How dress codes oppress young women

From spaghetti straps to open-toed shoes

Quinn Higurashi | Photo Courtesy

“Dresses, shorts or skirts must be no shorter than five inches above the kneeling knee (even with leggings).”

“No dresses or tops with spaghetti straps or inappropriate slits.”

“No low-cut blouses, sports bras, halter tops or tube tops.” 

These are a few of the very stringent dress code rules I strived to follow every day while I went to my private Christian school, among other codes like no unnaturally dyed hair, no piercings of any kind and the infamous no holes in the pants. 

Back-to-school shopping was a nightmare. And while I remember my experience at this particular school in an overwhelmingly positive light, the dress code is something that taints even my happiest memories. 

My mom was getting called out of work or called out of the Costco check-out line because I had once again been dress-coded, and she needed to bring me new clothes. One time for a school spirit day, the black dress I was wearing was deemed too tight-fitting. 

Even though the straps of the dress were three fingers thick, even though I was wearing leggings as not to expose any skin; because of the figure, I was deemed to be dressing in a way that, “Led my male peers astray.” 

There was the one time I was brought into the office before classes even started. In my red blazer and black pencil skirt, I was made to sit on my knees and have the length of my dress measured by the English teacher and a notecard. 

All because in my business casual outfit, my skirt length needed to be checked because I was getting “unwanted male attention in my skirt.” 

Now I will propose this question: What kind of message are we sending young men if we enforce the message that women in business casual clothing are to be gawked at and eyed up?

And these are just one of the many times I was dress-coded my freshman year of high school at 14 years old. 

Never in my life before or since have I been dress-coded as much as I was at this school. At the time, and for a while after, people tried to tell me I was to blame for showing too much skin. That I was too rowdy, and with my body type, I needed to dress more conservatively. 

But what kind of message are you sending young Christian girls in their formative years that it’s their job to cover up and not the job of their male peers to be respectful? 

At 14, I was a little curvier than some of my lovely and thin classmates. While they could get away with wearing yoga pants, I couldn’t even get away with wearing dresses that were technically allowed by the dress code. 

I haven’t been more embarrassed than I was back in high school when my entire grade knew that once again, I had been called to the office to have my mom called. I had my learning disrupted at the possibility that I may disrupt the learning of one of my male classmates. 

And what did the boys learn? They learned it was the girl’s job to dress differently and to behave differently so as not to “lead them into sin.”

The biblical idea of leading a brother into sin comes from Romans 14:13: “Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” 

On the surface, this may seem like a perfectly sensible verse to quote to young women or really, anyone. However, when read in the broader context of the passage, the author Paul talks about how Christians are quick to pass judgment on one another based on certain religious preferences like whether or not they can eat meat or observe certain days as holy. 

This passage from put it more eloquently than I could, “Context is crucial in applying this passage. Too often, the term ‘stumbling block’ is used as an accusation by those Paul has described as the ‘weak in faith.’ As other verses have made clear (Romans 14:3), believers cannot wield their own convictions like a club, bro.”

So then, what happens to this culture and these ideas as they enter the adult world. It perpetuates the idea that women are responsible for men’s actions and thoughts, it makes girls feel uncomfortable in their own skin and it teaches boys to objectify women. 

In other words, dress codes are often how we see rape culture in schools. From an early age, we teach our girls to cover up instead of teaching our boys to keep their hands to themselves. 

Not to mention how many dress codes are used to gatekeep and keep POC, especially black people, out of these schools and to do that with making dreadlocks, braids and other ethnic hairstyles against the dress code. 

Frankly, dress codes are archaic. They serve little functional purpose other than to maintain control over young people, especially minorities. Dress codes, especially like the one above, follow the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. 

If your girls are going to a Christian school, chances are modesty is on their minds. And obviously, it isn’t appropriate to go to school wearing lingerie or with your thong showing. 

But your hair color, your nail color and the cut of your shirt likely have little to do with learning. Dress codes, especially like the examples I gave above, are way overdoing it. And, sadly, I had to grow up in a culture that encouraged me to be critical of my body.

Especially Christians, which are people whose hearts are supposed to be the least judgmental and the most loving, but humanity falls short and doesn’t even realize it. Dress codes of this nature don’t belong in a secular school, and they don’t belong in Christian ones either. 

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