Don’t Wear Saturday On A Wednesday

 

I get asked frequently how I feel about dress codes or what my opinion is on the most recent story in the news of a parent and their daughter defying an imposing school dress code. My opinion is that school dress codes are necessary in an age when young men’s fashion is overly casual and so much of the young women’s apparel on the market is sexualized and girls are encouraged from childhood to sexually objectify themselves in order to gain social worth. The problem is not with girls, but everything and every one around them.

I will forever support girls demonstrating agency and using their voices. I think school dress codes, the way many are written, include multiple forms of body shaming and gendered double standards. I abhor the idea of reprimanding female students by sending them home or forcing them to wear bulky, baggy clothing as a slut-shaming dunce cap. The word “modesty” gives me hives.

At the same time, when you are a student school is your job. Dress like it. Show up ready to do your job. Respecting your role is a form of respecting yourself and what you are at school to do.

Days of the Week

It is this simple: Don’t wear Saturday on a Wednesday.

^I learned that phrase during a discussion with my colleague Julia V. Taylor (author, “Body Image Workbook For Teens“) who told me a principal she used to work with would say it to her teaching staff when they were dressed too casually or inappropriately for their profession.

 

This concept teaches our kids, girls specifically, three very important things:

1. There is a time and place for different manners of dress without shaming what those different styles may be or wanting to explore those different styles.
2. It still allows for agency and does not lend to body shaming and Rape Culture. The focus shifts from a young girl’s body to what is the appropriate attire for the time/place/function.
3. It teaches young people who have been immersed in a sexualized culture since birth there is no requirement to be sexy at all times. It teaches self-awareness.

 

But what do high school dress codes look like in practice and how do they impact students?

High school prom knock-out Alexus Miller-Wigfall. (Image via Hello Giggles)

High school prom knock-out Alexus Miller-Wigfall. (Image via Hello Giggles)

High school student Alexus Miller-Wigfall was going to receive an in-school suspension for this dress deemed inappropriate. Say whaaaa??? The dress is long-sleeved and floor length. Alexus and her date look stunning and elegant. Alexus’ mother believes the decision came because of Alexus’ curves. Even when completely covered, girls are still punished for going out in public with their bodies. In 2015. In America. In France, girls can’t win no matter what they are wearing.

Today’s high school girls ABSOLUTELY should be challenging body shaming and sexist dress codes, which is most effectively done when not sexually objectifying themselves. Leggings? Bare shoulders? Fine. Side-boob, under butt and bare midriff? Come, let’s have a little chat about how we dress for the job of learning……

In theory, this sign is great. In application, it just doesn’t work for me.

Student response to what was felt to be a sexist school dress code.

Student response to what was felt to be a sexist school dress code.

 

Today’s high school girls should be able to decide for themselves what to wear to class. Leggings and a tunic? Great, get to class on time. Society will not fall because we can see the outline of your hamstring. At the same time, today’s high school girls cannot undo thousands of years of human sexuality and biological responses to visual sexual stimuli. There is a balance between body shaming our female students and using common sense about being human beings with innate sexuality. There is a time and place for sexy. Being fifteen years old and sitting in Algebra is not it. Pubescent heterosexual boys are going to take in interest in female bodies, therefore girls in tiny shorts, bra straps, enormous amounts of cleavage in barely-there tank tops are distracting. The onus is on the boys to refocus and act respectfully because teenage girls are deserving of respect no matter what they do, or don’t, have on. And girls should respect their institution of learning and their education by dressing like Wednesday. Not Saturday.

The topic of school dress codes is not a zero sum game. Yes, fight against the idea that female bodies and sexuality are sinful, distracting, and something to be monitored/controlled/punished by a higher (most likely male) power. Yes, fight against dress codes that punish sexually mature female bodies and plus-sized, curvy bodies. Yes, teach boys even when a girl is dressed in a way that catches their eye they are still fully expected to react respectfully towards that person and they are fully responsible for their words and behavior towards that person.

At the same time – write school dress codes in a way that is gender inclusive and lists for students what is appropriate and professional attire for school Monday through Friday. Let’s help students identify and build up their personal brands as opposed to listing body parts and various forms of tight or revealing clothing that will apparently undo the education system and enlightening of the general public.

The education system has bigger problems and frankly, so do our students. Let’s keep the school’s focus where it should be – on the minds and intellect of the students. Hey school administrators, our brains are up here.

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (PP&BB). 

 

 

Comments

  1. Kimberly Herbert says:

    This is somewhat related and I would love your opinion

    https://www.yahoo.com/parenting/high-school-shames-girls-with-controversial-prom-117878707962.html

    There are multiple issues

    This was a public high school – the poster comes from religious organizations – the administration wants to create a public forum – they had better let every single view point in – that means Satanic Temple, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Muslim Groups everyone.

    It puts the responsibility of the girl’s behavior and control of her body on the boy

    It implies you are a bad person if you have sex and are female. Classic abstinence only education, which lowers the age of first sexual experience and increased teen pregnancy rates.

  2. Lauren says:

    That post is very well written. And I completely agree. The problem is finding the clothes for girls. I have an almost 2 year old. 2. Shopping for summer clothes for her is so hard! Every pair of shorts are way too short. Shirts are cut in at the waist. Strappy tank tops and sun dresses. Leopard print, low cut, lacey, in appropriate language… I have to go out of my to find clothing that isn’t “too sexy” for a 2 year old! And a lot of what she wears is either labeled boys clothing or just passes my approval. Are my standards too high? Maybe. But I also don’t think bikinis belong on a toddler or shorts so short you can’t see them under her shirt. Yes, females and males should dress for a Wednesday and not a Saturday. Now the clothing companies have to start giving these kids that option.

  3. Melissa, could you post examples of what you think are *good* dress codes from schools? Thanks!

  4. I have to disagree because the term “appropriate” is way too subjective depending on the cultural background/age group/area where the teens live. Who determines what “appropriate” is? The patriarchy. I believe it should be totally acceptable for girls to wear spaghetti strap shirts and shorts at a Texas school where half the campus is outside and the temperatures can get up to 110 degrees! School may be their job, but their attire does not affect their job. Just like I won’t cover my sleeve of tattoos at work because it doesn’t hinder my productivity.

    • Meghan,
      “Appropriate” is subjective, and I use it intentionally because I believe it should be up to each girl and her family to decide. To your point, “cultural background/age group/area where the teens live” will influence what that does and does not look like, so I teach girls to take that into consideration as they craft their personal brand, make decisions about what outfits make them look best, and how they want to present themselves to the world.

      That said, I do not think spaghetti straps are appropriate for school. I always hear them defended as being a savior from the heat, but I fail to see how a tank top with 1 inch straps is that much more burdensome than a spaghetti strap tank. For me, spaghetti strap tanks remind me of camisoles – and undershirt/lingerie worn under clothing, not as the main item of clothing. So for me, and by proxy my children, that will not be appropriate for school. I personally find it tacky when bra straps and underwear are showing. That will be our family rule, it will apply to our daughter and our son, and I will kindly thank their schools for letting that decision be made at home instead of spending education time policing their wardrobe.

Trackbacks

  1. […] at Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies had a pointed piece about reframing dresscodes as “Don’t Wear Saturday on a Wednesday.” It strikes a sensible balance between allowing girls to retain agency of their bodies and […]

  2. […] students should dress appropriately for school. Don’t wear Saturday on a Wednesday. Yes, we should teach our girls the difference between […]

Speak Your Mind

*