Dress Code Disaster

Warmer weather has arrived, and with it increased dress code reminders and hand-wringing about modesty and “covering up.” It seems summer always brings a waft of body shaming.

After all, those bare arms, exposed legs and general lack of a petticoat might just inflame men to lose control.

Dress codes across the world are unfairly tipped toward keeping women covered up, and if it seems like it’s getting worse, that’s because more women are talking about it.

Girls and women are standing up for themselves, and making sure everyone else knows about it.

BeYoutifulIn just the last few weeks, students across North America, from Pennsylvania to Idaho to Canada, admonished female students for their choice of attire, ranging from tank tops to too-short skirts, and one Pennsylvania school going so far as telling girls “Keep ‘the girls’ covered and supported … we don’t want to be looking at your ‘sausage rolls.’ As you get dressed, remember that you can’t put 10 pounds of mud in a five-pound sack.” Meanwhile, the boys were reminded to wear khakis or nice jeans, and maybe put on a belt. Even leggings have become a point of contention, with middle-school students in Illinois being told they couldn’t wear them, because boys found them distracting.

The modesty police are hardly limited to school zones. From professional environments to summer festivals, women are told every day that they are dressed inappropriately, whether directly by peers or managers, or indirectly with unwanted attention and catcalls.

Due to the subjective nature of dress code enforcement and the variation — a dress that works on a 5-foot-2 girl might not on a girl who’s 5-7, and what one teacher or boss considers admissible might be off-limits in the next classroom or across town— there’s no real way to quantify the problem.
Dress code drama doesn’t just interrupt life for the women and girls who have to miss school, work and other events to go home and change. It’s also insulting to the men and boys around them, who are assumed to be unable to keep their minds off sex the instant they see a bared shoulder or tantalizing knee cap.

We’re not advocating for a fashion free-for-all. There are standards for both sexes, especially in academic and professional environments, and those should be fairly and reasonably enforced for boys and girls, men and women, and across all sizes and body types.

But when dozens of students face suspension or detention for wearing tank tops when the A/C went out at a New York high school (STORY) and yearbook teams use Photoshop for evil to cover up any hint of a bust on a 13-year-old, there’s a problem, and we don’t think it’s with the clothes.

Each month, the YDWA Women’s Caucus will be on the blog chatting about issues that impact women in Washington state and around the world.  This month’s post was written by Women’s Caucus member Amy Veneziano.