Monday Memories: Dress Codes

This week on Monday Memories we are writing about dress codes. I am not going to lie to you. This is a tough one for me because I never really had any dress code issues growing up. I do remember, when I was a kid, a big controversy over whether or not our school should adopt a school uniform policy. For a while that was all the rage in public schools across America. I remember my parents debating its merits and it’s disadvantages. I think, mostly, they didn’t want to have to pay for the uniforms. I thought uniforms would take away student individuality. Looking back on it, as an adult, maybe a uniform wouldn’t have been such a bad thing. I never had the clothes or brands that all of the cool kids had: dockers, esprit, jeans and shoes that weren’t from the boy’s department (my parents claimed they lasted longer). Maybe I would have been cooler and the uniform would have acted as a great equalizer. Probably not though, because I still had wild, untamed, frizzy hair, braces, and bad skin. Still. If everyone looked the same at least they’d have to rely on personalities and wit to stand out, right? Not that I would have stood out with mine because I was shy and my wit was reserved for the couple of people who had made an effort to get to know me well. Still, I like to pretend that a Catholic school girl costume uniform would have transformed me into a California-Barbie, popular girl-type over night. Sadly, that is probably every teenage girls dream.

As an adult I have donned many uniforms. Most of them included black pants and black shoes. That seems to be the go-to clothing choice for minimum wage employers everywhere. By the time I graduated from college and wormed my way into a professional job there were new rules to follow: no perfume, no sleeveless shirts, no open toed shoes, no cleavage. I worked with young children. I wore sneakers with dress pants and sweaters with cartoon characters. I had arrived.

Many people make jokes about the “mom uniform” which used to be sweatshirts and mom jeans, but now includes yoga pants and martini glasses. Sometimes you can get away with cute pajamas and fluffy slippers. No, seriously, I see moms shopping at Wal-Mart like that all the time now. Over this past weekend I actually saw a mom wearing jeans and a bra with a jacket over it. I was impressed that she didn’t even worry about finding a semi-clean shirt in the dirty laundry to throw over her half-naked body. Maybe she just forgot to. Motherhood does some strange things to your brain. Of course, nobody called the fashion police on her. She wasn’t arrested for indecent exposure. No school officials sent her home for being a distraction. It seems nobody minds seeing an adult woman in a bra shopping for eggs in the dairy department. That is celebrated in our culture, at least it is until she gets raped, or beat up, or left for dead somewhere. Then, then her clothing choices are a liability.

This whole dress code topic came up after Quirky Chrissy watched a video about a little girl getting in trouble for wearing a shirt and skirt with tights to school. I’ve watched the video several times and I can’t figure out how her outfit was a problem or a distraction. It kind of blows my mind that teachers and administrators were concerned over this little girls clothing. She just looks like a typical kid to me. Sometimes, in this world we live in, I get the feeling we make a big deal out of all of the wrong things. Kids are going without food, having trouble learning, and killing themselves after being publicly humiliated by other students. Meanwhile, we’re all up in arms over a little girl wearing little girl clothing to school? It baffles me. I want to shake people awake. We need to get our priorities in line. The authorities said this little girls midriff was showing. The mom said all they had to do was pull her shirt down (what 7-year-old kid doesn’t have a few wardrobe malfunctions on a daily basis?). I wonder, why are adults, in a school, sexualizing a 7-year-old girl? Her classmates don’t care if her stomach shows a little. Her stomach is just a body part…like an elbow. The students are 7 years old…come on!

You can watch the video here.

I have a feeling that the boys are almost never singled out for what they are wearing. Only the girls are. It makes me angry. Probably because I have a daughter who wears skirts and dresses every single day because she wants to. She likes skirts and ruffles and Hello Kitty. Girls and women are constantly being judged for their clothing. It’s ridiculous. It’s even more ridiculous that it happens to a 7-year-old kid. Not to mention, children don’t think about stomachs being sexy, adults do. So, I am wondering, what are these administrators thinking about when they call a 7-year-old girl with a stomach sticking out a “distraction” and why? That part gives me the creeps a little. Also, shouldn’t the punishment for distraction be placed on those being distracted? We can’t control the minds of other people. We can’t control their behavior. How can we blame a 7-year-old girl for distracting the other students just because she is wearing clothing every other little girl in America wears on a daily basis? Seriously, it baffles me. It worries me. These are subtle messages we are giving our kids. Messages that lead to people not taking responsibility for their own behaviors long into adulthood.

Our culture is too obsessed with what things appear to be and not obsessed enough with what things actually are. Yes, dress codes serve a purpose, but I am pretty sure they weren’t put in place to humiliate a powerless child. This sort of thing says more about the adults involved than about the child. Unfortunately, she is probably too young to understand that. Instead, she gets to be the little girl, who didn’t do anything wrong, that was singled out for dressing inappropriately and ended up on television. You can’t tell me that won’t affect her self-image or confidence going forward. This is what we should be paying attention to. These subtle and not so subtle messages we give our daughters (and sons) about their place in society. These messages do not further the notion of equality in our culture. Why aren’t we trying harder to change that instead of focusing on a little girls Hello Kitty outfit?


Quirky Chrissy is writing about dress codes and this video on her blog today too. Check it out by clicking on the box below.

Monday Memories


5 thoughts on “Monday Memories: Dress Codes”

  1. This little girl’s mom has a werid accent and I can’t fully understand what is she saying – but somebody forced the girl to put some jeans on instead of this outfit, right?
    It’s a terrible thing, bringing so much attention on her – something that should not even come up is now an issue discussed all over the world :/

  2. The school dress codes here address quite a few items in a boy’s wardrobe, like falling down pants and camo and sports apparel. I’ve been told some of that is gang related. I didn’t watch the video, but my guess is that the dress code is system-wide, so whatever rules are in place for high school and middle school apply to the little kids as well. (If she’s on tv, I’m assuming that was her parents’ choice.)

  3. I feel like you verbalized what I was trying to say so very in-eloquently. You are so wise, Lily. And for the record, as kids, I totally would have been your friend (and I totally would have shared my shoe collection!)

  4. Hmm, not sure about this one. On one hand, the school administrators overreacted over a girls belly showing. Bla, bla, bla, it probably comes done to pea brains inappropriately applying standards to a 7 year old that might make some sense with a skanky 17 old high school girl. Still, the JonBenet Ramsey case reminds me that some parents have poor judgement as far as what is appropriate for kids to wear.

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