Solving Dress Code Issues

In the past 6 days school dress code issues have come to my attention 4 times, from 4 very different sources.


1) An email from the school where I teach reminded us that Jean Day is coming up  and went over the  rules and regulations for allowing our students to wear jeans (we get these days twice a month). Denim is not typically part of student attire at my public school, and it invites an entire new set of dress code issues– not in the least limited to which students are or are not allowed to wear jeans based on whether the student has earned the privilege. On the front end, granting a Jean Day twice a month based on a student’s good behavior sounds like a positive incentive, however it creates a new set of rules and guidelines for a teacher to learn and enforce. This is a rule at a select few of the middle schools in my district. It is NOT the school district dress code policy (link), but rather the school‘s dress code (link).

Cedar Bluff High School (in Alabama) 1921

2) A clip out of Mary Janes Farm magazine quoted The Farmer’s Wife, 1921 (!),  where at the National Congress of Mother and Parent-Teacher Associations, “they established the Department of Dress…to study the problems of young girls…paying particular attention to the question of simplified dress for high-school girls.”

Parents and School Administrators picture this, but it is a challenge to enforce in the classroom

3) An article from The Greenville News announcing that Bryson Middle School officially adopted a strict dress code (link) that the principal says is designed to “create a positive learning environment for students,” but as seen with a teacher’s perspective amounts to instruction time lost as teachers checks for tucked-in shirts, belts, holes in pants, undershirts being the “right” color, sizes of shirt logos, socks of matching color, and other minutiae. Further instruction time is lost to the student as he or she either goes to ISS for being out of dress code or waits in the office for a parent to arrive with a change of clothes. Again, this is the SCHOOL’S dress code (link), not the DISTRICT’S dress code (link).

4) Fox Carolina News at 7am ran a story (link) on a judge overruling a middle school’s ban of “I ❤ Boobies” wrist bands saying students have the right to free speech and that it doesn’t violate their dress code. In the video, 3 middle school boys tried not to giggle as they said they said the word “boobies,” I only point this out because the newscaster did.

School officials claim the term “boobies” is not appropriate language.

With that much public attention given to dress code in public schools, it is TIME for some TRUTH about the MYTHS and INFORMATION surrounding DRESS CODE, as well as the ultimate SOLUTION.

MYTH: Dress Codes and Uniforms decrease student disruptions and violence at school.

INFORMATION: According to the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, there is no empirical proof (data, statistics) that uniforms do either of the above (link). Research compiled by Richard Wilson (link), shows decrease in disruption and violence is a matter of perception by students and parents, not a matter of statistically driven fact.

MYTH: School dress codes make it easier to enforce the rules and establish guidelines for students/parents to follow.

Teacher-time required to write a referral and Administrator time required to contact a parent must be caluclated in with the amount of instruction time lost to the student when an official referral is written.

INFORMATION: Once a rule has been written, it must be enforced. The stricter the dress code, the more effort it requires to maintain it.  Barbara Bush Middle School, in Irving, Texas, pulled data from its discipline referral logs and found that for the first 3 weeks of school over 60% of discipline referrals were dress code related. Referrals mean the student was sent to ISS or sent home– missing out on class time in either circumstance (link).

The number of referrals directly correlates to the amount of class time that is lost by students. If a student has been sent to the office to deal with their clothing, they are not in class learning. Dress code referrals are especially time-consuming because they often involve students changing clothes or waiting for parents to bring them new clothes. It can sometimes take more than 2 hours for a parent to leave work, stop by their house, grab clothes and bring them to school. This is valuable class time that is lost for the student. This is the reason for investigating, collecting data and reporting on the number of referrals that pertain to student dress.

As the school year continued, BBMS found the number of dress code violations resulting in referrals diminished, but still remained as high as 40% of discipline referrals written. See above link for further documentation of this statistic.

According to [Kerry] White (link), “Research on the effects of school uniforms has been inconclusive…Much of the evidence on both sides is anecdotal, not empirical. The survey of principals conducted by NAESP seems to bear this out (link to this survey). It found that although some schools maintain statistics, most rely primarily on informal observations by principals and staff to ascertain whether uniforms are making a difference.”

INFORMATION: Discipline referrals of all kinds, dress code violations included, are required to be documented to the state and federal governments and count against a school system in national, state, and district standings. (link 1) (link 2)

INFORMATION: Many schools hesitate to mandate a uniform due to the fact that once required, the school system might be responsible to provide the uniform or make funds available for the purchase of the uniform if a parent/guardian requests it. You won’t find any links to that information. As you can imagine it could become very expensive and schools do not want it publicized. This is the same reason no teacher will tell you your child can’t see the board (i.e. needs glasses) or hear what is being said  from the back of the room (i.e. needs his hearing tested). If a public school employee suggests it, the school system and tax payer money could be obligated to provide it.

SOLUTION: JK Rowling got it right- robes. 

Skip the hat, skip the tassles. Get the gown.

Laugh first, swear you wouldn’t do it or make your child do it, then consider the logical results. Bear in mind, I think teachers should follow the same dress code as students.


1) I suggest a solid color robe, either in standard collegiate black or in the more typical high-school fashion of school colors. Except for white. For obvious reasons it would be ridiculous to put students in white robes. They can be purchased in heavy or light-weight fabrics for seasonal differences. It needs to be thick enough that whatever the student wears underneath will not show through. School has 2 colors? Girls can wear one, the boys the alternate, or teachers can wear one color while students wear the alternate. For identification purposes, teacher could also simply wear black.

2) The robe needs to zip from the bottom to the top, with the opening of the zipper large enough to slip over a half-inch button at the top of the zipper teeth where the collar opens. The button will then fasten closed through a button-hole supporting the zipper between the 2 layers of fabric and preventing it from accidentally coming open during the academic day.

3) Length made easy. The fact that these robes could potentially last more than one year means they need to be long enough to accommodate student growth. Robes should be past the knees at least as long as the student’s hand is wide.
Easy to measure- method 1: Kneel. There should be as much fabric on the floor as the student’s hand is wide.
Easy to measure- method 2: Sit. put your hand (student) on the back of your thigh where the knee bends. Bend your lower leg against your hand, squeezing your hand between your thigh and calf. Use a pen to trace against your leg where the pinkie finger rests. The robe should be at least that long.

What to wear underneath it- Keep it Simple

1) Shoes: Hard-soled, closed-toe, closed-heel shoes. I don’t want to fight the laced/unlaced, fastened/unfastened frustration. Is it a flip-flop or is it a sandal? Are those socks or are they shoes or are they bedroom slippers? Shoes need to provide covering over the feet for safety. Period. If the back-of-the-ankle support moves or can be removed (like in Crocs or high heel dress shoes) they do not meet the dress code. If the shoe can easily be folded in half, like a bedroom slipper, they do not meet the dress code.

2) Socks: If socks are visible, they must match the  color of the robe.

3) Jewelry: In light of the “I ❤ Boobies” complications, visible jewelry is limited to a watch with no writing on the band. Upperclassmen and teachers may wear a class ring. Engaged/married teachers may wear an engagement ring and/or wedding ring. Engaged/married students (in case the situation occurs)  may wear an engagement ring with parent endorsement or a wedding ring provided they show a marriage license.

4) Clothing that shows through the at collar or at the legs. The collar can be hidden with the cover-ups that come with robes, if the school wants to address that issue or simply mandate that it be a solid color or that no writing is visible. At the leg, keep it limited to a solid color. Anything that is visible outside of the robe must be a solid color with no writing. That’s easy to enforce, easy to address, and easy to rectify.

Realistically, a student can comfortably wear a sweater and jeans with boots or a t-shirt and shorts with tennis shoes under the robe. The child could feasibly wear the same clothes every day and no one would know it.

Out of Compliance-

1) Students who are out of dress code simply go to the restroom and remove the out-of-code article of clothing. The robe is thick enough to accommodate wearing it with nothing underneath. The offensive article is placed in the office and returned to a parent whenever the parent is able to come pick it up. If the student is uncomfortable with wearing nothing under the robe, they can always put on their PE uniform or call a parent to bring something else. Very little class time need be lost addressing this circumstance.

2) Shoes are the only factor complicating this process, and I personally think it ought to be a fine on the parent the second and subsequent times a child is out of dress code for shoes. The parent and/or student can either pay the fine or complete community service at the school to pay for the fine at the going minimum wage rate of pay for work.

Logical Results

1) As a teacher I no longer have to check for nor address:

  • inappropriate, offensive, or suggestive language on clothing
  • shirt untucked
  • pants sagging too low
  • shirts too big/long
  • belt loops
  • belts
  • multi-color socks
  • undershirt matching dress code
  • logo/brand name on shirt too large or is visible
  • hoodies
  • shirts too short, showing bare skin
  • shirt-sleeve vs. cap-sleeve vs. tank top
  • bra straps showing
  • underwear showing
  • holes in clothing
  • patches under holes in clothing
  • shirt collars too low, showing too much cleavage
  • pants gaping open in back, showing bare buttocks
  • one pant leg up, one pant leg down
  • sweat pants or athletic pants
  • drawstring or elastic waistband
  • are those leggings or really tight pants

2) As a parent I no longer need to buy a set of school uniforms and a set of at home/play clothes. Robes cost from $15 each for the light-weight material to $90 for the heavier, more winter-weather appropriate materials. Prices generally average $25 dollars per well-made multi-use gown. If the school orders them in bulk, they can be discounted even further. It would be economical to purchase 2 of each type of robe with the plans for the student to wear them for 2 years.  At an expense of $100 for 2 years of school clothes, I have saved money and even if the school ends up having to provide the robes, it would be feasible to reuse robes from year to year and to loan them out rather than give them away.

3) As a school administrator I could color co-ordinate the robes per grade level and quickly identify a student who might be in an out-of-area situation. Or, I could have all the students wear the same color and make it less obvious which students are 6th graders and which are 8th graders, which are freshmen and which are seniors so that less negative peer interaction occurred. Honors students or students with perfect attendance might be rewarded with bars on sleeves.

4) As a student

  • I can wear my PE uniform under my robe, and I never have to be embarrassed about dressing out in front of my peers again. I take off my robe for PE and put it back on after PE, probably with a lot of deodorant added. Or more realistically, I wear my PE uniform under my robe, bring a clean change of clothes for after PE and I only have to change one time at school.
  • If I play sports I can wear my practice clothes or game uniform under my robe.
  • If I’m older and have an after-school job, I can wear my work uniform under my robe and make it faster to get to work when I finish classes for the day.
  • If I’m a girl and I have an “accident” at school, no one will see it because my robe will cover up my pants.

Finally, if I want to bring the whole ensemble together with a student ID, the badge can easily be clipped onto the button-hole at the top of the zipper/collar and the student is clearly identified by the colored robe and identification at his or her neck.

The idea of wearing a robe as the students do in JK Rowling’s novels seems laughable, but when given the amount of time dedicated to establishing a complicated dress code along with time spent enforcing a complicated dress code, it is undeniable the robes eliminate 90% of the problems and work load. Even parents are released from the burden of buying name brand clothing since it won’t be visible anyway. This is something public school uniforms attempt yet fail to do since wealthier students purchase uniforms from Land’s End or Gap or Old Navy while poorer students receive Walmart and Kmart gift cards from the schools in order to buy $100 worth of uniforms.

As a teacher, I want to do whatever it takes to make the enforcing of rules less of a burden. My focus should be teaching, not checking for holes in the wrong places or measuring large logos on shirts. And ultimately I don’t want to be held responsible for determining whether or not “boobies” infringes on anyone’s freedom of speech or points me out as not supporting the fight against breast cancer.

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7 Responses to Solving Dress Code Issues

  1. Michelle says:

    I could see this working. After much belly-aching, even the kids would realize how much easier robes are. Are there any schools (stateside or abroad) that currently utilize robes? Why don’t you see if you can talk my school into implementing this plan. I could fashion my own pants that are sweatpants from the waist to just above the knee and khakis from the knee down!

    • 80price says:

      I think after the initial shock of how weird the idea is, wearing gowns/robes over whatever you want is a marvelous idea. It’s beautifully simple and inexpensive. Even for you the teacher. If you want to wear sweats, no one would know you were wearing sweat pants. Just keep them pushed up above the hem of the robe or cut them off so they don’t show at all. If the teachers wore black or one specific color different from the students, it would clearly identify them for visitors or emergency workers should there be a real situation. It’s ridiculous the number of rules regarding clothing that we have had to come up with to address every circumstance that children and their parents knit-pick. I realize that not allowing jewelry, cute socks, or any individualizing feature makes everyone, well, non-unique, but that’s really just the easiest way to deal with the American school system. We don’t have a reputation as Americans for generally going along with rules. We fight them and look for loop-holes. We have since pre-Revolution times. However, when it comes to running a public school system, we have GOT to simplify the rules.

    • 80price says:

      I meant to answer your question about other schools who have this dress code already- not that I could find. The uniforms in most European and Asian schools are much stricter than anything we have in the United States. Korea even dictates how long hair may be grown out. Most schools have blazers, vests, ties, hats, even matching bows. All of that creates more rules. In European and Asian school there is a tradition of respect for school and teachers that we don’t have here. I had a conversation with a foreign language teacher who was from Spain but living in Calhoun, Georgia, and when I asked her if students behaved the same way she said, “No. They just don’t. It just wouldn’t be accepted so the students just don’t act that way. They wouldn’t even think of it.” We Americans like to rock the boat, so I think the more simplistic the rules are the better off we are.

  2. Ben says:

    You fail to recognize that, especially in the rougher areas where the schools are starting to require uniforms, a robe also makes a perfect place to hide a wide array of weaponry.

    • 80price says:

      The majority of those schools are already using metal detectors at all doors, and sadly it is quite possible to hide a wide variety of lethal weapons in lose clothing. Though statistically guns get hidden in the girls’ purses more than anything. Hang on, I’ll see if I can find the video of it. Here it is:

  3. Ben says:

    Could be something as simple as a wooden baseball bat, laws don’t deter criminals, they only hinder the otherwise law abiding.

    • 80price says:

      I agree with you about criminal intent & laws. I just need something simpler for teachers to enforce. It is a major headache with all the rules we have for what is and is not allowed at school. It takes up 4 pages in our student handbook. It would be much easier to follow if the rules are very simple and allow no gray areas. No clothing with writing means I don’t have to worry that after students decide to wear “I Love Boobies” they will find a bracelet manufacturer selling “Save Our Balls!” to promote testicular cancer awareness. Or who knows what for prostate cancer.

      Educators have other things they need to be doing. I hope to address gang related violence and gun related violence in future blogs. Thank you for bringing up these topics.

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