It’s time to change dress codes for school dances

On September 17, Cary-Grove High School celebrated its Hollywood-themed Homecoming dance after the football game against McHenry. Before and after the dance, I witnessed some controversy surrounding the fairness of the dress code, particularly the impact on female students, transgender students, and gender non-conforming students. 

I contemplated my own feelings towards the dress code and asked some students their opinions toward it to see exactly what caused the controversies and what students wished to see instead.

One student who opposed the dress code brought up the point that it didn’t apply equally to all students.

“The only restrictions are on what girls typically wear, rendering the dress code sexist,” said the student, who asked to remain anonymous. 

I have to agree with this student. In my opinion, the extra restrictions placed on women are superfluous when the only dress code for men was, “school-appropriate clothing must be worn.” 

I do not understand why the dress code for females is more restrictive for a fun, optional dance than it is for when they are inside of school. Shouldn’t the dress code for women also simply be wearing school appropriate clothing? 

Another problem I noticed was how many rules on the female dress code seemed to serve very little purpose besides intentionally making it harder to find a dress. 

“Half of it is, ‘don’t show your legs’ ‘don’t show your stomach’… basically it’s saying show as little as possible,” said another student who asked to remain anonymous. “I have one question: why do you care? Why are you even looking?” 

I personally don’t understand why two-piece dresses and dresses with lower necklines are banned entirely, along with almost all dresses with slits. If someone has a problem with clothing like this, that is on them and every female should not be forced to conform to the ideas of one man who has a problem with it. 

“I do believe certain occasions call for certain forms of dress, like, don’t show up to a wedding in sweatpants and a hoodie,” the second student said. “However, this is too far. Wearing a dress with an open back, or one that shows some cleavage, isn’t informal or not fancy enough for the event, which is what staff should be concerned about.”

Another problem the students that I talked to brought up how exclusionary and confusing it can be for gender-diverse students to navigate the dress code. As Student A told me, 

“A trans or GNC (gender non-conforming) student may be confused as to which version of the dress code to follow: the ‘girls’ version or the ‘boys’ version,” the first student said. “For example, a trans boy with a feminine expression with clothing may be confused as to which applies to them. In another vein, a GNC student inherently wouldn’t be able to follow either.” 

I myself did not like how gendered the wording was on the dress code. The dress code assumes every student who was assigned female at birth will be wearing a dress, and every student assigned male at birth will be wearing a suit (or just pants and a shirt, because the dress code doesn’t even specify anything for males besides wearing school-appropriate clothing).

This discriminates against transgender people, and even some cisgender students may not want to wear the clothing traditionally expected to be worn by their gender. The sections of the dress code could just as easily have been labeled “dress dress code” and “suit dress code” to avoid using gendered language.

And ultimately, the dress code may have created controversy for no practical reason.

“It didn’t seem like anyone was enforcing the dress code,” the first student said. “I saw many people with super-short skirts and spaghetti straps and stuff. But again, having an unfair dress code in the first place sucks.” 

I also witnessed that the dress code did not seem to be enforced at the event. This brings up the question of why to even have a dress code if no one was enforcing it. I am glad that the staff managing the event were prioritizing making Homecoming a fun, safe event instead of constantly observing dresses to see if they fit an outdated and unnecessarily restrictive dress code, but if a dress code is going to exist in the first place, not enforcing it makes it seem like an empty threat.

Overall, every student I talked to agreed with me that changes need to be made to the Homecoming dress code. I, personally, think that the best way to fix the dress code is to replace the current Homecoming dress code with a unisex dress code in which students are required to wear formal clothing that fits the everyday dress code for school and is safe to move around in. However, even small changes, like changes to the language used and loosening restrictions on dresses, can make the dress code better received by everyone.