There’s been a lot of talk and hype lately about school dress codes. I’ve been avoiding writing this post. Should I support the young women who are boycotting dress codes because I am a feminist? Or should I support school dress codes because I am an educator? As is the case with most divisive issues, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle of allowing people to run around naked and requiring them to cover their sexy ankles.

Pretty much every day I am tempted to scream: “leggings are not pants!” But in my attempt to evaluate this debate a bit more objectively, I had to remind myself that clothing is completely a cultural construct that  can thus be constructed to be whatever we all agree is socially preferable. And it’s not like the debate over appropriate and inappropriate clothing is a new thing, which leads me to wonder if this could be the beginning of another “clothing revolution,” and maybe I am one of the old school women that is holding back a movement. But are leggings really acceptable as pants?

When trying to solve a problem, the social worker in me knows to evaluate several possible solutions before making any conclusions or plans. So, in trying to keep an open mind and look at this debate more objectively, I decided to first look at the 2 extreme clothing options that our culture could choose should we decide to revamp the whole system. We could say fuck the corporate clothing bureaucracy and sweatshops, we’re going Naked! Or we could go to the opposite extreme, and clothe ourselves from head-to-toe in loosely fitted garments. Let’s brainstorm – feel free to add to my amateur, incomplete list in the comments section.

 

Nekkid

Pro’s

  • Freedom!
  • No more dress code arguments
  • No more breastfeeding arguments
  • More money in my figurative pocket
  • We might, as a species, progress beyond our obsession with the way our bodies look
  • No more blaming rape victims for what they were wearing
  • In hot months, we will be less hot

Con’s

  • Pubes! ewwww
  • We might, as a species, increase our obsession with the way our bodies look
  • No pockets
  • Pubes! ewwww
  • Umm, skin cancer
  • People would still need to clothe themselves during the winter in order to stay warm and alive, which is most likely why we started wearing clothes in the first place
  • Pubes!

 

Clothed head-to-toe in loosely fitted clothing

Pro’s

  • No more thigh gap talk
  • We might, as a species, progress beyond our obsession with the way our bodies look
  • No more skin cancer!
  • Warmer in winter months

Con’s

  • Loss of freedom of expression
  • Loosely fitted clothing is not appropriate for some jobs where the clothing might get in the way or get caught in machinery
  • Hot, like scorching hot
  • If men were not also required to wear head-to-toe loosely fitted clothing, we would be giving up a whole lot of that equality stuff that women, for generations, have been fighting and dying to achieve

 

While I can see a lot of benefit in both scenarios, neither is a functional answer for us. Going naked will never work, mostly because of the pubes. And the head-to-toe clothing will not work because, well, ‘merica! We love to have decisions when it comes to clothing (which is not to say that Americans are the only ones), and it just makes sense to be able to wear less clothing when it is hot outside.

As a teacher, I am expected to enforce school dress codes. I certainly have sent girls to the office for wearing crop tops or open back shirts. However, I think that the message that is being given to these girls is incorrect. I am not asking you to change your clothing because it is a “distraction” to the boys (as I know that some girls reportedly are being told at other schools). I’m not asking you to change because it’s slutty or because you might get raped for being dressed that way. I’m asking you to change because it’s unprofessional. I expect all young men and young women to be fully clothed when they are at school, except when participating in sporting events.

Fully clothed means wearing a shirt that covers the chest and the midriff section, and wearing pants/dresses/skirts that cover your undergarments and your ass (all of it, at all times). I don’t think that we, as a society, are ready to totally revolutionize our clothing norms to walk around naked. Let’s not forget the pubes. And as much as people might like to argue that it’s each person’s responsibility to not be distracted by naked people (or by leggings), can we admit that it IS DISTRACTING. And not just for dirty old men – but for all of us.

I think I am standing up for all adults, everywhere, in saying that leggings are not pants. Here’s my reasoning: If you wear underwear underneath your leggings, I can see your underwear. That breaks the rule of covering your underwear so that it can’t be seen (even the outline). If you do not wear underwear under your leggings, then your leggings have officially taken the place of underwear and should be worn under something, like a skirt.

I will forever support these young ladies’ right to protest school dress codes; I protested the school dress code when I was in middle school. And I sincerely hope that this movement shows young women that they are powerful and can affect change. Get involved in issues that are important to you. Take a stand. Be somebody.

For our part, as adults, we need to be willing to step back and listen to the young voices and be willing to question the things that we have always considered appropriate and acceptable or inappropriate and unacceptable. Just because things have been this way for our lifetimes doesn’t mean it always has to be. Perhaps a girls’ shorts do not always have to be fingertip length – maybe that is unreasonable. As long as I can’t see your cooch or your thong or the under or upper part of your ass, I’m okay. And maybe tank tops – even with spaghetti straps – are not the worst thing ever.

One thing I am still debating on (and would love some insight from others who are also thinking through this issue) is bra straps. I see them as trashy and unprofessional when they are showing under a tank top. I think of it like when young men used to sag their pants so the tops of their boxers were hanging out. Ugh. Undergarments are supposed to be worn UNDER your clothes, right?

I can tell that I am definitely an adult because I have started to think that school uniforms just make so much sense and would allow us to circumnavigate this whole debate (and BONUS: avoid gang and violence related clothing, simultaneously); but in the end, these debates are what allow young people to grow into their own and start to put their own imprint on our society.

So what do you think, are leggings appropriate as pants?