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Part of my responsibility at our school is to monitor what students wear, making sure they follow the dress code. Middle school students like to push the limits of the dress code; that’s expected from adolescents when they are trying to discover who they are and who they would like to become as they mature into adults. Each school has its own dress code and its own methods for interpreting the code. Some schools are very strict—others less so. I thought it might be helpful to understand why schools need dress codes, why they’re enforced, and how the dress code at your child's school will affect your back-to-school shopping.
Every family has its own sense of right and wrong, and differing levels of parental involvement. That said, some students come to school dressed provocatively; perhaps they snuck out of the house without a parent seeing them, or they changed clothes after they got to school. As is often the case, when I speak with them about how they are dressed, they miraculously have something else on hand to change into! They know what they’re wearing is inappropriate, but they think they might get away with it. Or perhaps, they make their statement just to arrive at school dressed that way, with plans to change clothes once at school.
In general, the purpose of the dress code is to help to create an environment conducive to learning at school. When underwear is showing or too much skin is exposed, students think more about each other than what they are being taught. Many students already have trouble paying attention in school. When you add distracting clothing, it’s just that much harder for them. Other parts of the code are safety-related. For example, some students like to wear their pants dragging on the ground or leave their shoes untied, both of which are unsafe when going up and down stairs. A third purpose of the code is to teach students that what is appropriate clothing for one place (like a birthday party) is not appropriate for another place (like work or school).
Many years ago, I had a student who got his first job over spring break. He was working at the movie theater taking tickets as people entered. After a few weeks he was fired. I asked him about it, and he told me that he did not wear the white shirt and black tie that was required of him. I asked him why he didn’t wear it and he said, “It was stupid. It was too hot in there and I shouldn’t have to wear a tie.” He suffered a severe consequence for the decision he made to ignore the dress code.
My point in sharing this story is to show that dress codes are a part of life. We wear certain kinds of clothes to church, to work, to the beach, to the prom, and to school.
It is important when shopping for school clothes this summer that parents obtain a copy of the school’s dress code in advance and help their kids select appropriate clothing. This will make concentrating in the classroom easier for everyone—and it’ll keep students safe and teach them that appearance is important.
I like to tell my students that school is your job right now. Dress for success in school just like you will dress for success at your job in the future.