Over the years, student dress codes have sought to address a wide range of issues and have incited different degrees of controversy. For example, in the late 1960s and 70s, young men with long hair were sometimes physically attacked by their classmates and, as a result, many schools required boys to wear their hair cut to their ears or shorter. In the 1990s, there was a push for dress codes as a strategy to prevent gang-related violence. In recent years, a desire to curb conflict over designer labels and create a more “professional” school environment resulted in dress codes and uniforms becoming more popular.
In Spring 2014, student dress codes made headlines because several groups of students—predominately girls—began to question and protest school dress codes. Their words quickly traveled via social media and news articles. The young spokeswomen said that: The dress codes unfairly target girls and transgender students; they send a message to girls that if they are harassed by boys, it is their fault; they feel judged by the dress codes; and that a different standard is applied to girls who are more curvy and developed than other girls. The dress codes have become a complex issue, especially for young women. On one hand, there is increasingly more variety in girls’ clothing and more opportunity for “inappropriate” dress and schools are obligated to provide a safe and suitable learning environment. On the other hand, these rules are often seen as unequal, enforced inconsistently and rooted in sexist social norms.
This lesson provides an opportunity for middle and high school students to reflect on their own opinions regarding student dress codes, identify school and students needs and perspectives and design their own dress codes that satisfy both student and school needs.