Why I Don’t Believe in Dress Codes

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Why I Don't Believe in Dress Codes by Marlie Thomason - Photo by Liora Meyer

I live in a semi-Conservative household in the South. I keep kosher and observe Jewish holidays, and I go to a Jewish camp in Mississippi, where I have learned that anyone can embrace Judaism anywhere. I am also a member of BBYO and NFTY, two Jewish youth groups that have spread across the country. I went to a Jewish day school for eight years before transferring schools.

At my old Jewish day school, the dress code was strict: skirts, shorts, and dresses could not be more than three inches above the knee. Shirts had to have a sleeve or strap of at least five fingers wide, and leggings were not allowed. Shirts couldn’t be too tight or too loose, and shirts and dresses had to cover the entire chest. Most of these rules applied only to girls. Abiding by these rules was difficult and uncomfortable. I didn’t feel my best when restricted this way, and I can’t perform my best when I don’t feel my best.

Almost every day, a teacher or faculty member would comment on my outfit. These comments usually came from my principal, who would take time out of my class or out of my lunch to talk to me about how my outfit was “inappropriate.” Though my mother and I both thought my outfits were appropriate for school, my principal used my time to make me feel bad about what I was wearing. I loved my principal otherwise. She was sweet and I know she cared for me, but I still felt insulted and small when my outfit was the subject of discussion almost daily.

One day, I was wearing a brand-new sweater that I loved. I wore it with skinny jeans, and I felt really cute in it. Then a teacher commented on it. Not only did the teacher take time out of my lunch period to talk to me about it, though. The teacher then gathered all of the girls in my school inside the gym, lined us up, and then pulled an Orthodox girl out of the line. She was wearing a maxi skirt, leggings, and a sweatshirt. The teacher told us, “You should all dress like her.” I instantly changed from feeling amazing to feeling horrible.

I was not the only one troubled by the dress code. My classmates also struggled. After we were called out for our clothing, we all felt ashamed and frustrated. I now go to a school with a very loose dress code. I feel better about myself, and I can express myself better. Going to a school with a dress code—especially a strict one that was enforced by an aggressive faculty—made me feel belittled and like I wasn’t allowed to express myself how I wanted. School should be a place where all students feel comfortable, a haven for self-expression. That’s why I don’t believe in dress codes.

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