The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Why I Continue to Defy the Dress Code at My School
Aniqa Tasnim

I attend Brooklyn Technical High School, which enforces the city-wide school dress code. Posted on our school’s website, the code prohibits any clothing adults deem distracting, offensive, or inappropriate. Some specific types of clothing are listed, such as halter tops and crop tops, but ultimately, what is deemed inappropriate is up to the adults. If you’re in violation of the dress code, you will be asked to grab something from your locker to cover up. If you cannot gain access to your locker (ours are in the classrooms and it is prohibited to interrupt a class just to gain access to your locker), you’ll be called down to an assistant principal’s office and they’ll call your parents to come bring you something to wear.

It seems like it is mostly girls who are called out. I’ve seen boys wearing offensive shirts that contain explicit sexual language that is demeaning to women and naked photos of women. They often wear muscle shirts to gym class that expose their chests. Yet I haven’t known any boys to be “dress-coded.” I have also observed that curvier women of color seem to be penalized for defying the dress code more often than skinny, white females are.

A group of students had several meetings with the principal where we expressed these concerns. But he was dismissive and changed the topic.

Define ‘Distracting’

Students are not usually punished for violating the dress code (just made to change clothes), but it can be humiliating. For example, teachers have yelled at me in the hallway or in front of dozens of students during class. Also, I have been taken out of class because what I was wearing was “distracting,” and not allowed to go back because I would “take away from the stability of the learning environment.”

The reasons for the dress code don’t seem valid to me. For example, teachers have said, “It’s teaching you how to respect yourself,” and, “It’s protecting the jobs of male teachers that might accidentally look at you in a way that is deemed inappropriate by their female coworkers.”

image by YC-Art Dept

Often, when a girl dresses in clothes she likes, but that an adult finds too sexy, she is called misogynistic names and is seen as someone who doesn’t respect herself. Although the school system is not directly to blame for how society views women, by enforcing a dress code, they are contributing to the oppression women face.

The dress code perpetuates victim-blaming: “You can’t wear that, imagine what how you look will make boys do.” This policing of young women’s bodies also decreases female self-esteem, because we’re taught from an impressionable age that our bodies are shameful and should be covered up.

I frequently violate the dress code because wearing certain clothes and knowing I look good comforts me. There are days when I don’t want to go to school because I feel anxious or depressed. Wearing clothes I feel good in helps me feel better.

If I’m feeling creative, I’ll put on a purple wig and green lipstick. If I want to feel cozy, I’ll wear sweats and a hoodie. And yes, if I’m feeling sexy, I feel I should be allowed to wear a tight dress if I want to. My style is an extension of my personality and my mood. Fashion is also something I enjoy and often deciding what to wear is my little thing I look forward to. This actually helps me want to go to school. I don’t think it’s fair that this be taken away from me.

Also, contrary to what faculty members say, it is not contributing to a more “professional” environment. I do not understand why pajamas and sweatpants are acceptable as “professional” but a crop top is not. I think school should be one of the places where a young woman can feel safe enough to express herself.

If the school system fails to provide us with that, it only contributes to the oppressive patriarchal system we live in. Allowing a female student to dress how she wants, as long as it’s not hurting anyone, encourages female empowerment and should not be prohibited.

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