Dress Code or Shame Code: Enforcing Outdated Rules

Dress Code or Shame Code: Enforicing Outdated Rules | Knoxville Moms Blog

Knox County Schools have a dress code, but after ten years in the school system, I wonder if it is a dress code or a shame code. Some of the rules are outdated, targeted at girls, and are enforced with no continuity.

Before you get too mad, I believe Knox County MUST have a dress code. I totally understand that if they didn’t have a policy about how kids dress, there would be kids coming to school looking like…well, you know. But my issue is more with the outdated rules and how they choose to enforce them. It’s willy-nilly and depends on which teacher sees you, how good or bad you look in your clothes, which gender you are, if you have pretty skin, and if you meet a certain ascetically-pleasing view point (i.e., there is a lot of fat shaming going on). I know there was a petition recently about the fingertip rule (I signed it), and there were several stories of girls not allowed into proms last spring for dress code violations.

Let’s tackle some of this with a few examples, shall we?

Example 1: Tight fitting clothes, like leggings and t-shirts which leave little to the imagination. Knox County says this about it: “Prohibited…skin-tight outer materials such as spandex.” The student gets the opportunity to change clothes or face in-school suspension. The policy also states that this is up to the administration to determine “whether the student’s attire is within the limits of decency and modesty.” Look around at the styles these days — every store has leggings and tunics. Obviously, kids want to wear what is in style. As long as the girls cover their bottoms with a tunic-length shirt, this should be perfectly acceptable, right?

Leggings are not pants, and I am not saying they should be worn as pants. But should middle school girls be pulled out of class and forced to change clothes just because they have leggings on their legs? This happened to us and also to other girls at several different schools, and in each case these girls were not showing any part of their body that should not have been seen. Several of the girls actually had on skirts or dresses over their leggings, and were still forced to change clothes. Had they worn the skirts or dresses on their own, they would not have been called out. That’s insane and just ridiculous.

There is a whole other group of girls who get called out because their shirts are too tight, but it’s not because they are showing off their assets. This is aimed at plus-sized girls who are wearing the same type of clothes the rest of the kids are; they just might fit them a little differently.

Example 2: Fingertip length shorts and dresses/skirts. This is one of the hardest policies to enforce, and I actually feel sorry for the teachers that must try. Because every kid has different length arms, fingers, and legs, fingertip length will be different on each child. Both my teen and I have what we lovingly refer to as “go-go-gadget” arms. That’s right: our arms are so long, we compare them to Mr. Gadget’s arms. Our fingertips hit our kneecaps. Might be a mutation or something, but whatever it is, it makes it impossible to buy any shorts or dresses that are of “legal” length, at least in the girl/women departments.

On the same token, I do not let her wear shorts that are too short. I don’t want to see her tush hanging out as she walks away, and I certainly do not want anyone else seeing it! We try everything on before buying to make sure it’s long enough. An easy adjustment to this policy would be to say that shorts must be so many inches long, or so many inches from the waist. I don’t know this magic number, but I am sure there is one. We’ve broken this dress code, too, unfortunately, and not on purpose. We had been seeing lots of kids wearing shorts and she just hated having to be outside in the 95-degree heat in jeans, so she found her longest pair of shorts and wore them. Even though they were fine, showed nothing and were a 7” inseam (as opposed to 3” or 5” inseam shorts that are very popular), she was put through the fingertip test that day and failed. She called me crying and I really wanted to throw a fit and say “NO! I’m your mom and I say it’s fine!” But I also do not want to be known as “that mom,” so I just brought her clothes.

One contributor shared a story about the her 6th grader on the first week of school being subjected to “short checks.” Literally, someone would barge into the classroom, announce “Short checks!” and then had all of the GIRLS stand and do the fingertip test. So right when our girls are the most vulnerable (remember 6th grade?), they are made to feel embarrassed and humiliated in front of the entire class. I can only imagine them praying silently that their shorts would just be long enough so they weren’t called out further. Why are the boys not subjected to these checks?

I have also seen adorable high school girls walking to their cars in cutoff jean shorts that were so short I could actually see their butt cheeks. They were beautiful girls, long hair, tan skinned. I can’t help but wonder if they weren’t made to change clothes because either the teacher just didn’t notice, or because they are pretty and popular and the same rules just don’t apply to them. Things that make you go “hmm?”

Example 3: All shirts must have sleeves. I get that you can’t wear tank tops, halter-tops, crop tops, and backless tops, but a shirt that doesn’t have sleeves? Surely there is a happy medium between hooker on the street and modestly dressed! I’m actually embarrassed to say we have broken this rule, too. She wore a very cute black tunic shirt that is very long, has a high neck, a hood, and happens to be sleeveless. You can see from the picture, there is nothing showing here except her arms.

Dress Code or Shame CodeWhat exactly is the reason we can’t see girls’ arms? I have heard some people say it’s because it is distracting to the boys. I pray there is another reason than this, although I can’t figure one out. You know what? Teens are just wired to see each other in a sexual light. That isn’t bad. But we can teach them to respect each other, and that seeing a shoulder shouldn’t negate that respect. What our children see on social media, television, movies, and the internet is far worse, but that is an entirely different subject for a different post.

One contributor shared an eye-opening story that happened in a local high school just last week. There were a group of boys that were wearing basketball jerseys, which just so happen to be tank top/sleeveless. The principal walked into the classroom, patted one kid on the back and said in a joking manner, “You boys are violating the dress code. Don’t you know if you’re going to wear a tank top you have to shave your pits?” Everyone laughed, except the girls in the room. One girl said, “We shave our pits and we can’t wear tank tops.” To which the principal either didn’t hear or chose to ignore and swiftly left the room. Those girls were left feeling angry and hurt. Basketball jerseys are probably an exception to the rules, and allowed for special occasions, but to joke about it was completely inappropriate.

Dress codes are important and mandatory, but it is just as important to enforce them properly, without embarrassing or hurting our kids in the process. We need to be lifting our girls up and showing them that they are smart, important, and beautiful just the way God made them and that they have no molds to try to fit into. Can we just try to use common sense here and not shame our girls into hiding their bodies, or blaming them for distracting boys from their schoolwork?

How do you feel about the dress codes? What do you think the biggest problem is with the dress codes? Do you see gender discrimination? Is favoritism involved?

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9 Responses to Dress Code or Shame Code: Enforcing Outdated Rules

  1. Jaclyn Levy September 28, 2016 at 9:43 am #

    This post is SO IMPORTANT. Thank you for bringing light to this exasperating issue. My jaw dropped at the “short check” story. I can’t even. We must do better for our girls and boys. Also, don’t be afraid to be “that mom.” You’d probably be surprised at how many others would stand beside you!

    This is how I’d solve the dress code issue: do away with it all together and keep the building at 65°. 😉

  2. Crystal
    Crystal September 28, 2016 at 9:59 am #

    Oh THANK YOU Jaclyn!! You’re a genius! #jaclynforsuperintendent! ??

  3. SLA September 28, 2016 at 11:13 am #

    My daughter is one of those with Looonnnggg arms. Her “wing span” is 2 inches longer than her height. Along with those long arms comes very broad shoulders, sleeveless are her friend. We are new to the area and had bought her the cutest shirts like your daughters, long enough to cover her bottom, but sleeveless. Didn’t realize those were off limits too. She honestly has about 6 pieces we bought her for back to school, that she can not wear:(

    • Crystal Rosecrance
      Crystal Rosecrance October 4, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

      I made the same mistake sending her in a sleeveless shirt, I should’ve re-read the dress code! I hope to not repeat my mistake again! Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  4. C September 28, 2016 at 6:00 pm #

    I am a teacher in Knox county and I share some frustrations with the dress code. My thing is, the dress code pretty much stays the same, year after year, so parents and kids do know what is right and wrong. What I most see wrong in the hallways is way too short shorts and leggings with nothing covering their butts. Here’s the kicker: some of the girls I address, have a change of clothes, just in case! So they know it’s wrong, but do it anyway. I don’t care who the students are, if I see them out of dress code, I’m going to turn them in. Unfortunately not all teachers or admins do, so I do see where that could be frustrating. But if parents helped enforce it, it would be so much easier. You can’t find long enough shorts, wear capris or jeans. Classrooms stay cool for the most part because during the hot months, the district keeps the air on cool. I wear a t-shirt and jeans every Friday, and I never overheated once. Lastly, if you don’t like the dress code, I suggest going to a school board meeting. It’s not going to change with parents complaining on Facebook. But I bet if enough parents went to the meetings, it may make a difference.

    • Crystal Rosecrance
      Crystal Rosecrance October 4, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

      I completely agree, and I know our teachers have a very hard job. Thank you for reading!!

    • Sheezy February 21, 2018 at 9:10 am #

      Do they know it’s “wrong,” or just that they might get in “trouble” if someone decides to be a dress code nazi that particular day? I think they’re smart enough to know that there is an authoritarian game that they are required to play, and come to school equipped to do so. Dress codes are a stupid double standard that are targeted mostly at girls. Weird that we are STILL shaming the girls/young women of our society by making them feel like they’ve done something wrong, all because they were born with two X chromosomes.

  5. E August 8, 2017 at 2:07 pm #

    I have always disliked the fingertip policy, we had this in Michigan schools growing up. I’m short thus my finger tips hit quite high up so I would
    Never buy shorts that short, but if I was given the test I would pass having my bum hanging out , not that I ever would but could pass that test. I’m a firm believer in uniforms with Friday’s or special occasions being able to wear what you want. I know uniforms! But let’s face it do we really need to worry what anyone is dressed like , when did school become more of a fashion charade than simply learning. Besides this some families can’t afford to have the “in style” clothes. I feel just as education should be equally available to anyone you should also feel equally clothed and not have to worry about what shirt you have or how short your shorts are. You have weekends and after school time with friends to show off clothes. Nothing should ever be based on what clothes we have. However I agree the code sounds like it needs some tweaking. Cheers!

  6. Sheezy February 21, 2018 at 9:04 am #

    If things shouldn’t be based on what clothes you have, then why does it matter what you wear to school? You ⬆️ are literally contradicting yourself. I think dress codes are stupid, I always have. When I was in school, your shorts couldn’t be more than 2″ above your knee, but I never really saw it enforced, because the teachers were there to teach. SHOCKING, right?!?

    I think that obviously we need to teach boys to respect girls, and girls to respect themselves; I also think we need to teach teachers/admin to lighten up. Jeez, why don’t you focus on doing your ACTUAL job and stop being a dress code nazi! If you really have nothing better to do than police what kids are wearing at school, maybe you need to take a good reflective look at yourself and ask why. I think a lot of these “rules” are put in place because the male teachers get turned on by these girls, not because their peers do. I mean outside of school they wear whatever they want and their peers are used to it, so they are used to it at school then too, no? To me it has always seemed like another way for grown ups to be in control. It’s lame and outdated, IMO

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