Dress Code Enforcement in High Schools

As a sophomore in college, I have a tendency to dress radically. My friends often joke that I don’t even own a normal pair of pants – every one of them is either ripped, painted, frayed, stained, artistically cut, or patched. Paired with chunky black tennis shoes, a colorful bandanna, and a T-shirt swiped from one of my brother’s dresser drawers, I’m usually quite a sight when I walk out of the house.

I am also the absolute last person whom, upon first glance, you would expect to be in favor of high school dress codes. But I am. Before you begin with the calls of hypocrisy, consider the young-to-mid teenage mentality. If it could be summed in one word, it would most likely be “competitive.” We are conditioned by our parents and mentors to think and act competitively in academic terms; we must get the best SAT scores, the best grades, take the best AP or dual-enrollment classes.

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And within our circle of peers, this competitive spirit spills into other areas of life. We must be the best-looking, the funniest, the nicest, the smartest. . . . The list goes on and on.

Not only are we as teenagers caught in this constant competition, but the eyes judging these competitions are shallow. They typically view only that which is on the surface, judging individuals in direct accordance to their appearance. Thus, by allowing the lack of a dress code in high schools, school administrators are spreading the pavement for another avenue of competition – one that many students will have no chance of competing in. Many teenagers are not able to afford more recent styles, have parental restrictions on their fashion choices, or are subject to other conditions that their peers may not be. Therefore, those subject to these restrictions could face teasing, bullying or even social ostracization.

How can anyone claim that it is fair to allow this realm of competition within high schools, especially when it can so easily be prevented? Many, however, will argue that these regulations hinder a student’s self-expression and individuality. But I don’t believe that one loses their individuality through conforming to a dress code. I’ve been to high schools with such strict dress codes that they bordered on uniform enforcement, and the students were as lively and expressive as ever. They simply found other ways to express themselves; they joined sports teams, participated in clubs and partook in school activities. To say that a dress code or uniform enforcement steals a student’s individuality is to say that beauty is only skin-deep. This is, in fact, the very notion that we need to unhinge from many high school students’ minds.

Thus, through enforcing a dress code, schools are not only eliminating competition among students, but are teaching them to look beyond the surface, and express themselves in ways that reach far beyond their exterior.