It is hard being a teenager, stuck in a void between childhood and adulthood. We get the responsibilities that come with growing up—academic responsibility, financial responsibility, personal responsibility. But we cannot drive, vote, or drink until we are 16, 18, and 21, respectively. The amount of privileges a teenager has are limited, determined by the number of birthday candles stuck into a frosted cake. Until we are out of high school, important decisions are placed in the hands of the non-minors who have authority in our lives. We will have to wait a few years until we cast a ballot, purchase property, or legally enter a theater to watch an R-rated movie. However, we do have one entitlement, as citizens of the United States. We are protected by our rights at all times, from birth to death, on campus and off campus.
We can speak freely, petition, peacefully protest, and enjoy freedom and opportunity like all other Americans, regardless of age and maturity. We are guaranteed legal protection, safety, and education. When we walk through school gates, it seems obvious that constitutionality is still in effect. But in some circumstances, students’ rights are not clearly inscribed on a document signed in 1787. There are modernized rules that regulate freedom of expression in our 21st century society—otherwise known as the dress code. They were created to minimize gang violence, discrimination, and distraction in the classroom. In some cases, the dress code restores safety and reduces violence. But in sunny southern California, there’s a different controversy. The weather warms up, summer catalogs come out. Shorts are purchased, shorts are worn, and shorts are taken away.
The American Civil Liberties Union stated: “Of course, schools must be safe and students should be able to feel safe in school. But schools must also be places where students can express themselves without fear of punishment.” The organization continued: “Despite new restrictions, students do have rights.”
If you look in a classroom, you will notice a plethora of diversity—different body types, ethnicities, sexualities, heights. If you look in a store, you will notice that a lot of of warm weather bottoms are not designed to reach a students’ fingertips when they put their arms to their sides. The primary purpose of a manufacturer is to make a profit. Since shorts with a smaller inseam are in style and suitable for the climate, stores sell them in large quantity. At this age, finding clothing that boosts confidence and fits well is already frustrating and difficult. The lack of bottoms deemed appropriate increases the issue, giving students two options: overheat in pants, or wear comfortable clothing but fear others making fun of their clothes.
Complying with the dress code seems like a simple fix. But when there are no knee-length shorts available in the women’s department and girls who wear boys shorts are subject to teasing, it becomes a lose-lose situation.
In a survey of Corona del Mar students who have been dress coded, 89 percent were told that their shorts were not appropriate. The remaining 11 percent were dress coded for tops that had spaghetti straps, regardless if undergarments were showing.
“I was wearing Lululemon running shorts, which aren’t even that short on me,” one responder said. Girls teams often wear the specific brand, but fitting and size vary slightly from person to person, making some teammates subject to dress code, but not the entirety.
“I’m cautious and am not able to wear comfortable, non-appropriate clothing because of the fear of being dress coded,” mentioned another.
Although dress coding is intended to minimize distraction, those who change into P.E. shorts draw more negative attention from their classmates than those who wear normal shorts, regardless of length. Dress coded students are often bombarded with questions, called names, and teased by their peers. “I was forced to put on P.E. shorts that were way too big for me,” said a surveyed high schooler. “Overall, humiliating, and probably unnecessary because I was late to my next class.”
Over half of survey participants stated that a slim, tall body type increases the likelihood of being dress coded. “The inconsistency in the dress code policy is entirely subjective. I constantly notice girls wearing the exact same shorts or crop-tops around campus, and often only those with long, slender legs are the ones that are targeted,” freshman Anna Constantino said.
More than 75 percent of those who have been dress coded were singled out by a male administrator, while 22 percent were told to change by a female. 50 percent have been disciplined by both genders. “It makes me uncomfortable when male faculty and staff dress code me because I do not understand why a male teacher should be paying attention to the outfit of a young girl,” freshman Brooke Kenerson said.
No, racial slurs should not be worn in front of peers who may feel oppressed. No, shorts should not show anything more than leg. But students, no matter the current trend or their waist size, should still have the civil right to freely express themselves through what they choose to put on in the morning.
I am aware of and respect the administrations’ objectives to facilitate a productive learning environment, and I am not completely against the dress code—I believe it should exist. However, I think the current restrictions are far on one side of the pendulum of appropriateness, and the standards are hard to comply with as a high schooler who is growing and developing a sense of individuality. Being confident as a teenager is difficult as it is. Feeling accepted is even trickier. Nobody wants to be teased. Nobody wants a plummeting self-esteem when they’ve been working constantly to build it up. Nobody wants excess stares from other students and a day that consists of pulling up oversized P.E. shorts. We’re creating a problem by attempting to solve another problem.
I had to give a presentation wearing P.E. shorts. It felt like nobody looked at the Powerpoint. They looked the navy, baggy fabric that brushed the tops of my knees. They laughed and made remarks when I tried to talk. The dress code became a distraction, detracting from the quality of the education that was taking place.
Two negatives do not make a positive. As a school, we should clarify the dress code and adjust it to comply with a large range of sizes and shapes. We should set limitations based off of the lengths of merchandise in stores, not off of personal opinion. We should eliminate the humiliation that comes along with changing clothes. We should respect all students’ obligations and admire the tremendous confidence that comes with wearing shorts above the knee. Females should dress code females, period. None of male high schoolers in the survey reported being disciplined for their choice of clothing.
A thousand words should be enough to make an impact. A dress code created in the 1980’s needs to evolve according to fashion and the time period. As students, we need to speak up for what we stand for.