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Dress for Success Not Judgement

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What should be a time of breaking free from the confines of winter, for female students, ends up being a time of dealing with the rules and lack of clarity of the dress code policy.

Short shorts, short skirts, crop tops, spaghetti straps are pulled from the tattered cardboards boxes as the sweet release of summer nears. Students begin to show more and more skin in hopes of finding cool comfort while enduring the final days of school. The boys will dig to the back of their closets, searching for their seemingly endless stash of muscle shirts and shorts.

Thornton Academy doesn’t go to nearly as many extremes of enforcing their dress code as other schools in the United States.

According to a story reported by, a school in Clay County Florida forces students in violation of the dress code to wear a neon yellow t-shirt with grey sweatpants, both with “DRESS CODE VIOLATION” written on them in large black lettering.

In 2012, a school in Meridian, Mississippi faced a lawsuit regarding what they called the “school-to-prison pipeline”. Students could be arrested and handcuffed in school and transported 80 miles to the Rankin County youth detention center where they were denied their constitutional rights in a trial for an infraction as minor as a dress code violation; reported an Associated Press article.

Thornton Academy’s dress code is vague not consistently enforced. With items such as “short shorts” and “short skirts” making the list of things students can never wear, the student body is left on their own to determine what exactly classifies as too short.

I was sure that the dress code section of Thornton Academy’s student handbook would help clear up some of these grey areas, however, there is only a small paragraph on the dress code.

“Students are required to dress appropriately for a serious learning environment. Clothing choices must be non-distracting and provided appropriate coverage. Students wearing inappropriate clothing will be referred to the dean or an administrator.”

After reviewing the dress code myself, I took to the halls of TA to find my own violations. What I found was that a lot of the students I talked to didn’t know that they were in violation of the dress code. How are we to know anyway? Over the past week, as I made my way around campus, I have been on the lookout for any and all dress code posters. Of all the bulletin board space in our hallways covered with campus activities and job opportunities, there is one dress code poster. The lonely document can be found posted on yellow paper right outside the dean’s office.

I understand that it’s a changing world and most things are online now, so I took to to find the dress code policy under the school policies tab. What I discovered instead was concerning. The school’s dress code isn’t even mentioned anywhere on the policies page. The only dress code mentioned on the school policies page is the dress code for formal events. This dress code gets broken down by gender instead of just limiting students on what they can and cannot wear.

While dress codes in schools are important in preparing young people for the workforce, asking teenagers who are already struggling to find acceptable ways to express themselves to only wear certain things is not the answer. We need a change and we need it now. Suppressing our freedom of expression is not working. We are teenagers. We are going to wear what we want anyway, you can’t punish everyone.

Instead of punishing the girls for showing skin when it’s hot — because who knew we had shoulders and knees — why not punish the guys who think we are objects? It is possible to keep a general dress code without making girls feel like they are a distraction. We need to educate the males on why us wearing clothing should not distract them. A shoulder is not sexual, neither is a knee. We need to stop treating it as such.

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