Students in Washington, DC, get in trouble for wearing clothing like this. Left to right: Nasirah Fair is wearing spaghetti straps; Jillian Towson’s skirt is considered too short; Fatimah Fair’s shoulders are exposed.

Students in Washington, DC, get in trouble for wearing clothing like this. Left to right: Nasirah Fair is wearing spaghetti straps; Jillian Towson’s skirt is considered too short; Fatimah Fair’s shoulders are exposed.

Students can face a lot of pressure for what they wear to school. Fashions change and trendy clothes are expensive. But some of the most damaging critiques of students’ outfits come not from their peers, but from the grown-ups in schools. And teachers and principals seem to disproportionately regulate girls’ clothes.

In 2016, a student in Kentucky was allegedly told to kneel while a school official measured her skirt.

This spring, administrators made a student in Florida wear an additional shirt and put adhesive bandages on her nipples.

A school in Michigan briefly considered offering students at prom “modesty ponchos.”

And a new report says that in Washington, D.C., black girls are disproportionately punished for what they wear.

“These punishments interrupt girls’ educations while sending dangerous messages to the school community: how a girl looks is more important than what she thinks, and girls are ultimately responsible for the misbehavior of boys,” the report from the National Women’s Law Center says.

This doesn’t go unnoticed in schools. From The New York Times:

In the U.S., more than half of public schools have dress codes. Students are beginning to push back on ones they deem discriminatory, challenging rules against buzz cuts, shirt dresses and hair extensions. In 2014, a group of New Jersey high schoolers created #iammorethanadistraction to push back against their dress code and four years later, it continues to be an active hashtag. Change.org lists over 500 dress code petitions in their database.

Read our guest’s guide for what to do if you’re told you’ve violated a dress code.

How do schools decide to set their dress codes? Who are they for? And as students campaign against unfair enforcement, how long will dress codes last?

Guests

  • Alexandra Brodsky Civil rights attorney, National Women's Law Center; former founding co-director, Know Your IX, a youth-led organization; @azbrodsky
  • Mildred Charley-Greene Principal, Northwood High School in Silver Spring, Maryland; 2018 Maryland Principal of the Year; @NorthwoodPrin
  • Victoria Schantz Senior, Indian Trail High School, Kenosha, Wisconsin
  • Nasirah Fair Senior, Wilson High School, Washington, D.C.

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