How can schools work towards making clothing restrictions more fair?


Nikki Hatzopoulos, Investigative Reporter


There goes the late bell for your first class of the day. You’re sitting in the principal’s office again, being lectured for wearing the same pair of shorts another student walked in with a few days ago with no consequence. It’s the fifth time this month; you’re immune to it by now. It happens so often that you can’t bring yourself to think it’ll ever change. “What’s the point?” you ask yourself. 

Addressing an unfair double standard is one thing, but sparking change is another. The impact of your actions will benefit the environment as well as the people within it during the long run, and in order for clothing restrictions to be respected, schools must work towards making these regulations equal amongst all students: but how?

Body shape, sexual orientation, gender identity, and skin color all play a significant role in how dress code is applied and viewed amongst students in a school setting. This often leaves most with the wandering question: why? Why should these rules differ depending on the student and more specifically over something they cannot control?

Dress Code In Public Schools: The Problem

An article written by Sasha Jones speaks on this issue while addressing important aspects of an unfair dress code. 

A report on school dress codes in the District of Columbia that was compiled by the National Women’s Law Center states, ‘“And the rules aren’t applied equally, either. Students report that black girls, and especially curvier students, are disproportionately targeted.”’

It’s quite obvious that dress code rules aren’t equally distributed, and this lack of equality goes hand in hand with discrimination towards not only race but body types as well.

“According to the American Civil Liberties Union, dress codes are legal as long as they do not ‘treat boys and girls differently, force students to conform to sex stereotypes, or censor particular viewpoints.’ (This includes protection for transgender, non-binary gender, or any other students who may choose to dress in nontraditional ways.)” 

Dress codes should treat both boys and girls the same way; the same rules should apply to both genders equally. Dress codes should not strive to fit students into “social norms” or gender related stereotypes.

In doing this, you help build more protection towards transgender, non-binary, and several more students by giving them the freedom to dress according to personal preferences regarding their physical appearance. This not only plays a huge role in benefiting areas of mental health but allows these students to feel more comfortable wearing what they believe represents them, as well as giving an opportunity to feel more accepted in their own body.

The Impact Unfair Clothing Restrictions Have on Transgender Students and Gender Identification

An article focusing on school uniform and going in depth toward their impact on students shares just how school uniform is yet another form of an unfair clothing restriction.

“Clothing choices are ‘a crucial form of self-expression,’ according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which also stated that ‘allowing students to choose their clothing is an empowering message from the schools that a student is a maturing person who is entitled to the most basic self-determination.’” 

The article follows by saying, “In schools where uniforms are specifically gendered (girls must wear skirts and boys must wear pants), transgendered, gender-fluid, and gender-nonconforming students can feel ostracized.” 

By forcing uniforms into specific gender molds or society based “norms”, you exclude the individuality and self-expression of transgender, gender-fluid, and gender-nonconforming students. This not only forces these students to feel uncomfortable in their own bodies, but also limits their safety and brings down great deals of self confidence.

“Seamus, a 16-year-old transgendered boy, stated, ‘sitting in a blouse and skirt all day made me feel insanely anxious. I wasn’t taken seriously. This is atrocious and damaging to a young person’s mental health; that uniform nearly destroyed me.’”

Forcing these dress codes can very clearly cause instant discomfort to students and is not healthy in the slightest. These forced restrictions are both emotionally damaging and draining, which is never something a school system should cause and allow their students to experience.

“Child and teen development specialist Robyn Silverman told NBC News’ Today that students, especially girls, tend to compare how each other looks in their uniforms: ‘As a body image expert, I hear from students all the time that they feel it allows for a lot of comparison… So if you have a body that’s a plus-size body, a curvier body, a very tall body, a very short body, those girls often feel that they don’t look their best.’” 

Every student has a different body type and with each body type comes its own individual insecurities. Forcing the same items of clothing on every single student makes comparing yourself to one another inevitable and not only brings down your confidence but builds an extremely unhealthy mindset that can lead to more serious problems. 

Why bring down the confidence and ability to feel comfortable in your own skin? Something like this can be so mentally and emotionally damaging, and school systems need to understand the impact these forced rules have on their students.

But how does the iSchool enforce clothing restrictions?

Although the iSchool may not have a uniform, a rather lenient dress code is present within the community. 

According to the NYC iSchool Family Handbook (2019-2020), “The NYC iSchool believes that dress and attire are a form of self-expression and we want our students to be able to express themselves and be individuals. We also believe that different attire is appropriate for different environments and that a certain standard of dress should be maintained by all NYC iSchool students.”

Fair regulations such as..

“Clothing should not be offensive to other members of the NYC iSchool community.”,

“Clothing that degrades religion, race, or sexuality is prohibited.”, and

“Clothing that promotes drug use or uses offensive language is not allowed in the building.”,

are all included in the handbook, and make for a very safe environment as well as one that isn’t harmful or puts an individual in an uncomfortable situation.

Several students at the iSchool were interviewed about their experience with dress code at the school and their overall opinion on what fair clothing restrictions should look like in a school setting.

Sophomore Aliana Solorzano said, “So far my experience with the dress code [at iSchool] has been fair. It is less strict than my middle school. I am allowed to wear what I feel comfortable in. I feel like iSchool allows us to express ourselves through clothing which is what I like a lot about the school. In the summer I am allowed to wear shorts which I think is great!” 

Sophomore Juliette Zakrzewska who has also had a positive experience with dress code at the iSchool adds on by saying, “My experience with the dress code at the iSchool has been good! I’m a sophomore so when I first came to the ischool in freshman year, I wasn’t used to the freedom with dress codes because my middle school had a very strict one. I’ve seen so many different styles at the iSchool which is something such a flexible dress code allows, which I know both me and other students appreciate a lot.” 

When asking about whether or not students at the iSchool think their dress code is fair, sophomore Julia Cates-Addison said, “From what I’ve experienced, I think the dress code at our school [iSchool] is fair. There aren’t a lot of rules around what you can and can’t wear, and it allows everyone to express themselves through their clothing without discriminating against a certain gender, race, or religion.” 

With the iSchool being a public school having a very lenient dress code, hearing the voices of students about how this has impacted their high school experience is a significant factor in what the causes and effects of fair clothing regulations really do for a school community.

Adding onto this, senior Marisa Luft said, “I think we have a pretty fair and good example of a dress code. Dress codes are very tricky to make and I think the issue that happens with many dress codes is the way they are handled and maintained. In my middle school we had a very strict dress code and they would make the girls stand up in a class and pick girls who were ‘breaking the code’. Which is a whole different issue because that’s insane. But the way we handle the dress code is very fair and there isn’t much policing about people’s clothing, which I think is very fair and important.”

Juliette agrees, and follows up by saying, “I do think our school is a good example of what a dress code should look like- I feel like it encourages students to do whatever it is that makes them feel comfortable and confident, and it doesn’t make others feel ashamed for being dressed a certain way that society normally does.”

The iSchool is a perfect example as to how to allow students to have this form of self expression, and it just goes to show that having fair regulations like this doesn’t negatively affect or hinder the school environment in any way.


Although the majority believe that clothing restrictions are oftentimes unfair to students and need to be altered, many agree with the fact that the stricter the better.

A counter argument presented by Jenny Scott gives more insight as to how intense clothing restrictions may benefit students and the people around them.

“However, school uniforms can be as much about rebellion as conformity, according to Mr Davidson.”

Davidson continues by saying, “’If children want to rebel, they can do it in the way they wear their school uniform,’ he said. ‘It’s an expression of identity.” 

Expression of identity doesn’t come with making everybody look the same way; rather it comes with allowing a source of individuality complex amongst those who wish to pursue it.

“’It brings equality to the clothes children wear in school, regardless of how wealthy their parents are. The widespread use of polo shirts as part of uniforms, for example, is a way of making them more affordable.’”

School uniforms are argued to help endorse equality and stabilize status, but is it worth the constant fear of being seen in your own body? Is it worth the emotional damage students feel while constantly judging themselves for not looking the way somebody else does in the same clothing? Why force everyone to act as a carbon copy of each other or fit into your norms if it hinders way more than helps everybody around you?

The Solution

So the main question is: how can schools ultimately work towards making clothing restrictions more fair?

The article by Sasha Jones states once again, “The new dress code in Evanston begins by stating that it ‘supports equitable educational access’ and ‘does not reinforce stereotypes.’ The code outlines that students cannot wear clothes that depict hate speech, illegal items, or profanity; clothes that reveal undergarments (aside from visible straps or waistbands); and accessories that could be considered dangerous.” 

Solutions introduced putting limitations on dress codes as far as it only restricting clothing in the event that it portrays a hurtful message or is discriminatory to any particular community in any way. Dress codes should not be built upon societal norms or expectations regarding gender, but rather what helps protect students and allows a safer environment for everyone.

Galen Sherwin writes on the “Dos and Don’ts” of what schools should do about clothing restrictions. She points out, “Yet dress codes are ubiquitous, which may leave you wondering where the line is between a permissible dress code and unlawful discrimination. The short answer is that while public schools are allowed to have dress codes and uniform policies, they cannot be discriminatory or censor student expression.”

She follows by saying, “Dress codes can’t be explicitly discriminatory. That means that while dress codes may specify types of attire that are acceptable, these requirements should not differ based on students’ sex or their race, for that matter.” 

Dress codes need to be limited to a certain extent. A proper dress code should equally apply to every single student, and should not differentiate as a result of something that cannot be controlled such as a student’s sex, orientation, physical appearance, race, etc.

Schools should not enforce dress codes and regulations solely based on “sex stereotypes” or generalizations concerning what should or should not be appropriate for a boy or girl. Every student, regardless of being transgender or cisgender, should be allowed to wear clothing that is consistent with both their gender identity and expression.

Sherwin adds on, “Again, this is because the clothing we wear is part of the way we express our identity and because schools can’t stereotype students’ appearance or behavior based on their gender or sex assigned at birth.”

Dress codes tend to come along with a stricter and unreasonable approach when it comes to girls. Instead of forcing extreme limitations upon girls for what they wear with the excuse of being “distracting to boys”, work towards making it known that girls are to not be sexualized or objectified solely based on a piece of clothing. 

If dress codes are supposed to enforce protection, educate the boys so that girls are protected. Educate students on the consequences of their actions and enforce these consequences just as much as you enforce unfair restrictions. 

Another article concerning the issue as well as providing solutions by Reema Amin states, “Lander’s efforts come on the heels of a new report showing many city middle and high schools are violating existing rules that say dress codes to apply ‘equally to all students regardless of gender and must be free of gender stereotypes.’”

Dress codes should not prohibit clothing that has a societal based “norm” of fitting into a specific gender stereotype.

Adding onto this the article argues, “It would have to include whether each school has disciplinary consequences for violating the dress code policy and whether the policy distinguishes between gender and gender presentation, defined as how someone chooses to present themselves.”

Each school should present the same consequences for breaking policies regardless of your gender, race, or way you present yourself. Inclusivity and equality should be present amongst all students including transgender and gender-non-conforming students.

In her article, Suzanne Capek Tingley states, “This general review of the student dress code is helpful because kids can see it applies to everyone and that they aren’t being singled out. If no general meeting occurs to review the dress code, it’s a good idea for you to review it with your students on the first day of class so they’re aware of the rules.”

Generally speaking, an approachable way to get even closer to a more fair dress code is by interacting with students and understanding their beliefs as well as projecting the equality a proper dress code will bring to the table. Not only does this strengthen bonds with students, but it also makes for a safer environment amongst them.

In the following article, the Anti-Defamation League provides a list of solutions in order to work towards creating a more fair dress code. It is mentioned that a civil method for an improved dress code includes: “Conduct[ing] a survey to find out what students think about your school’s dress code. Distribute the survey to friends, classmates and online friends and compile and share the results, along with recommendations.”

Similar to the previous article, this is a respectable approach when working towards establishing a dress code based on equality. Surveys, interviews, forms, etc. are one of the best ways to hear student voices and apply them to these regulations. Their voices matter most here, so the more time taken to understand their perspectives, the better and more stabilized the school environment will be.

Student Voices at the iSchool

When speaking on what it means for a dress code to be fair, students at iSchool have their own perception of what exactly this looks like and how schools can work towards it. 

Senior Keira Daignault said, “I think a fair dress code doesn’t discriminate against anyone. And I think a fair dress code doesn’t make anyone feel that the reasoning behind the rules are because of the sexualization of people (girls specifically).”

Adding onto the idea of dress codes not discriminating against different groups, sophomore Alexa Castillo adds on by saying, “I think what allows a dress code to be fair is allowing students to express themselves and not having many restrictions. A fair dress code would be sort of like a compromise, students don’t have many restrictions as to how they should dress as long as it’s still appropriate and students follow some rules.”

Both senior Marisa Luft and sophomore Juliette Zakrzewska also believe that dress codes should not discriminate towards certain groups of people. They agree on the fact that people have different perceptions of what can be considered “inappropriate;” therefore, there really is no set way to finalize a completely fair dress code. 

Marisa said, “Dress codes are very hard to make and it’s difficult because of the word ‘fair’. There’s a fine line between restriction and being fair. To different people, fair means different things. I may not have a problem with people wearing short shorts, but someone else might and they might think that restricting them with a dress code is fair. I personally believe that people should wear whatever they want to school because it’s no one’s business what someone puts on their own body. The fairness of dress codes is a very difficult issue which involves racism and sexism. But in the end I think what makes a dress code fair is if people feel they can wear what they want and no one feels restricted. How we do that, I do not know.”

Juliette follows, “Personally, I think the idea of dress codes that prevent certain types of clothing based on strict rules is unfair. As much as there’s a limit in terms of what is okay to wear, but I don’t think that should be defined by one’s standards of what is revealing or not. Why continue having a cycle of suppressing students from being themselves, when that’s a part of life? So for me dress codes should be flexible and not bias towards certain individuals.”

Sophomore Julia Cates-Addison and senior Anna Lin also agree on the fact that dress codes should go to the extent of limiting the display of anything offensive that may be disrespectful to a certain individual or group of people. 

Anna said, “I think a ‘fair’ dress code is when students get to wear what they want as long as it’s nothing showing anything offensive or illegal on their clothings. And although students should get the freedom of wearing clothings that shows their skin, there should be a reasonable limit like no bikinis, etc.” 

Julia then said, “In my opinion, a fair dress code sets reasonable rules for what you should wear. For example, our school dress code only enforces things such as no offensive sayings on clothing, nothing promoting drug usage or anything like that, and no hats that cover your face (backwards facing baseball caps and winter hats are fine). It doesn’t say anything about tank top straps or shorts having to be a certain length, which would be unfair. I think their main priority is for us to be comfortable and wear what we feel comfortable in, which is what a fair dress code should focus on.” 

Adding onto this, sophomore Eden Monk concludes by saying, “A fair dress code means that students can wear what they want without being a distraction to other students and teachers. As high school students, we are more mature which means that our dress code should reflect the type of clothes typical teens wear.”  She believes that a dress code should have fair limits without taking away from the fact that at the end of the day, these are high school students. They should have the freedom to dress the way people their age dress.


Does it work? Sasha Jones writes:

‘“The school did not fall apart, education kept going on, and students did not become more disrespectful,” Witherspoon said. “We have students of all different races, body shapes, gender expressions, and backgrounds, and the great thing is that they now are able to express themselves.”’ 

This new and fair approach did not negatively impact the school, its system, students, or staff in any way, but rather made it better and allowed for a much safer environment.

An article by Scholastic portrays the lasting impact a fair dress code had on a high school and its students. “..students get to express their style through fashion. Our outfits are never considered distracting— they’re more like inspiration for other kids to step out of their comfort zones and express themselves as well.. we’re free to wear what we want with no judgment from teachers or administrators. It’s a welcoming, creative environment that makes everyone feel accepted.”

This conveys just one of the many occurrences having a very lenient dress code benefited students. Self expression is one of the most important aspects in a school environment, and being able to do this through something such as clothing is one of the most common ways students can do so. There’s a feeling of equality as well as acceptance, which is what every student should feel walking into the building. 

Students should feel comfortable enough to project their individuality through their clothing, and although obvious restrictions should be presented, equality needs to be applied regardless of who you are or what you stand for.