Up to Dress Code?

Rayanna Shirley, Joey McCain, Jenna Esser, Susannah Meng-Frecker, Courtney Roberts


Throughout school’s history there has always been inequality in dress codes. While the unfairness at times is very important and used for the safety of students, sometimes it over steps boundaries. Ultimately, this can lead to issues within informal and formal education.  The inequalities extend from gender all the way to gang and violence. Throughout the analysis of local high school’s dress codes and scholarly articles involving dress codes, it was found that gender typically roots the biggest issues.  On the other side of the argument, there were some positive points of unfairness in terms of gang, violence, drugs, and alcohol involving the safety of students.


To conduct the analysis, the study looked over the dress codes within the education system throughout the Omaha area. For the primary data, the study uses dress code policies found in the handbook for each school. The study also looked at different articles that involve dress codes for students as the secondary set of data. To get a variety of information, data was gathered from multiple school districts across Omaha. The schools used were Millard South, Westside, Papillion-La Vista South, Creighton Prep, and Marian High School. The study read multiple articles and looked through each schools’ handbook and analyzed that school’s dress code policy. While analyzing the dress code policy, the study looked through similar themes in each school’s policy. After analyzing each dress code policy, there were four most common themes: well-being, gender, gang/violence, and drugs/alcohol.





The study identified 3 ideas concerning well-being. The first is health and safety. This was an obvious idea to pull from well-being. Many of the dress code policies focused on restricting clothes that could be harmful or a safety hazard. Under this concept is another smaller idea about promoting positive learning and values. The dress code policies are set in a way to promote a positive learning environment and positive values among students. All the policies from the schools have specific wording regarding health and safety and ban certain clothing deemed a violation of this. This need to protect the well-being of the students was found in a Millard South example from 2008. In 2008, a student was shot and killed. Days after his death, many students came together and wore shirts that read “RIP Julius”. Every student with a shirt was suspended for either days or weeks. The reasoning behind this was the shirts were deemed “gang-related”. The school determined these shirts unacceptable for the positive learning environment and distractive. The second concept is conformity. Many of the policies discuss creating professionalism within the students. The dress code policies are put in place to promote self-respect and respect for others as well. In all, the policies are designed to control dress wear, and conform the students to a certain style that will be present when they are adults. This idea of controlling the dress wear to be professional and one way is also designed to relieve stress from the students concerning style and name brand clothing. This is where the concepts can merge together since relieving stress can fall under conformity as well as health and safety. The final idea is religion. The study lacked enough evidence for religion to be a theme. For religion, this idea promotes conformity, and in a way, promotes the idea that one religion is “better” than another. For example, in Westside students need written proof of their religion to be able to wear the appropriate headdress. This idea creates a stigma against the religion, but can also be a way to protect the students from stereotypes and discrimination. These are the 3 main ideas identified from the study of the theme well-being.


For gender, two ideas became known, with a third attachment. For the first idea, the dress code policies focused a lot on distractive clothing. Much of what the dress code policies attempt to prohibit are clothes that are deemed too distractive for the learning environment. This is where the idea can also connect to well-being with the attempt to promote a good learning environment. Much of the clothing deemed distractive is defined as young women clothing. Many of the examples they pull are specified as young women’s clothing. This need to describe the specific clothes creates this gender bias among the students and instructors. The second idea discovered was gender discrimination. Much of the gender discrimination with clothing allows for students to marginalize others and assign labels. This is one part of the idea that can connect to the first idea, since the defined distractive clothing promotes that. The gender discrimination also promotes the idea the boys need to be “protected” from the sexuality of young girls. This also instills the idea that boys can’t control themselves and the girls are at fault and thus the dress code is to “protect” them from each other. The final attachment we assigned under the theme was that most of the dress code policies focuses on girls and ultimately this is the big arching idea throughout all of them. An example found from Millard West brings to light most of the problems with the gender bias of the dress code. A young female student from Millard West wrote an article covering the wear of leggings among her fellow peers. The young student writes, “Women of all ages should avoid wearing leggings with a few exceptions. If someone is working out, there’s nothing wrong with it. Exercise leggings are designed for this purpose and most are typically not sheer. If someone is wearing a long shirt or dress, it adds to the outfit. But most people prefer to wear them uncovered, making others feel uncomfortable and awkward in the presence of leggings’ transparent glory,”.  There are many conclusions drawn by the young writer that show the present gender bias among dress appearance in school. The dress code rules change the way students view each other. The student goes on to write about the reason girls wear leggings, again drawing a conclusion that the biggest reason is to attract others. This again is another idea created from the gender bias from society and the dress code. These young girls and guys in schools are experiencing gender bias from the enforcers of dress code as well as their own peers. As the student put it, “The cost is dignity,” and respect from others and self.


For gang & violence, there were many connections to well-being with the way the dress code policies addressed the issues. There is the connection with safety, since the dress code policies prohibit chains and spike collars to protect the students from harming each other or themselves. All the policies prohibit gang assigned colors as a way prevent the stereotypes of the students who “won’t succeed”. This also prevents the start of violence between gangs, which can in turn connect to well-being, safety, and conformity. The Millard South example mentioned earlier also plays a part in this theme. Alex Johnson wrote “But to officials of the Millard Public Schools, the words “Julius RIP” on the shirts were disruptive. After consulting with Omaha police, they also

said the shirts could be considered gang related,”. The students were sent away because the shirts were distracting and that affected well-being, but since the event was also a gathering of people behind a certain motive it was deemed gang-related. The school backs that this was done for the protection of other students but one student claimed, “It’s not fair. People can wear ‘rest in

peace, Grandma,’ but when it comes to Julius, now suddenly we can’t have that at our school. I feel like no one cares,”. The dress code defends against gang and violence to protect students and let them have a good education, but it also can prevent students from expressing the way they feel.  Gang and violence ideas can also be defined to prevent the wrong kind of groups from starting in a way that promotes a good environment for the students.


Much like gang and violence, drugs and alcohol connected to well-being. For dress code, students are prohibited from wearing any type of clothing that promotes drugs and alcohols. A very popular one that applies to this are shirts and hats that have the weed symbol on it. One big idea from this theme is again to prevent the stereotyping of other students as well as to prevent the promotion of illegal drugs and alcohol for minors. This is when the idea connects to the idea of health and safety since the policies are created to promote a positive environment. The policies are designed to protect the students from the ideas they deem “unhealthy” or “bad”.



Well being

While there is a strong grouping of evidence being how dress codes are placed for the well-being of students, these reasons can also hinder people in school.  When it comes to conformity and self-respect, these might help in a school setting but conformity, especially, could also hurt the environment. Not only is conformity often frowned upon in society, it also takes away from self-expression.  It may be believed that conformity might help with respect on the short side of things, but overall it does nothing but hurt. It shows students that you need to be like everyone else and that it isn’t acceptable to be different.  On another note, some schools also believe it is important to put restrictions on some clothing’s that relate to religion. Per an article called “What Not to Wear: Dress Codes and Uniform Policies in the Common School”, Dianne Gereluk explains that schools believe putting restrictions on different symbols that could be religious will help get rid of judgments and things of that nature in school. She believes that this hurts the mindset of our youth because it creates an environment in which kids are not expected to accept everyone’s beliefs. In another article called “School Discipline in Moral Disarray”, the author explains how rules like dress codes are not actually helping the well-beings of students because schools do not know how to correctly implement them. He says that schools have trouble defining a difference between moral wrongs and school rules, therefore creating a confused image for students, hurting their educational process.


The biggest and most apparent theme within dress code inequalities is through gender. This is one of the most obvious forms of sexism and it is completely thrown under the table. When look at most dress codes, there is hardly anything about males.  Many believe that this could cause a culture in which sexual assault is not that frowned upon or understood.  Author, Monique Keel, explains in her scientific paper that dress codes in the past have been used to prevent sexual assault. In a way, this is almost blaming the victims of sexual assault for how they dress. Also, most sexual assault cases take place outside of the school setting. Therefore, it is wrong and unfair to use sexual assault as a reason for dress codes.  In another article called “Tank Tops are OK but I Don’t Want to See Her Thong”, Rebecca Rady explains how in some situations, girls believe that a dress code drives the word and idea of “slut” instead of reduce it.

Gang and Violence

The topic of gang and violence is a tricky situation. While outlawing gang and violence related items keeps a safer and cleaner environment, it has a much bigger consequence outside of school. The school is essentially correlating certain types of clothing to gang and violence and creating a stigma that people who dress a certain way will not be successful in life. Ultimately, this creates a flaw in informal education because it teaches our youth to judge people based off what they may look like or how they dress. Pre-judgments are already a major issue today and this does not help. Not only this, but constantly worrying about what students are wearing can cause disruptions in class. Gary Chapin, author of “The Semantic School: A Platform for Educational Design”, explains how any disruptions or rules, such as dress codes can affect the semantic environment. This can be taken as inequalities in this portion of the dress code can impact the informal education in the school because every student takes messages being sent from the school leaders differently. Many students might find any correlations between gangs and clothing, or pre-judgments very offensive and threatening.

Drugs and Alcohol

Much like gang and violence, this theme has a good and bad side. It is terrific that schools are trying to stop the promotion of drugs and alcohol, especially with a world who has a high addiction rate to both. Although, at the same time this ban of drug and alcohol related clothing also slightly corrupts informal education. Should we be hiding the true scares of the world like this to the next generation of upcoming adults? By completely banning anything related to drugs and alcohol it almost creates a stigma that everything is perfect in this world and that a student won’t encounter an issue or situation involving drugs and alcohol because odds are they will. We believe creating this very strict rule could shelter our youth. The article “The Semantic School:  A Platform for Educational Design” also helps explain this topic. With harsh dress code policies through drugs and alcohol clothing, this could give off the message that addressing the problems and culture with drugs and alcohol should not happen. Ultimately this could be bad for students in adolescence because it can create a discomfort when talking about this subject.


The study that was conducted has brought forth many of the problems, and positive things about dress codes. In all school’s there’s always going to be dress code inequality. It’s up to the school to decide what’s appropriate for school, but with this can come personal beliefs or personal stereotypes. Most schools have dress codes to make the students feel equal, and limit the distractions in the classroom, but as the study found this can also hinders students. By having the freedom of expression through your clothes, students can be exposed to different cultures, and different aspects of the world which in turn can broaden their view, and peak their interests. As the study concludes, dress codes can be both positive, and negative. On another note, it is also important that school districts take some time to analyze their dress code policies and edit them so that the parts that hinder students can be changed or eliminated.