In September, 1967, my sister, Debra, walked through the doors of Riverside Brookfield High School for the first time. Having spent eight years in a Catholic elementary school, which required she wear a scratchy, wool uniform, imagine her excitement about getting to pick out a real outfit for school for the very first time.
Well, that excitement soon turned into humiliation. According to family lore, Debra was “sent home” on her first day of high school for a dress code violation. Her skirt was too short, they said.
For those of you with little fashion history knowledge, and particularly for those who believe the 1960s were all about mini skirts and go-go boots, the mini skirt didn’t come on the scene until 1966. Made popular by British designer, Mary Quant, mini dresses and skirts were set six-to-seven inches above the knee. The style was especially popular among the youth because they not only looked good in mini skirts, but mini skirts also gave them the opportunity to rebel against their parents and established dress codes. By 1967, mini skirts found their way to America and were worn nationwide.
Costume and Fashion: A Concise History (World of Art)
Debra’s skirt was not a mini skirt. To my knowledge it was definitely above her knees and hung mid-thigh. And because our family genes have blessed all my siblings (and me) with long, slender legs, more leg is exposed because there IS more leg! The same skirt may have appeared a lot longer on a girl with a different body type.
Meanwhile, our ultra conservative and fashion-bashful mother thought Debra’s skirt was not only appropriate, but also “very cute.” She couldn’t believe it when the school called and told her she needed to pick up her daughter for a dress code violation. They may as well have called her daughter a “slut” for the imagined implications of this violation.
As if it weren’t stressful enough dealing with the first days of high school—particularly going into the public school system after years of parochial school—Debra had to learn to swallow humiliation and rebuild her self-esteem. Further, each morning she had to take extra care getting dressed for school, for fear of another violation. I’m sure those hours of concern would have been better focused on things like math and English and science—particularly for a young girl who would eventually become a talented physician.
How Far Have We Come?
When I entered the same high school in 1974, I spent the next four years in everything from mini skirts to hot pants to faded and patched Levis. I never once received a dress code violation. Choosing outfits each day enabled me to develop my own sense of style and certainly added an element to my self-confidence.
This is why I am disturbed and, frankly, pissed off that 36 years later, my daughter’s current junior high has exercised Gestapo-style, fashion police tactics in the first weeks of school by routinely “dress-cutting” the kids for what they deem to be “inappropriate” clothing. In only nine days of school, my 13-year-old has been dress cut three times.
Emily Gray Junior High in Tucson, AZ has a relatively simple policy regarding the required length of shorts. When asked, the children must relax their shoulders and let their arms hang straight. If their longest finger reaches below the hem of their shorts, it’s a VIOLATION. They are sent to the office and for the rest of the day are required to wear polyester gym shorts that hang to their knees. (And by the way, late passes are not issued for dress cuts, so in addition, they receive tardy strikes).
This dress code rule may seem simple; however, it does not take into consideration the fact that there is not simply ONE body type. I, for example, applied this rule to myself yesterday while wearing a pair of workout shorts. They measure 14” from waistband to hem and have a standard 4” inseam. They rise 8” above my knee (which in 1966 would have qualified them not only as “mini,” but perhaps even “micro-mini.”) Nevertheless, my bottom is completely and even generously covered. No one—expect maybe a Muslim or a Mennonite—would deem these shorts provocative or inappropriate.
Meanwhile, here’s the kicker: When I relax my shoulders and let my arms hang straight, the hemline meets the middle of my palm. So, in other words, “DRESS CUT, MOMMY!”
I’m told one member of the junior high fashion police sent a girl to the office because she said her “butt cheeks” were hanging out of her shorts. Now if this were the case, arm length or leg length aside, I believe these shorts are indeed inappropriate. But if I deem my daughter’s school attire to be understated, age-appropriate and not in the least bit provocative, I don’t want to hear about another dress cut just because her long arms stretch below the hemline.
These kids have far more important things to learn at school instead of taking constant hits to their self-esteem and self-image. And I think it’s ridiculous and narrow-minded to impose ONE BODY TYPE as appropriate for an entire student body. If I felt it important to dress my child in a standard uniform, I would have sent her to a private or parochial school.