They Call Me Ranch Cuz I Be Dressin

Dress codes often disproportionately target women, students of color, and LGBTQ+ students and reinforce stereotypes, as well as repress student expression.

The Afro was an important symbol of black culture and specifically the Black Power Movement in the 1960s and 70s. School dress codes banning the hairstyle are really banning blackness and black pride. Similarly, dress codes which dictate which clothes which genders can wear are banning any gender or sexuality expression other than cisgender and heterosexual.

When I got called out for breaking the dress code I felt ashamed, like I was somehow “inappropriate.” I was an Honor Roll student but all they saw were my exposed legs or an inch too much of my shoulder.

            There are always stories of women who wore the “wrong” thing to school and protested. Society has ingrained that their bodies are sexual objects and that they need to cover up. This carries the damaging implication that women are inviting rape because it is their fault for being too “provocative.” Instead of reinforcing the ideas behind rape culture, schools really need to be teaching young women to be confident and young men not to rape and harass women.

            Depression and anxiety disorders are at an all-time high for teenagers. Alternative classroom settings have been found to have positive impacts on students’ academic performance and mental health. The same approach should be used with dress codes: relaxing them so students feel more comfortable to wear what they want and not punishing them in extreme ways.

            LGBTQ+ feel the effects of gendered dress codes more than most students. When students already struggling with gender dysphoria and transphobia at home and in the real world encounter the same discrimination at school, it can be incredibly damaging to their mental health, instead of providing a safe place for them to explore their identities.

Schools are supposed to be preparing students for the “real world” but these dress codes reinforce institutional racism, as well as ideas that black people will always be “inappropriate” and that they need to become white in order to succeed. It shows the assumption that students don’t know how to dress for school . These dress codes also show that administrators don’t have trust in students’ parents to dress their children.

Saying that students need to focus on “what really counts” is a patronizing assumption that students and parents have the money to purchase uniforms year after year and that it is the fault of the students for turning to crime and not the institutions which reinforce the school-to-prison system. Schools should not be making it more difficult for low-income students to attend school.

A school in North Carolina refused to stop students from wearing the Confederate flag and argued that the flag wasn’t a form of hate speech and they were protecting students’ First Amendment rights. Dress codes are almost always biased towards white and higher-income students and for blacks, the Confederate flag represents a history of violent racism and oppression.

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District was a landmark case for students’ rights. A school which represses students’ self-expression using either uniforms or incredibly strict dress codes can’t prepare them for a world in which creativity is encouraged.

Schools are designed to prepare students for the real world; they are meant to be safe spaces for children and teenagers to learn how the world works and to explore their identities and practice their expression. The next generation needs to be shown that sexism and misogyny, racism and ethnicism, homophobia and transphobia should not be tolerated, and many dress codes send the opposite message through their disproportionate targeting of women, minorities and LGBTQ+ students. These rules need to be opened up to allow for free expression and critical exploration at an important time in students’ lives but also to ensure that schools are safe and inclusive places for everyone.


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