· Sayings and illustrations on clothing should be in good taste
· Shoulders, undergarments, midriffs and lower backs should not be exposed
· The length of shorts, dresses and skirts should extend below the fingertips with the arms straight at your side
This is Stuyvesant High School’s dress code, newly imposed in the fall of 2011. On the surface, this code seems simple and straightforward enough—nothing too controversial or provocative should enter a school environment. The dress code is meant to protect students and to preserve the academic atmosphere of Stuyvesant– or so it seems. Ever since the beginning of the school year, countless students, both male and female, have clashed with the administration regarding these requirements. The conflicts have not been a result of a conscious student rebellion against the code. Rather they were an expected outcome of the administration’s faulty, subjective enforcement of the policy.
Jacqueline Krass, senior
My issues – for lack of a better word – with the dress code actually date back to before its official existence. In the spring, especially, there have always been disagreements between students and the administration about what is appropriate and what is not. Before the official dress code was drafted, the rule seemed to be “whatever administrative figures nearby think looks inappropriate.” This used to result in different people being told different things, especially given the dramatic variation in body type among students –shorts can look shorter, or dresses less appropriate, depending on the student’s physique. However, clothing violations also had much less of an effect on daily student life before this year. No one got her ID card taken away, or had grey shirts handed to her.
Things have changed with the introduction of official rules. For the most part, I don’t consider myself to be a particularly inappropriate dresser – even my mother would agree – but this year, I’ve been called out nearly every single time I’ve worn a skirt, dress, or pair of shorts (maxi skirts not included). Once I even lost my ID card over a belted dress that just reached my fingertips – and, once the belt was off (as I showed the administrator) actually went beyond. I’m not sure what it is about me that causes me to become the administration’s target girl. Not all my friends have the same problem; few girls I know get called out as frequently as I do, and of course boys barely have to acknowledge the existence of a dress code at all. Perhaps this simply stems from some sort of miscommunication about the rules of the dress code. One day I came in wearing a jean skirt that actually extended beyond my fingertips (I had checked!) and, although wary of being called out, I was not totally surprised to be stopped anyway. What did surprise me was being informed that it wasn’t enough for the skirt to simply reach past my fingertips (à la the rules as stated in the student planner), it had to “go well past.” When I complained, indignant, that they just didn’t make dresses or skirts long enough to pass – not for teenagers, anyway – I was advised to “think knees,” or just wear pants. I was released with a warning, and left feeling like I’d been called out for wearing a bikini top to school, or a garter belt. It was an unpleasant, shaming experience.
Still, I didn’t realize how damaging and degrading the whole situation had become until the thought occurred to me that I was excited to leave Stuyvesant for college next year because I wouldn’t have to follow a dress code anymore.
Tiffany Phan, junior
It was 7:55 am when I swiped my ID card through the scanner one morning. I was in a hurry to get to physics on the 8th floor (my teacher has a tendency to give pop quizzes at the beginning of the period). Thewoman who was supervising the scanners that morning looked me up and down and then guided me into Ms. Damesek’s office. Once I went in, Ms. Damesek took one look at me, sighed, and asked me what I was thinking when I went out of the house that morning. All I wore was a long-sleeved button down, which was secured by a navy skirt and accompanied by floral cutout tights; I didn’t intend for it to be inappropriate in the slightest. At the moment, I was confused because I specifically made sure that the skirt covering my patterned tights was past my fingertips. She told me that the whole outfit was bad and that I looked like I was“going out for a Saturday night, not going to school.” I think we all know what she was implying. After she took my ID and barred me from going to class until I changed, I swiftly put on some jeans I had in my locker and went back to her. She promptly commended me for actually looking like a lady and said that it was “much better.”
To this day, I still don’t understand why I was forced to change, and every single day since then, I’ve had difficulty deciding what to wear to school. Clearly, skirt length isn’t the only factor that needs to be considered when we pick out our outfits. We still have to cater to Ms. Damesek’s personal and exceptionally professional fashionista tastes.
Lucinda Ventimiglia, senior
I have been stopped to justify my clothing many, many times since the beginning of this school year, and 9 out of ten times, I wasn’t breaking the dress code. I’ve been told that even though my skirts were technically acceptable, they were still too short for me to wear, and once it was suggested that I should follow a separate dress code, wherein my skirts should end at least four inches past my fingertips, and preferably at my knees. Even though hearing that I needed an individual dress code was hurtful, it wasn’t even the worst thing that’s happened to me regarding the dress code. That would be the time that I walked in wearing a dress that did in fact follow the rules, only to be stopped by one of the women sitting by the scanners. She told me that my dress was too short, and that I would have plenty of time to “show off my curves” when I wasn’t in school (I found this to be ridiculous because the dress I was wearing was shapeless). She then went on to say that the dress code was only instituted for my protection, because there are a lot of bad men outside school, and if I was raped nobody would be able to take that away from me. Then, she said, “and you want a husband, don’t you?” I called my mom later, in total shock, and told her what had happened. She called the school, and funnily enough, I haven’t been unfairly targeted since then.
Marta Poplawski, junior
My experience with the dress code has not been as extreme, but certainly not much different from that of others. Various members of the school staff have pulled me over once or twice to tell me that leggings are inappropriate. Last year, in warmer weather, I was pulled over because my shorts did not reach my fingertips, and once when it hit 90 degrees I was yelled at for wearing a tank top. I have long arms, so the fingertip rule often works to my disadvantage. The shorts I wore did not expose anything (besides my terribly suggestive knee caps at times), and even if I bent over my attire remained appropriate. Meanwhile, I have seen classmates in much shorter attire than I who did not get pulled over. I feel that this dress code is simply a judgment of style; it rewards those who can sneak past the administration fast enough. I also believe that if I were sweating from heat because I was in long pants, it’d be much more distracting than people in shorts, which has been used as reasoning before.
At the moment, there are just too many ambiguities about the policy. Who is to decide what illustration or phrase on a shirt is “good taste”? The administration. And who is to decide what is “proper” enough, what is not “too provocative”? Again, the administration. The original dress code requirements aren’t unreasonable and they don’t seem too hard to follow, but the fluctuating opinions of the staff are just too unpredictable. If I’m supposed to be allowed to wear a skirt as long as it’s past my fingertips, I expect to be able to get into school without being insulted when I am wearing one. I’m not saying that students are completely innocent; there are times when some of us do violate the code. But when we do make an effort to follow it, we do not expect to be pulled over and disrespected by whoever is supposedly righteous enough to judge students based on their clothing.