Thinking back to almost four years ago, I can remember how ecstatic I was to leave high school and come to John Carroll. The taste of freedom was in the air, and of all the liberties I was finally going to experience, the most important one was no more dress codes.
Since I went to a Catholic high school, the students were held to a pretty strict dress code. First of all, every student had to wear school-issued polos, which remained shockingly amorphous no matter how many times you tried to shrink them to your size in your washing machine. Then, the boys had to wear dress pants and remain clean-shaven. Girls were required to wear either dress pants or knee-length skirts.
Trust me, if you tried to get away with a shorter skirt, you wouldn’t even make it through first period.
I understand now that although our dress code was annoying, it was indeed appropriate. We learned to respect the modesty in our appearances (well, some of us did). My younger sister went to a public high school at the time, and I remember being astounded at some of the outfits the other girls would wear. Call me an old-timer for thinking this, but who needs to wear short skirts, low tops and four-inch pumps to school?
I read an article this week on CNN about a Catholic high school in Iowa that issued a seemingly sexist dress code notice for a scholastic achievement event. For the boys, they had a few simple instructions: Be classy. Wear dress pants, dress shirts, ties, the whole nine yards.
For the girls, however, there were four paragraphs of instructions on how to dress appropriately. The main message of these lengthy instructions was to be as modest as possible. There was even a sentence that specifically explained that the ladies should be directing attention to their faces, not their chests. Or any part of their bodies, really. In the words of the letter, “Choose an outfit that is pretty enough to show you are a woman and modest enough to show you are a lady.”
Woah. Okay, so that’s a pretty questionable statement all on its own. As one of the students explained in her interview with CNN, that sentence basically implies you have to be pretty to be a woman. Check my recent column, “Beauty is a beast,” for more of my thoughts on that.
But, instead of reopening that can of worms, I just want to address the issue of the dress code regulations and the idea of modesty for ladies.
I do believe that, just like men, women should have the right to express themselves and their personalities through dress. Naturally.
However, I also believe there is a time and a place for that kind of expression. And, like I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, school is neither the time nor the place to wear scandalous clothing.
I understand the appeal of wanting to be beautiful and desirable. I like to show off sometimes, too, especially after a good workout, on a good hair day and in the middle of summer when I’m not the color of milk.
That being said, we must all take ownership of the fact our behavior tends to correlate with the way we dress and present ourselves to the public. This is true for both men and women. When guys look like they just rolled out of bed, they tend to act like they just rolled out of bed. When girls dress like they’re trying to get down in a club that night, they tend to actually get down in a club that night.
The correlation between dress and behavior can also be largely attributed to simple perception. We, as human beings, have learned to judge each other based on what we see. Whether these judgements are good or bad, we all judge.
The bottom line is, you shouldn’t be ashamed of your body and the parts that you want to flaunt. And, ladies, you shouldn’t feel like you have to dress a certain way in order to be seen as a woman.
But, honestly, sometimes a dress code is important. There are always going to be people who dress way too inappropriately for an occasion. And, if that is allowed to continue, then everyone begins to think they can also dress that way.
Learn how to dress appropriately for formal situations. Appreciate your body, but also realize that just because you have it, doesn’t mean you should always flaunt it.