The deal with the dress code

Alina Besalel and Tina Nguyen

It took me 11 years to realize that the dress restrictions I had placed on myself were much more strict than any limitations from the Fairfax County dress code. As the temperature climbs and the end of the year nears, I want to make sure the rest of the student body does not make the same mistakes.

My perceptions of what I could and could not wear were based on years of unconscious socialization, but they were concrete limits. Shorts must be at least this long, sleeves at least this wide, and God forbid anyone suspect I am wearing a bra.

In reality, the dress code is just a skeleton made up of very few guidelines to ensure a base level of professionalism in the school environment. More of the restrictions apply to the profane than the provocative, and hopefully students would be intelligent enough not to wear a Jack Daniels tank top to class in the first place.

A comprehensive list of dress code restrictions shows how small their impact actually is: Our clothing cannot contain discriminatory or obscene images, encourage violence or illegal activity, contain gang symbols or promote the unlawful use of weapons or drugs.

We cannot expose private parts, the midriff or undergarments, or wear clothing that is seen as sexually provocative. Pants should be above our hips. No sharp studs. No head coverings outside of religious or medical reasons.

That’s it. No cut and dry restrictions on clothing length. No discrimination based on body type. No teachers zealously policing the halls awaiting a student in violation of school policy. In fact, the dress code is not a school policy at all. The same standards are upheld in the entirety of Fairfax County, and the teachers are not out to get us or shame us for our bodies or gleefully point out a bra strap that has gone askew.

Faculty members see school as a work environment. The primary goal of the dress code is to keep something as extrinsic and insignificant as clothing from becoming a distraction to learning.

“At your place of work there are usually standards for dress, and this is an obligation,” Assistant Principal Mary McDowell said. “This is probably the best dress code we can implement without being overly restrictive toward students. It’s not explicit because we want students to have some freedom of expression as long as it’s not distracting.”

Contrastingly, there seem to be different implicit standards upheld for female and male students that cannot be ignored. The problem is not in the language of the dress code but the way it is selectively enforced. According to many faculty members, the reason why most students feel that the dress code mainly applies to females is due to the current clothing trends.

“The dress code is enforced equally,” Security Supervisor Bill Rowley said. “Unfortunately, there generally are more with issues with female dress because of the current style of clothing. Maybe they don’t wear appropriate undergarments, maybe their dresses are too short, their shorts are too short, maybe they’re pulling their shirts down, looking like daisy duke-type shirt. You can’t have one rule that applies for both sexes in every scenario.”

I acknowledge the importance of professionalism to maintain a serious learning environment, but if the dress code is really about professionalism, it needs to be maintained universally.

When a student is wearing clothing exposing private parts, that is unacceptable. If the clothing is intentionally provocative, such as a shirt with the word “Sexy” on it, that is unacceptable. Clothing intended to arouse or provoke students is not fit for a learning environment.

Otherwise, students should have the right to wear clothing that is comfortable for them in warm or cold weather and makes them feel good about their bodies.

The dress code is intended to keep students from being distracted or missing out on school work and lessons, but it is paradoxical in its application. If an individual is called out for having clothing the administration perceives to be too revealing, that student misses class time by being required to change or go home. If seeing a student wearing shorts and shirts in the current style of dress is too distracting to others, that is not the student’s fault. The emphasis should not be on students to not be distracting, but on others to control themselves and be able to tell the difference between a sexual environment and a professional environment.

I have faith in the people of this school not to be distracted by students wearing clothing in the current style of dress. I have faith that students have enough restraint to don typical summer wear in the summer without sexualizing each other’s bodies and distracting from the school day. Most importantly, I have faith in the administration of this school to know the difference between dressing for the weather and dressing to be provocative, and to apply the dress code consistently and universally to ensure professionalism in all students.