It came up at work during a casual conversation that some schools were banning leggings and yoga pants as part of their dress code.  At first, I have to admit, I thought this idea was a bit ridiculous.  Why not also add sweatpants and sweatshirts as well?  But then I really thought about.  Why shouldn’t schools ban certain items from being able to be worn at school?

I think traditionally school dress codes have been in place to prevent provocative and inappropriate clothing from being worn in the school environment, but have generally been pretty lax in the past few decades with respect to what was allowed.  I remember being able to wear thin strapped tank tops and baggy jeans when I was in high school and there were others who wore similar clothing or even more casual or revealing.  Now, spaghetti strap tank tops are no longer allowed, and other items have also been added to the “ban list” (admittedly, since I do not have a child in school, I am not completely aware as to what all these items are).

While I do agree that maybe sometimes these dress codes do go too far in restricting what clothes can be worn, it actually makes sense to restrict what students can and cannot wear.  I think sometimes people tend to forget that there are many times in life when we are expected to adhere to dress codes.  The biggest example of this is in the workplace.  We don’t always think of our workplace dress code as a dress code because as adults, we usually just accept that it is what is expected.  While sometimes specific items need to be outlined as not being allowed in the workplace, most of the time, the dress code is just part of the culture of the workplace.  Perhaps this is how it should be thought of for the school environment as well.  School dress codes may be the perfect jumping off point to teach young kids and teenagers and get them used to the idea that in certain situations, following dress codes is to be expected.

When talking about tank tops, specific widths of straps being required (usually a minimum of two finger widths or wider) is fairly standard in workplace dress codes, so for the same to be expected in schools is not asking too much.  Skin tight yoga pants and wearing leggings as pants could also easily be seen as inappropriate and I don’t begrudge schools from banning them as well (however, leggings underneath tunics, dresses and skirts should certainly be allowed).  I think it should be expected that students are to dress in a manner that would be business appropriate (leaning more towards a business casual to allow for appropriate jeans).  Many school dress codes are leaning more towards this type of clothing.

My biggest issue is the reasoning behind the dress codes, or at least, the reason given.  I have heard reasons such as to stop boys from ogling the girls or becoming distracted by their clothing.  I think anyone using those reasons needs to get a reality check and realize that those things are going to happen regardless of what the girls are wearing.  I also think this gives teenage boys very little credit.  While yes, hormones are surging during the teen years, I think they can control themselves without going crazy because some girl in front of them is wearing yoga pants.  I think it also sort of gives a tone of “victim blaming” with respect to the girls’ side of things.  The idea that ogling happens because of what they were wearing is not far from blaming a victim of rape for wearing a short skirt; the idea that it was her fault it happened because she was wearing something inappropriate.

Though many schools are leaning towards “business appropriate” attire for their dress codes, many of these are worded too broadly or do not specifically state what “inappropriate” clothing would entail.  It leaves it in the hands of those who are in the school to decipher what that may mean, and thus ends up giving inconsistent results not only throughout the school board, but even in the individual schools themselves.  Maybe it is because I have a legal background, but it really leaves it far too open to interpretation, not only by the student and the parent, but also by the employees of the school.

While I give my opinion freely on this topic, I have to admit that I really have no dog in this race, as it were.  I do not have any children who are dealing with school dress codes, nor do I have any that eventually will.  It has also been a long time since I was a teenager and time can often skew perception.  I can still remember wanting to wear whatever I wanted because it was a way of expressing myself.  Perhaps we need to show teenagers that they can still express themselves while wearing appropriate attire.  One does not need to wear revealing or torn clothing, backwards baseball caps or bandannas, to express themselves or their individuality.

I will concede that while this all sounds ideal, teens also push the limits and challenge the system, regardless of what that system may be.  It’s part of growing up and becoming the person they were meant to be by learning their boundaries.  One can only hope that those of us in the older generations can steer them in the right direction, whether it be as small of an item as a dress code, or something much bigger.


Jennifer Lewis