Dress Code at a Jewish Day School

Dress Code at a Jewish Day School by Kayla Liss - Photo by Audrey Honig

My school claims to value inclusion, gender equity, and community. It’s too bad that its out-of-date dress code policy is not consistent with those values. My school’s dress code policy is a relic of the distant past. I think the policy is too strict, but what’s worse, it is not applied to boys and girls consistently. The policy allows boys to skate by, while it negatively impacts girls. This is unfair and does not reflect the values that I know my school is trying to instill in me.

I go to a Jewish day school. Our dress code isn’t that strict, but it’s strict enough to provoke frustration throughout the student body, mainly in the girls. Most of the girls in my grade never wear shorts to school out of fear of being made to change our clothes. We are also not allowed to wear tank tops, shirts that cannot be tucked in, show our backs or stomachs, or wear tops with “immodestly low” necklines. Our skirts, shorts, and dresses must reach two inches below our fingertips, and our jeans cannot be ripped above the knee. Our jewelry cannot have spikes, we cannot wear chains, and with the exception of ear and “tasteful” nose piercings, our bodies cannot be pierced. We are also not allowed to show our undergarments.

While writing this piece, I revisited our student handbook because I could not remember our full dress code, and I wanted to include as many details about it as possible. While reading through it, I became more and more frustrated. I understand that some clothing guidelines are necessary, and may even be beneficial, but having to base what I wear each day on a set of rules makes me—and many other students—feel controlled. I wake up each day and have to pick out clothes that not only make me feel confident, but that also will not result in me being required to change my clothes.

Although some of my frustrations with the dress code are about the rules themselves, many of my frustrations also lie with how the system of being “dress coded” works. When you wear something that does not fit within the rules listed in our student handbook, a teacher or administrator tells you to either adjust your outfit or change into something different. In theory, it works, but the administration can’t “dress code” every single person who breaks the dress code. The administration tends to “dress code” the girls with the longest legs, or the curviest bodies. As a taller girl, I can tell you that it’s insanely frustrating.

As you may have noticed, I’ve only been mentioning girls in this article. That’s because the dress code barely seems to affect boys. Most of the boys I know never have issues with the length of their shorts or have any desire to wear jewelry. Struggling with dress code tends to be labeled as a “girl struggle.” In a way, this makes sense because the rules presented in the dress code don’t apply to many boys. Because I go to a Jewish day school, the administration says that our dress code is there for modesty and that our clothes should reflect “a positive attitude toward learning and the study of sacred texts that minimize potential distraction.” I think that students should be taught self-control instead of being forced to change what they wear. I’m sure that every single student who’s been “dress coded” will back me up on that. If my exposed shoulders or knees are distracting you from learning algebra, look away.

I care about my school and its mission, and I am proud to go to a Jewish day school that is striving to prepare its students to be both productive citizens of the world and also fully educated in Jewish tradition. Still, I feel that my school needs to get with the program and stop enforcing an out-of-date dress code policy that treats girls differently than boys and causes major frustration throughout the student body.

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