Dress code regulations often create conflict, whether it be what constitutes “professional” attire in a workplace, or the length of an individual’s shorts in an elementary school.
Dress code can be a crucial part of student’s lives, so much so that students in America have been denied a diploma due to exposing their shoulders. However, at the high school, the dress code is not explicitly defined in the handbook and is rarely enforced.
According to the “Guidelines for Appropriate Dress” on page 46 of the Wellesley High School Student Handbook, the high school “values the freedom to express individuality through dress, but also believes that all members of the school community should understand that respect is conveyed through behavior and appearance.” Furthermore, if a teacher feels that a student’s dress is disrespectful, they should report it to a school administrator in which case the administrator “will determine if that student’s dress is disruptive to the school environment. When appropriate and necessary, an administrator may hold a discussion discreetly with the student.”
“On rare occasions when we do get a dress code violation, we call the kid in, and we try to stay curious and ask questions. We ask: ‘what was your thought process wearing this?’ If I do feel the student must change based on their attire, I have a box of t-shirts in my office for the student to choose from,” said Assistant Principal Mr. Andrew Kelton.
Stereotypically, the write up of a school’s dress code would be a list of rules regarding specific articles of clothing. However, Wellesley’s dress code, along with those of surrounding towns like Natick, Needhman, and Newton North, essentially has no rules other than that clothing should be “respectful,” and it is up to teachers to determine whether they feel like an article of clothing is respectful or not.
“In my experience, I have never felt the need to dress code someone,” said English teacher Mr. David Charlesworth. “I believe the only case that would compel me to dress code someone would be an article of clothing with an offensive word or slur, which I haven’t seen.”
It is safe to say that the majority of students have never run into a problem with the clothes they chose to wear to class.
“I’ve haven’t had any sort of experience with dress code at the high school. Actually, I didn’t even know we had one,” said Emery Conlin ’23.
Although students at the high school are lucky enough to experience this laidback dress code, the sentiment around dress code is not so similar at the middle school. What sets the middle school dress code apart from that of the high school is that in the WMS Handbook, there are concrete rules like “No showing of undergarments or midriff,” or “Items of clothing with inappropriate graphics, slogans, or the like are not permitted.” In this case, with listed rules comes more emphasis placed on enforcing these rules, resulting in an increase of being “dress-coded.”
“At the high school, you never hear about someone getting “dress coded” but at the middle school, I would hear about it from my friends nearly every day, especially during warmer months,” said Conlin.
Kelton credits the difference in dress code between the two schools to simply a disparity in age, maturity, and the level of trust in students to make their own decisions.
“When students figuratively and literally cross the bridge [from WMS to WHS], we want them to have a fresh start. There is a difference between a sixth grader and an eleventh grader, so it’s important that the younger kids have rules and regulations that maintain a middle school environment. As you come over the bridge, we are saying that we believe you have matured more. Therefore, we need less rules and regulations regarding dress because we trust that you are starting to mature” said Kelton.
The conflict of dress code arises when one begins to examine who it truly affects. Common dress code violations include short shorts, spaghetti strap tank tops, or crop tops which expose midriff. The similarity between those three examples? Women are much more likely than men to be wearing those articles of clothing.
“I remember a lot of girls getting dress-coded at the middle school for wearing not even that revealing of clothes. I remember thinking that it was unfair because they got in trouble for it, but I saw guys wearing tank tops that showed their arms or shirts that referenced inappropriate topics and they faced no consequences,” said Erwann Towa ’22.
To further that idea, a girl getting “dress-coded” is a girl being told her body is disrespectful or distracting, which is usually not consistent with the implication of a boy being dress-coded.
“A lot of the time dress codes are more directed toward women and sexualizing their bodies and I think that it creates a less safe and comfortable space at the school if they’re constantly being told that they are too distracting,” said Lucie Magel ’21. “It comes off as women being attacked for their bodies, whereas men get in trouble based on the actual piece of clothing.”
Charlesworth agrees that this is a huge problem; one way that he suggests teachers can help prevent young women from feeling this way is to have a female teacher approach the student about their clothing rather than a male one.
“If I ever felt like a young woman should be approached about what she’s wearing, I would get a department colleague who is female to handle that. That’s what teachers would do at my high school, and that’s just what I think is appropriate,” said Charlesworth.
Because restrictive dress codes unfairly target girls, Wellesley students are grateful for the way dress code is approached at the high school.
“I appreciate that our dress code doesn’t single girls out the way that restrictive dress codes do, creating a welcoming environment for students of all genders,” said Magel.
In a welcoming environment where students are not afraid of their clothes being deemed inappropriate, students are able to express themselves, feel good about themselves, and therefore succeed.
“How you feel about yourself matters, especially when it comes to being successful. If you feel good about yourself, usually you can be successful. We want to create a culture where people feel like they can be successful,” said Kelton. “On the same note, self expression matters. If you can do it in your clothes, you can do it in your english writing, your science lab, or any academic environment.”
A just as important contributor to feeling good about oneself and therefore succeeding is the comfort and confidence that comes with freedom of expression.
“If someone feels confident in what they are wearing, I don’t think there is any circumstance where they should be asked to change. I believe there shouldn’t be restrictions on what anyone is wearing as long as they are confident and comfortable in the way they are choosing to express themselves,” said Catherine Jordan ’22.