes separated and no more standing in lines, but I still felt extremely regulated by teachers and administration who would always say, “they don’t do things like this for you once you get to high school- there, you’re on your own”. Something about the thought of being “on my own” was enticing to me and I couldn’t wait, because that in a sense meant less of the specific little rules that I felt were insignificant to the school day. The main rule that comes to mind that I was looking forward to no longer have to abide by was dress code. I would always think about how I could finally wear sandals, Nike shorts, and most of my dresses to school- items that certainly were not allowed before.

While I thought this independence would be  quite liberating, it turned out the dress code only got stricter once I entered high school. I did not go to private school or a religious school- I went to the largest public high school in North Carolina where having all students follow a strict dress code was unrealistic and turned out to be a waste of time. I specifically remember Mr. Cline, an assistant principal, who seemed to spend one hundred percent of his time at school hunting down girls who were not dressed correctly under the dress code. One time I was sitting in class and over the intercom (which was heard by the entire school) I heard Mr. Cline ask for Charlotte Moore to LA – 15. This meant my sister was being called to detention. I immediately laughed at the thought of my older sister going to detention because she was the stereotypical “ideal student”. It turned out she was sent to detention because her Nike running shorts were too short… athletic shorts! My sister had to miss an entire AP English class to sit in detention because of her “too short” running shorts.

Women’s Nike Shorts (what my sister was wearing)


photo from Google images


There were so many things wrong with this in my eyes. For one, her running shorts may not have followed the fingertip rule, however they were loose and not exposing anything inappropriate. Then, she had to miss the opportunity of learning at school as punishment- that seemed ironic to me. I understand there should be some sort of dress code enforced to keep an appropriate learning environment, however Mr. Cline took it too far. Who was Charlotte distracting with her Nike shorts? That happened my freshman year and by my sophomore year, we had a new principal and new assistant principals (Mr. Cline was no longer there). The new administration was much more lax on dress code as they realized decreasing the numerous fights that occurred daily, the high dropout rates, and addressing the lack of supplies such as desks and textbooks were to be prioritized far more than dress code.

I did find it strange that this grown man could take any female he wanted to detention for being “inappropriately dressed” even when they were not distracting anyone. It did not occur to me that the whole idea of the dress code we had at my school was centered around the way girls dressed- fingertip rule for shorts and skirts, four finger rule for shirts, no stomach showing etc. None of these were problems with boys, who would often have their pants slouched with boxers showing, hats on or other attire that could just as well be “distracting”. I read an article in the Odyssey written by a girl who had almost the same experience as my sister, but emphasized the sexist aspect of a dress code. While I have never thought of that as being the root issue and usually just complained that there were more important things to be taken care of at our school, this article had several interesting points.

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