Dress code shows inconsistencies in application

This story was originally published in the second edition of The Lion’s Tale (November 6, 2020).

As a teenage girl, dress code has been a part of my school life for as long as I remember. Trying to find cute but dress code friendly clothes was a common struggle in middle school. Finding ways around the rules and avoiding teachers who were known to be strict about it was just how things were. It was always a joke among my friends and I that of all things, shoulders were considered inappropriate. 

My first experience with the dress code was actually my first day of school in Seminole County. I was only in fourth grade, and I was new so I didn’t know about the dress code. My mom had bought me a matching Gymboree outfit, which just so happened to include a tank top. While walking to lunch, my teacher pulled me aside and asked me to cover my shoulders with my hair so that neither of us would get in trouble. I was so confused, it was August in Florida, why couldn’t I wear a tank top? I was only nine years old; my outfit was not revealing or distracting in any way.

A few years later at my middle school, there was a certain assistant principal who would walk around the courtyard in the mornings looking for girls who were violating dress code. One day, I was walking with my friend before first period when the assistant principal approached me and told me to go to the nurse’s office to change because my shorts were too short. At the nurse’s office, they called my mom and gave me an old pair of men’s gym shorts to wear. 

While what I was wearing did technically break the dress code, the shorts were barely too short and weren’t “revealing”. I remember feeling like she was just looking for someone to punish because- class hadn’t even started, so how could my outfit have been “distracting?” I ended up missing most of my first period that day, because it took at least twenty minutes for them to call my mom and have her bring me a change of clothes.

In high school, we were warned about violating the dress code the first day of freshman year. As I got used to being at Oviedo High School (OHS) it became obvious that most students weren’t worried about violating dress code, so neither was I. But I still would hear stories about male teachers who would inappropriately point out a girl’s shirt being see-through or students violating dress code by bringing blankets to school on a cold day. 

I always wondered why the responsibility is put on girls to dress so that the male students aren’t distracted. Why is it our problem and not theirs? Especially in middle school, there had never been an incident where my or a classmate’s outfit had been a class disruption, whether it was “dress code” friendly or not. 

The first day I came back to OHS since March, a guy wearing a mask that read “Trump 2020” opened the door for my friend and I. Right away, I felt surprised and caught off guard. I couldn’t believe that the school allows students to wear masks like that, especially in today’s divided political climate. Walking to lunch, I saw many other students wearing similar t-shirts and masks. 

It had never been like this before- the only time I had ever seen anyone at school wearing something political was on America day during homecoming week. There is so much political tension in school and online due to the upcoming election, how is a Trump mask appropriate for school, but a sleeveless shirt or ripped jeans aren’t?

Wearing any type of clothing with political messages seems much more likely to make people feel uncomfortable, regardless of which side they’re on, than almost anything a girl could wear. School should be a safe place for everyone, and allowing political slogans to be flaunted on masks or clothing can create a hostile environment prone to arguments and conflict.

It seems hypocritical for the school to say “we can’t do anything about it” when this excuse is conspicuously absent when it comes to a dress code violation. 

If the school can tell girls what to wear, why can’t they tell students (of any gender) to keep contentious politics outside of school?