By Ejin Jeong, SPARK Action Squad

Clothes have always been an important part of our lives.  They allow us to characterize our era, culture, and personal tastes.  In many ways, clothing helps us express ourselves as individuals through various different styles. However, whenever it comes to expressing ourselves and being an individual, society has morphed fashion into another monster. From cultural appropriation to body shaming, society has shaped clothing to bring positive and negative impacts among young girls.

One of the most positive benefits of clothing is that there is such a wide variety that fashion allows us to be stylistically involved and think of creative, innovative ideas that can drive our personal tastes. For many years fashion designers have used clothing as a means of proving their artistic genius. Many people enjoy fashion because they can choose from a wide variety of styles in order to convey their own personal style to the public. However, there is a difference in what contributes to your individuality and what defines you. Most of society attempts to assume that a person’s clothing style defines their personality, and from this, many stereotypes are linked to different styles of clothing that can be harmful and prevent people from being free to wear whatever they want without being judged. Women are at many times slut-shamed for wearing shorter, more revealing clothes but when a woman wears more covered clothing she will be judged for being “drab.”

Society has constantly policed women’s clothing in the past decades. Women have been judged by their clothing to define their bodies, personalities, cultures, and lifestyle. Another huge part of how society has misused clothing is in cultural appropriation. Many people simply are unknowledgeable on what cultural appropriation is and how harmful it is. The lesson to take from these issues is in valuing the importance of education and activism. Much of the harm from stereotyping and racism comes from ignorance and a lack of knowledge on the sensitivity of such issues.

Consistently mirroring the misconceptions that society has about women’s clothing, schools and workplaces have also established rules that have deemed women’s bodies as automatically inappropriate and sexual. In the month of August and September, the SPARK Action Squad discussed several different topics related to clothing and feminism. Body-shaming, identity, judgment, and cultural appropriation are only a few of the major issues that is related to clothing. The SPARK Action Squad has complied a “universal dress code” that lists established rules that work places and schools should follow when laying down dress codes. Through the universal dress code, we were able to come to conclusion as to what would pass as acceptable dress code rules.

We at the SPARKteam would love to hear your own thoughts and opinions on issues in feminism regarding clothing.

Universal Dress Code Rules

  • Students must have input on the dress code, either through a vote, student representation on whatever group or committee decides the dress code, etc. Students spend most of their time in school and are deeply impacted both inside and outside the classroom by dress code expectations, so it’s only fair that we have input on this important decision.
  • Each dress code rule must have an explanation. So much of the discontent with dress codes is that students often don’t understand why the rules are in place, and are not given good explanations when we ask. As a result, dress codes (and their enforcement) often feel arbitrary and unfair.
  • “It’s a distraction” is not a good enough reason for something to be banned by the dress code. Often times, when girls’ clothing is considered “too revealing,” it gets banned because it’s “a distraction” to boys. This is unfair to everyone: it puts the onus on girls to be responsible for boys’ actions, while also suggesting that teenage boys are not in control of their own behavior. Instead, rules should have clear and specific explanations.
  • Dress code rules should be the same across gender lines. There is no reason to allow boys to wear tank tops while banning them for girls, for example. Also, boys should be allowed to wear clothes that are typically labeled as “female clothing”, such as skirts and dresses. No enforcement of boys having to wear masculine clothes  only and women having to wear feminine clothes only.
  • Dress codes should be evenly enforced, with honest conversations about whether or not that’s happening. A faculty or adult should not punish only one person for breaking a dress code rule when someone else that is clearly visible is not punished. It reinforces discrimination and favoritism towards students. In a school environment, unfair treatment should absolutely be  banned.
  • Punishments for dress code violations shouldn’t include sending students home or pulling them out of classes. What’s more distracting, my shoulders or the fact that I just missed an entire history lesson? Revoking privileges is much more conducive to the learning atmosphere for everyone and motivates students more to abide by the dress code than to get a day off from school.
  • Natural hair styles (afros, braids, locs, etc.) should not be banned in schools. Hair styles have nothing to do with interfering learning and banning certain cultural hairstyles can be offensive and restrictive of student’s freedom to express their culture.
  • Students should be allowed to wear items to express their religion and culture that does not promote discrimination against others (ex: white supremacy). These permitable items include head scarves, turbans, bindis, yarmulke,

And some other things to consider:

  • dress codes should be rooted in comfort, safety, and self-expression and be equally enforced
  • dress code architects need to take into account who has access to the kind of clothing they require (ie rules about “must wear leather shoes” are difficult to stick to for low income students)
  • dress codes, until now, are mostly about power and order and less about student needs, and that needs to change
  • dress codes shouldn’t discriminate along class, gender, sexual orientation, religious or racial lines
  • dress codes should be accessible and fluid, they should be open to change if they are found to be offensive or discriminatory to a particular group of people