The Toxicity of Dress Codes

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2015-16):

21% of public schools require a uniform.

26% of public schools enforce a minor dress code or none at all.

53% of public schools enforce a strict dress code.

The dress codes in these schools focus mainly on girl’s clothes.

This is a very controversial subject, because there are many different sides. Numerous articles have been written about it and many students have commented on the issue. The main problem with dress codes is that they discriminate against girls of color, and girls in general. The following quotes were taken from articles that show the toxicity of dress codes.


  • “I was sent home because I had a bit of splattered paint on my shoe,” says Ceon, a 16-year-old black student who attends DC’s Phelps A.C.E. High School. On another occasion, she couldn’t go to class for a full day because her pants weren’t navy blue, a violation of her school uniform. “It didn’t make sense,”
  • “Almost 70 percent of school dress codes in DC, for example, prevent students from wearing cultural items like headwraps and scarves unless they are for religious purposes. In other parts of the country, dress codes ban black students from wearing hair extensions, certain hairstyles like locs and braids, or even their naturally textured hair.”
  • “A 2012 report from the African American Policy Forum, for example, notes that black girls are often punished more severely because they are seen as more aggressive and less feminine than their white peers.”

The following graphs were taken from an online article by The Professional Journal for Educators: Phi Delta Kappan from September 2018, entitled How Dress Codes Criminalize Males and Sexualize Females of Color. This article discusses the bias faced by students of color, and how dress codes are held unfairly against them, as opposed to white students.


  • “I got dress coded at my school for wearing shorts. After I left the principal’s office with a detention I walked past another student wearing a shirt depicting two stick figures: the male holding down the females head in his crotch and saying ‘good girls swallow’. Teachers walked right past him and didn’t say a thing.”
  • One student says she was given three specific reasons for the school dress code: “1) There are male teachers and male sixth formers [high school seniors] 2) Teachers feel uncomfortable around bras, etc. 3) Don’t want the boys to target you or intimidate you”.
  • “At age 10 I was pulled out of my fifth grade class for a few minutes for a ‘special health lesson’. As an early bloomer, I already had obvious breasts and was the tallest in my class. I thought they were giving me a paper about reproductive health that’s normally given to the 12 year old girls. Instead I was told to cover my body more because I was different.”
  • “Other incidents have also seen boys banned from school for having hair ‘too long’ or wearing traditionally ‘feminine’ fashion, from skinny jeans to skirts. A transgender student said he was threatened with having his photo barred from the school yearbook simply because he chose to wear a tuxedo to prom.”


A strict dress code is extremely problematic because it:

  • impacts the identities of girls of color, and criminalizes their culture.
  • assumes that male teachers and students can’t control themselves.
  • promotes unhealthy gender roles by punishing boys who dress more feminine.
  • punishes transgender students.
  • tells girls from a young age that they are responsible for how men behave around them, it conditions them to believe that if they are harassed or assaulted, it’s because of what they wore.
  • blames the girl for causing a “distraction” or being harassed, instead of dissuading inappropriate and disrespectful behavior from boys.
  • facilitates a society where women are blamed for how they are treated because of what they choose to wear.

Please respond a survey about dress codes here:

Works Cited:

“Fast Facts: School uniforms (50).” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of Education. Web. 10 Apr 2019. <>

Jones, Sasha. “Do School Dress Codes Discriminate Against Girls?.” Education Week. Web. 10 Apr 2019. <>.

Lockhart, P.R.. “School dress codes often unfairly punish black girls in school – Vox.” Vox – Understand the News. Web. 10 Apr 2019. <>.

Bates, Laura. “Everyday Sexism Project: Dress Codes and Rape Culture | Time.” TIME | Current & Breaking News | National & World Updates. Web. 10 Apr 2019. <>.

Lakritz, Talia. ” Times students and parents said school dress codes went too far – INSIDER.” INSIDER. Web. 10 Apr 2019. <>.

Pavlakis, Alyssa and Rachel Roegman. “How dress codes criminalize males and sexualize females of color   –” Home – Web. 10 Apr 2019. <>.

Share this project
  1. April 28, 2019 by Julia Cohon

    Hi Natalie! I really like your topic because my school has had a pretty strict dress code and girls throughout the years have tried to instill change, but it hasn’t gone anywhere. Do you think there is a correlation between having a head of school be a male or female? Fashion trends change so often. Do you think the school should alter their dress code to fit these trends?

  2. April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

    Hi Natalie! I really liked your presentation and this is a topic I am really passionate about. The personal stories were really impactful and show just how unfair dress codes are towards people of specific religion, race, and especially women (it really shows how much school systems value boys’ educations more than girls’).

  3. April 30, 2019 by Christopher Ko

    Hi Natalie. This is a good topic that everyone can relate with. The personal stories you have in your projects is a great addition to your project and gives insight to how unjust dress codes can be. One think that I would like to ask is in your opinion would it be better for a school should have a uniform or no uniform?

  4. May 01, 2019 by Katie Connors

    Hi Natalie! I thought you had a really great project, and the personal stories and quotes really brought it to life. It was especially interesting to see your results and finding from males, since at my school boys literally never and I mean never get in trouble when it comes to dress code. There were once a bunch of guys in my grades that wore leggings to protest the fact that girls couldn’t and none of them got dress coded!

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