With the warm weather finally here, the idea of dress codes for children seems to have become a hot (no pun intended) topic. Let me be clear that I am not commenting directly on recent events regarding dress codes at other schools, because without having all of the information, I am very hesitant to give my take. I am going to give my opinion on the dress code at my Catholic elementary school.
Here’s what went out in our June newsletter:
“As the daily temperature rises to warmer levels, a review of appropriate clothing would seem to be in order. Both boys and girls should be aware that shorts/skirts should be appropriate in length; that tops should be appropriate in design and any written message. Please use this guide when deciding on appropriate dress for the school day:
- ripped or torn clothing (including cut offs) should not be worn
- clothing with pictures/slogans/words/logos promoting drugs, alcohol, racism, violence, etc. is not permitted
- shorts/skirts should approach the knee, (arm to the side should not touch bare skin)
- all tops should cover to at least the shoulders; halter, tank tops or spaghetti straps are not appropriate.
- midriff/stomach must be covered
- exposure of undergarments is not permitted”
These rules apply to girls AND boys in every grade. With style as it is, the boys do not tend to push the limits with short length (though it happens), but some do with shirts, the straps of which need to be three fingers wide to be permissible, just like the girls’ tops (which takes the issue of visible bra straps right off the table).
Yes, the dress code makes it a bit harder to shop. I have two girls who attend my school, and I get it. Mind you, they are young and still do what they’re told (for the most part) when it comes to their wardrobe, and I understand that it’s much harder to get your thirteen year old to dress in shorts that “aren’t cool”. But I also know that we are the parents, and that should mean something. As for price, I’m looking at several pairs of very stylish Old Navy Bermudas for $16 at the moment (online, free shipping coast-to-coast, and no this is not a promotion). If kids absolutely must display their favourite brand-name or logo (again, I’m not at this phase yet), let them have it splashed across a properly-sized t-shirt.
From what I’ve read, some schools require long pants, which would not be reasonable in our 50 year old building with noticeable lack of air conditioning. But you can’t tell me that kids will immediately overheat and combust (even outside) with an extra inch of fabric over their shoulders or their thighs.
Every morning, I stop in front of the mirror and double-check what I’m wearing as well. Not only to set a good example for the kids, but because I think being a teacher does call for a certain level of apparel.
I talked to my class about dress code yesterday, and the reasons for it. God gave us our bodies and they are beautiful top to bottom, but it demonstrates modesty (which just happens to be our School Board’s Fruit of the Holy Spirit for the month of June) to have certain areas covered up more than others at school. I told them that when I’m at home or with friends, I wear swimsuits, tank tops, and sometimes shorts or dresses that don’t reach the tips of my fingers with my arms at my sides, because they’re appropriate in those situations. This is my workplace, and it is also theirs. Many other workplaces have dress code requirements, some even specific uniforms, which they will likely discover when they get their first part-time jobs. Do parents fight that fact that Tim Hortons has the nerve to tell their child what to wear?
And yes, I wear a bra (wow, I’m getting really personal here), as do many girls at our school, and I would venture almost all girls at secondary. Yes, we should be proud of our bodies and not ashamed of supportive female undergarments. But are they appropriate to be displayed in a workplace? Do you often see your bank teller’s bra straps, or those of your postal worker, restaurant server (Hooters waitresses excepted), doctor or shopkeeper? (Note that the boys are not allowed to flash us their underwear above saggy waistbands either.)
To me (and all of the staff I spoke with) this is absolutely not about girls distracting the boys (perhaps if other schools were able to provide a better reason than this, it wouldn’t have caused such controversy), or an issue of sexualization (though we did have some trouble convincing a parent that her daughter’s track pants covered in the Playboy bunny logo weren’t appropriate). And believe me, the dress code is not just about the girls. One staff member told the story of an incident (at another school) where a male elementary student was wearing a t-shirt reading “Be gentle. It’s my first time.” The teacher asked the student, straight-faced, what the shirt meant.
“No, I don’t. What does it mean?”
“You know…my first time…like, sex?”
“Right. Go to the washroom and turn it inside out and don’t wear it to school again.”
On rare occasions, we see slogans relating to alcohol, drugs, or violence of some kind, which are understandably (I hope!) not allowed in our school setting either.
Some parents make a very valid argument that all of these rules shouldn’t apply to our littlest students (like it or not, there is a difference between a four year old in short shorts and a 14 year old). However, I would argue that kindergarten is not too soon to begin teaching a sense of modesty, being part of a community, and (not least importantly) following the rules of the institution to which you belong.
As an added bonus, many of our graduates continue on to the local Catholic secondary school, which requires a uniform, so this is particularly good training for them.
As a teacher and a parent of girls, I fully support having rules about children’s clothing in place at school. As for enforcing them…that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.