What Does Conflict Over School Dress Codes Teach?

| September 15, 2014 | 14 Comments


What is one of the most debated school related topics under the microscope right now? Grabbing major headlines across North America and overloading the parental plate? The dreaded school dress code. One of the most recent cases to grab international headlines is unfolding at Oakleaf High School in Florida’s Clay County School District. It’s Superintendent has asked the high school to review dress code procedures following the spotlight that fell on 15-year-old Miranda Larkin. The high school is being accused of bullying behaviour for reprimanding Miranda for wearing a skirt deemed too short under the school dress code policy. Miranda was forced to wear what’s being called a shaming suit, a bright yellow t-shirt with the words “dress code violation” printed on the front, and her Mom reported that Miranda broke out in hives.

I have a tween and a teen. Both girls. My oldest daughter was forced to wear an over sized t-shirt for violating the school dress code by wearing spaghetti straps on a sweltering day in grade 8. I don’t recall hives, but lots of tears and humiliation.

Kids at this age have a lot to sort through. They are learning how to control their hormonal emotionally charged mood swings, how to stand up for themselves, how to behave in various situations and how to show respect for themselves as well as others. How to value themselves. What their rights are.

I have said on many occasions, “You are not leaving the house dressed like that.” I refuse to pay for clothes that can not be worn at school. Yet we have some items deemed “unacceptable”. I think there are clothes on the school banned list that seem silly, like spaghetti straps and racer backs. And for many high school students it becomes a game to see who can get away with violating the dress code. Some teachers will call out certain students and not others.

The root of so many scrambling before school dramas, had been a daily big time drag in our home. Huge arguments over the school dress code. Exhausting. All of us leaving home for the day, after a heated exchange of negative arguing energy. Enough. Time with our children is precious. I am raising strong girls who I teach to question everything and everyone, even me. They are obviously very passionate about the school dress code as are many tweens and teens across the globe. I’ve given them the, “be thankful you have clothes” speech. But that just makes them tune out. They want to be heard. They want to know their voice matters.

I’ve decided to keep the peace in our home and start the day off with loving and happy thoughts instead of the constant clothes calamity. We’ve discussed the dress code rules, what the fuss is all about and the fact that I do not agree with all of the rules. But if they choose to violate the school dress code and are reprimanded, then they will have to deal with the consequences. Just as I have had to pay my parking fines and speeding tickets. I trust our Ottawa schools not to engage in bullying style consequences. As soon as I gave them more power over their choices, the complaining settled down. Now they are asking a more important question. How can we change it. They are learning to fight for what they believe in.

I would love to hear feedback from other parents and how you are dealing with dress code issues in your home.


Photo credit: The Shopping Sherpa / Foter / CC BY-ND

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Category: Family

About the Author ()

How do you rebuild your life after family trauma and during mental health challenges when you feel your grip on hope is slipping? Katherine Dines is on the infinite journey of happiness and learning to thrive with forgiveness & gratitude. Katherine Dines is a Mother and voice actor, based in Canada's Capital, with international credits on projects including Hasbro's Tropical Tycoon Monopoly & Warner Brothers' Friends DVD Trivia Game. Juggling the demands of single parenting since 2002, Katherine is currently sharing her passions on the airwaves of Majic 100.3 FM Radio while navigating opportunities to express through film, tv & internet projects. Love, laughter & inspiring music rank at the top with love for her daughters motivating her enthusiasm for self discovery and healing.

Comments (14)

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  1. KD says:

    Respecting the rules is important (and challenging them in an appropriate way is also). My biggest concerns with dress code actually relate to safety in the science lab or tech shop. I think that it is essential that students follow those additional dress code requirements, since it is a matter of safety!

  2. Victoria Ess says:

    I respect your approach and completely agree with the part where you explain that you don’t necessarily agree with every aspect of the code but that they have to follow it. I think that it teaches them that in various institutions, such as school, you can’t “fight” to get your way when you disagree with something and sometimes you have to follow the rules! I cringe seeing news stories of parents taking up fights with school administration when their children blatently violate dress codes that they were aware of.

  3. Anne Taylor says:

    I am all for school uniforms actually! It eliminates the “what to wear” question altogether.

    When I was in school, my parents put me in a “more structured” school. We were only allowed to wear skirts and or dresses, no makeup and no jewelry; I then rebelled and went crazy with clothes, makeup and jewelry lol

  4. Tanya says:

    Uniforms are a great way to go but when it isn’t an option I agree with your approach…just grin and bare it while you need to. When my son was pulled aside for a Guinness beer t-shirt as it promoted underage drinking. We all know that his tshirt was the absolute WORST thing happening on high school property that day (please note the sarchasm in that statement). I guess were the worst parents in the world for buying it for him as a souvenir from Dublin….btw he is loving the university atmosphere and the fact that he is treated as an adult.

    • Jason says:

      “…just grin and bare it while you need to”…sorry, I couldn’t help but comment on how hilarious that is given the context in which it was said! I realize that “just grin and bear it” was the intended meaning, but “bare it” is so much funnier (however inappropriate given that we’re talking about school kids!) when talking about dress code! Thanks for the laugh!

  5. Jacqueline Brandwood says:

    Both my kids were in schools that required school uniforms. I was thrilled with the idea, as it made getting ready for school in the morning much better> there wasn’t any arguing about what they were going to wear or whether it was appropriate. Each had the opportunity to choose the selected items of school clothes, including gym clothes, sweaters, blouses, shirts, pants, etc..So they had plenty to choose from.
    One day a month they had a dress down day, so they could wear whatever they wanted as long as it did not go against the dress code, ie: crop tops, tank tops, short skirts etc..I asked both kids today to let me know how they felt about the uniforms they had to wear, and both agreed it was better,they wasn’t any peer pressure as to who wore what, who didn’t…
    It’s too bad there wasn’t shoes to match, haha
    So as you see I am totally for school uniforms. It makes life so much easier for everyone.

  6. Brenda A says:

    We are still at a younger stage, but I feel confident that my girls will dress in clothing that they like. Period. Clothing that is functional yet stylish and tasteful. Knowledge and confidence in themselves is very important andwe teach and model that every day at home. We make huge efforts NOW so that when they are older they feel able to make good choices in what they wear and that they know why they want to wear something. Is a racer back to break rules or appear older or is it because you have flag football practice in July?

  7. kathy downey says:

    I may be wrong but I think school uniforms would make life easier for parents,kids and schools

  8. Barbi D. says:

    My issue with these school rules is that in an effort to “protect” girls or because the girl happens to be more developed the spaghetti strap is deemed “inappropriate” and other motives that seem to behind these rules, you are in fact victimizing girls….you are saying there is something wrong with their bodies, you are saying boys (or men) are mindless and not responsible for their actions. School is not work and if they need to be covered up for a shop class or something, they can bring something in, just like the do for gym class. I think rules are good up to a point depending on the motivation and so far in all these cases (including from my family’s experience) I am not seeing anything that promotes growth, choice, respect, or the big Teaching topics. Saying spaghetti straps or not allowed “because ..well, the grade 6 girls … “well, some are very developed and well.. that just isn’t appropriate” is not teaching a lesson. It in fact says more about the body issues of the rule makers. ….sorry, I have become so passionate about this having a 12 year and having some drama 2 days before her grade 6 ceremony. Beautiful dress bought and picked out for at least 2 months then we get a note a couple of days before saying no spaghetti straps. We managed to find something but I was left to explain the rule. She unlike her mom is a big rule follower so she really stressed abut being appropriate.
    She Was! urgh! Also, these things are small potatoes to the issues that really endanger our children; mental health, why are so many children are having such a hard time learning in our current system, bullying, ….gosh I could go on…. Teenage fashion has been controversial for the “ruling’ parental generation since time began, maybe we should get over it.

  9. Amy says:

    I love school uniforms – but not many schools in the city of Ottawa have such. So…how to deal with the issue of appropriate school wear? School is a manner is which we prepare teenagers for the future. Schools enforce appropriate attire as a means for preparing them for the workplace/future. Is it appropriate to wear flip flops and a tank top to the office? Not usually. Think of all the professions that have mandatory uniforms: doctors, nurses, food and beverage employees, etc. A lawyer must arrive to court dressed professionally. I like the idea of taking a more “responsible” approach to learning and teaching our children that is it their responsibility to dress for learning. Sure, you may be comfortable in that tank top, but it’s not appropriate in a school setting. Perfect for after school/the beach. Fortunately most students get to dress comfortably – I would love to wear jogging pants, a hoody and a pair of running shoes to school everyday, but as a professional, that is now my weekend wear. I think this is a way we can prepare them for what’s next – teach them what is appropriate when and where 🙂

  10. Kelly H says:

    I love school uniforms but not “dress codes”. I think if the school allows non-uniform clothing, it should be to the parent and child’s discretion

  11. DARLENE W says:

    In my opinion every student should be required to wear some sort of uniform, My grandkids wear a shirt with the school crest on it

  12. kathy downey says:

    There are so many interesting post here

  13. Elizabeth Matthiesen says:

    I went to school in England and there uniform was compulsory. An expensive item too as only a few shops sold it. We had to wear a shirt and a tie & skirt (the length of which was also preset!) in winter, only in summer could we wear dresses (uniform of course). We also had to wear a school blazer and a beret – I remember getting detention once for not wearing my beret, which a boy had just ripped off my head! There are pros and cons for a uniform.

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