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Enough with the School Dress Code Bashing

Enough with the School Dress Code Bashing

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By Melissa Fenton of

School prepares young people for life. It educates boys and girls across all fields of study, preparing them to be of value to society in whatever career field they choose.  No surprises there. But when we keep that into perspective, when we are thinking not only about the atmosphere of the classroom right now but about how we want our young woman to present themselves in the future, then why all the insanity, discourse, and discussion about why school dress codes are so wrong and unfair to girls?

Schools are preparing our young women for future careers, and last time I checked, unless their career field of choice includes a pole and fringe pasties, most likely there will be a standard of dress in their job. There will be some type of decorum, a way of presenting themselves, an unspoken code by which these educated women, anywhere from age 22 to age 82, will most likely have to abide. Whether we like them or not, whether we disagree with dress codes or not, that is simply the way it is.

Young women dressed over-sexually, wearing too little, or wearing clothes that lead the eyes of others to places on their bodies having to do with sex will be perceived as sexual objects. Blame biology and evolution.

Don’t believe me?

In 2009, a professor at Princeton University presented findings from a research study proving exactly that.  After showing young men images of bikini clad women, the study concluded that “although consistent with conventional wisdom, the way that men may depersonalize sexual images of women is not entirely something they control. In fact, it’s a byproduct of human evolution.” Just wait until you see what they discovered when they showed the same young men pictures of fully clothed women. But we’ll get to that in a sec.

So back to biology. You can blame the fact that in order to keep humankind from dying out, procreation needs to happen when we are naked, as in sexual intercourse. As in, when men or women see the other (or the same sex, for that matter)  with little or nothing on, hormones happens. Surges happen. We think things.

When you see a young woman wearing shorts with a one centimeter inseam,  a half shirt revealing her belly, spaghetti straps, cleavage, butt cheeks hanging out, to deny that your brain is making judgments about her, that your brain is seeing skin, not intellect, is lying to yourself. Biology and science agree on this. You instinctively see skin, which leads to thoughts that can quickly develop into something not just sexual, but generally distracting. And I refuse to limit this to the argument, “We need to teach our boys to not be distracted.”

I am a happily married heterosexual woman, and I will be the first to admit I notice other WOMEN. I notice cleavage and long legs, I can appreciate the beauty of strapless shoulders and backless t-shirts. I’m human, I look, I can be distracted, and I most likely would make an assumption of the character of that woman, or young woman, before I even meet her. In comparison to her counterpart who is dressed more modestly, my first impressions will be different. I am not ashamed of my female body or her female body; I am ashamed that she doesn’t have the self-awareness to know the proper time or place to show it.

So back to girls not wearing much. No, it doesn’t mean she is asking for rape, it doesn’t mean she dressed that way hoping to be sexualized, and it doesn’t mean any judgment you make upon first look is true. It doesn’t mean she is loose, easy, ignorant, or lonely. It means you looked at her manner of dress, and in an instant it made a first impression on you.

It happens. It happens to all of us. We’re human.

We are not programmed to pause, to get to actually know the girl behind the daisy dukes. We’re just not. It all happens in a few seconds. And no, this is not about a school administration putting girls in their places, exerting power, control, and deciding what a girl should wear in the form of a dress code that is disguising some type of latent quasi girl control.  Sorry folks, it’s not about that.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at a new show airing on TLC.  Hosted by Stacey London and titled “Love, Lust, or Run,” it features women with major fashion modesty faux pas and transforms their look into one of “class and sass.”  But first, pictures of the women dressed before their makeovers are shown to average people on the street, who are asked to look at these women and say if they “love, lust, or want to run away” from them.

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These educated women needing fashion fixes are dressing in ways that they say express their true self. They snub their noses to the masses, they don’t care what you think about how they dress, and they show plenty of skin. They believe how they dress gives them power, control, and they don’t have to listen to what society deems right.

Surely people won’t judge them, right? Surely people will look at them and possibly hire them for a job, take them on a date, want to get to know what’s between their ears, because dressing a certain way doesn’t really make us think about people in a certain way, right? I mean, if she is dressed like a, ahem, slut, if my mind for even one second thinks she is promiscuous, then I’m the problem, right?

Well, the average people speak, and when they do, the women on the show are left jaw dropped because their looks make everyone want to “run.”

Post makeover? When the same street people are shown pictures of them dressed classy, elegantly, yet still stylish and work appropriate, the comments change drastically. Now that woman is NOT what she wears; she is someone they want to get to know. Whether we want to think we are better people than that and we want to believe that we will treat that woman pre-makeover the same as post-makeover, most of us won’t. She is what she wears. Simple as that.

A school dress code, one that limits the one centimeter inseam, the bare belly, and the slinky straps is not slut shaming. It is not unfairly disallowing young girls to show off the beauty of the female body. It is not for the boy’s sake, for ensuring they don’t get distracted,  because girls have eyes, too. It is for setting a dressing standard for young girls and women that is the same one they will dress by in the future. It is for building their confidence in what sits between their ears, not what peeks out from between their legs. And somehow that is deemed wrong.

Visit any career day, any job recruitment fair, anywhere across America and take note. Tell me the person hiring won’t look at two equally qualified candidates for a job and choose to speak with the one who is presenting him or herself in appropriate business dress, which whether we like it or not, is modest.

Google search images of “Top female CEOs.”  Tell me what you see. Now search images for “Women in academia” or “ “Women in law, medicine, education, finance, mass media, PR, engineering……” Shall I go on? Not one image of a woman in a mini skirt, or a low busted tank, or one inch inseams. You think Ginni Rometty or Meg Whitman walk into a boardroom full of men and women and just to make a point about slut shaming and their beautiful female bodies are going to wear see-through blouses, push-up bras, and leather mini skirts?


Should they be “allowed” to? Sure, but they know better. They know men and women will see something different than who they are, and so dressing with class is what they and every other woman in those image results does, and quite frankly, should do. Asked if they feel restricted in any way by a silent code of dressing ethics, and I can bet their answer would be “No,” because who has time to be distracted by something that can be prevented? And furthermore, who really wants to make some type of personal statement about femininity, human bodies, biology,  and, well,  sluts, when they have corporations to run.

So exactly what is how they are dressing really saying? It’s saying move on, people, nothing to see here, look into my eyes, engage my brain, we have business to do. It is saying they are in control. Control. Which reminds me to tell you one more thing about that study from Princeton; you know, the one where they showed young men pictures of a bikini clad woman and then did research on their brains and thoughts?

Turns out men associated half naked women with first person action verbs like “push, handle, and grab,” indicating that the men looking at the women see her first as an object. What about the verbs they used when shown fully clothed women?  Third person verbs, indicating that these women were perceived as in CONTROL of their own actions, and NOT an object.

Women dressed modestly AND in control? Wait, isn’t that exactly what a school dress code will be promoting?

Shame on them.

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About the Author

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian. She writes at