Pro: Revamped dress code celebrates inclusiveness.

In early August, Trevor Wilkinson, an openly gay senior student at Clyde High School in Texas, came to school with a black manicure with colorful fire designs. Despite the fact that female students were allowed to paint their nails, Wilkinson was reprimanded and given an in-school suspension.

 Since then, numerous students nationwide have spoken out against dress code policies,  including students at Irvine High School. Currently, Irvine Unified School District Dress Code and Personal Appearance Policy currently prohibit clothing that advocates unlawful behavior or illegal substances, any combination of clothing which is considered gang-related, and disruptive or provocative such as exposing undergarments, midriff, upper torso, and sheer clothing. While some aspects of the dress code may be beneficial, the school dress code policies need to be revamped. 

Having an inclusive dress code policy uplifts the expression of gender and sexuality. According to a 2013 National School Climate Survey, 19% of LGBT students were prevented from wearing clothes that were thought to be from another gender and that number was even higher for transgender students, nearly 32% of whom have been prevented from wearing clothes that differed from those designated for their legal sex. Allowing the free expression of gender and sexuality helps students embrace their differences and be comfortable in their own skin. There is no educational value in prohibiting certain genders from wearing certain clothing items and enforcing stricter dress code guidelines could even deter students from coming to school and actively participating.

Revamping the dress code policy prevents gender-based discrimination. According to a study by the Education Commission of the States, of the items listed to “accentuate the body”, 57% are primarily marketed in stores to girls, 38% to any gender, and only 5% are marketed primarily to boys. Rules that prohibit specific items due to their perceived sexiness, like “short shorts” and “sheer clothing” impact students wearing clothing marketed to girls more than their peers. These dress code policies unfairly sexualize young girls and enforce the idea that certain articles of girls’ attire should be prohibited because they “distract” boys. Having a more gender-neutral dress code dispels the negative association with female bodies and reiterates that accountability for one’s learning is on themselves. 

Some may argue that having a strict dress code increases campus safety and reduces violence in schools. The Long Beach, California, school district, the first in the country to adopt mandatory public school uniforms in grades K-8, has been touted as an example of the proven success of uniform policies showing a dramatic decline in violence in their K-8 schools from 1993-94 to 1994-95, including a 51% drop in physical fights, a 34% drop in assaults and batteries, a 50% drop in weapons offenses, and a 32% drop in suspension. However, student dress serves as a gage of what is going on with the student and can signal problems such as drugs, gang membership, or sex abuse. Uniforms would eliminate a warning system that lets teachers and administrators identify and assist students who need help and instead penalizes everyone instead of focusing on the small percentage of kids causing the problems.

Revamping the dress code will allow the expression of gender and sexuality and prevent gender-based discrimination. More flexible dress codes allow students to feel more comfortable and confident in who they are, ultimately promoting a more positive school experience. Despite few instances of uniforms promoting school safety, giving students the opportunity to express themselves through clothing fosters a greater understanding and positive school culture.