The School Dress Code: What’s Stated VS Enforced


Alejandra C.

It’s Tuesday, one o’clock in the afternoon. The sun illuminates the classroom, and you’ve already finished your work. Your back aches from the metal chair, and the boredom is probably going to consume you alive. You decide to take out your agenda book, since there isn’t much else you can do, and skim through the first long section of rules all printed in provoking fonts – a promise to uphold and enforce all the guidelines stated. While you do so, something seems to catch your eye, a rule you didn’t even notice before. In a bold font, there’s a subparagraph in the student expectations section. Dress guide? What are they talking about? You decide to read the short paragraph stating that these guidelines are to, “ensure the wellbeing of the entire student body”. What follows is a short, but fairly surprising list. Your heart begins to pound quicker – you’ve worn clothing that went against rules described before. Actually, you have done so many, many times. So the question is, why haven’t you been “dress-coded” before?

Maybe you know someone that had been dress coded before, maybe you’ve been “dress coded” yourself, or maybe you’ve never heard of it until now. Either way, many students have come to notice that the dress code stated in the agenda book seems to be strangely inaccurate to what is actually established and enforced. So, to see if these rules are really being upheld, let’s check what the agenda book says they are first.

In page 11 of the agenda book under the category titled, “Student expectations: Conduct and behavior” states a dress code that is expected to be followed by all students. The rules that are stated in the agenda book are the following:

  • Safe and proper footwear.
  • No clothing that is imprinted with vulgar or obscene language or artwork that relates to alcohol, drugs, weapons or smoking.
  • No hats, bandanas, and other headgear (unless for religious reasons).
  • Chests, stomachs, and buttocks must be fully covered at all times.
  • Undergarments should not be visible at any time.
  • No sunglasses.
  • No slippers, face paint or costumes.

Despite being a fairly short list of expectations, there is still a lot of information to analyze about this list. The first rule stated is that only safe and proper footwear is allowed. It doesn’t clearly specify what wouldn’t fit under that category, but you can only assume that you are expected to wear shoes to school that won’t be overwhelming or overly distracting. The rule seems to imply to just use common sense to figure it out, but it still appears a little unclear. The next rule stated is that no clothing that is imprinted with inappropriate imagery or language is allowed. This one is much more specific on what isn’t tolerated. While this rule still contains some loopholes, it is clearer and more understandable. The next rule states that no hats, bandanas and other headgear are not allowed, with the exception of the headpiece being for religious reasons. This rule is clear and allows you to understand that they wouldn’t like you to wear any types of headgear. However, today, you can still come to school with a hat and not be told anything. It is fairly common to see someone wear a hat or have a hood on daily. The next rule is fairly simple to understand, but not as easy for people to agree with. Many people throughout the summertime love to wear tight jean shorts and crop tops to combat the heat. There have been multiple occasions where others have been dress coded for the matter, and some instances where that wasn’t the case. The next rule states that things like bras, underwear, and underpants shouldn’t be visible. Which makes sense, except for off-the-shoulder clothing. Which is also fairly popular throughout the summertime. With off-the-shoulder clothing, bra straps can be seen – which begs the question – are these an exception to the rule? The same logic applies to white shirts that are slightly see-through. While the bra is visible, it isn’t all that noticeable. Going by this rule, it appears that none of this is allowed. The next rule says that no sunglasses are allowed. This rule, which was most likely made to combat students wearing sunglasses throughout class to prevent them from sleeping through class unnoticed – would it apply to Transitions lenses as well? If you don’t know what a Transitions lens is, basically, it turns into sunglasses in the sunlight, and lightens in softer light. Whether the lens darkens or not, is obviously enough, out of the wearer’s control, which brings forth some problems with it. Would these fit under sunglasses and wouldn’t be allowed to wear because of that? Unfortunately, with all the rules stated, it’s not very clear. The next and last rule’s general idea is to not wear any costumes or face paint. (Makeup isn’t usually categorized under face paint, so we’ll leave it that way until further clarification.) By costume, you can only guess what is and what is not a costume is up for the administration to decide. For example, many people count petticoats as a costume accessory, while others don’t. Another example of this is something that you can sometimes see people wearing – plastic elf ears. It is a unique accessory, but it is up for interpretation if that is a costume, thus breaking the dress code. The face paint rule is fairly direct by saying that no form of face paint is allowed at all, even if it is in no way distracting, or if it is barely noticeable.

That is all the agenda book gives us to work with. While it is a large chunk of information, there are still a lot of questions to be asked, with many rules being broad, and some having loopholes that remain unclarified. But how does the rules stated in the agenda book contrast to what an actual person tells us? I interviewed the student counselor, Mrs. Siegel and the school Vice Principal, Mrs. MacEwan. The first thing I asked about was what they would say the dress code was. Generally, the answers I got were both “what is stated in the agenda book.” Mrs. Siegel listed some highlights of the dress code which state that no underwear should be shown, and no shirts with drugs or profanity should be worn either.

The highlights that Mrs. MacEwan listed were that “attire should not be disruptive to school property, and should comply with all school requirements for health and safety, and not cause any disorder or disruption.” She elaborated further on what this meant to her, talking about how you should wear appropriate clothing for the activity you’re doing, for example wearing sneakers in gym class or wearing closed-toe shoes for FACS. I then asked Mrs. MacEwan about why the “hat rule” hasn’t been removed since it is generally not enforced. She went on to explain that the reasoning behind this was that it is because it was a long standing rule at Ottoson. Rather than having it written down, they decided to do something called “flexible experimenting” with what they are and are not enforcing. I asked Mrs. Siegel about the rule prohibiting stomachs to be shown, and asked if, given the scenario that a student was wearing a crop top around to the belly button, if she would “dress code it” or not. Mrs Siegel went on to explain that she would not enforce it and that part of her reason is because she does not feel like it is her place to. When asked if she knows someone that would “dress code” the student in the example, she said no. She felt strongly throughout the whole interview that students should keep in mind that what they are wearing is to a work environment, giving the example that most teachers commonly don’t wear clothing like crop tops. The dress code did actually get changed throughout the past years and they were considering changing it, but that never happened thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak.

So, what does this mean for the school dress code? Will it ever get changed? While right now there does not seem to be plans to do so, Mrs. Siegel talked briefly about the possibility of a committee with the student council about the dress code. Maybe you have good experiences with the dress code, and see it as a set of rules that should be kept as it is, or a bad thing that limits how students can express themselves, and should be completely rewritten. The student voice exists. Every student that attends this school can give feedback about how this school works. Just remember that you do have to inform yourself before proposing changes; not everything is as black and white as it seems, and a lot goes around in the background of the school that not all students may notice. If this article motivates you to take a stand to change the dress code, then go for it. Go ask a teacher about it, and they will most likely agree: Every student attending this school deserves to have a say in our rules.