Dress codes perpetuate sexism and prevent self-expression: It is time for change

According to a study by OCAD University, 73 percent of Gen Z believe they need more self-expression to live a happy, healthy life. Self-expression can come in many forms, one being appearance.

Illustration of five different people, three of which wearing school uniforms and the other two wearing whatever they want.

Jessie Lee

According to a study by OCAD University, 73 percent of Gen Z believe they need more self-expression to live a happy, healthy life. Self-expression can come in many forms, one being appearance. Berkeley High Schools’s lack of a dress code gives students the liberty to present however they choose, whether it’s to reflect how they feel, their gender, their religion, or any other aspect of who they are. If you take away someone’s right to appear as they choose, you limit their ability to express themselves. For this reason, BHS should remain without a dress code, and all other schools should follow suit. In doing so, they will provide students with the right to express themselves, and thus, enable them to lead a happier life. 

Dress codes are deeply rooted in sexism and misogyny. In 2022, 90 percent of banned clothing was primarily clothing worn by females. This directly targets women and has an  especially large impact on the LGBTQ+ community. An individual seeking to wear feminine gender-affirming clothing is disproportionately at risk of being prohibited from doing so. 

This idea of a dress code’s inherent prejudice has not gone unnoticed. A study conducted by Stormline reported that 81 percent of women and 77 percent of men believe that workplace dress codes are discriminatory to the female sex. Additionally, mandating a dress code for more revealing clothing can create a stigma on the people wearing that clothing. If a student is shamed for their revealing clothing by an administrator, school employee, or adult that could influence how the student’s peers see them as well. It impresses upon students that a certain type of clothing is suggestive and that such qualities reflect on the person wearing it. Dress codes are not precautionary regulations, they’re biased and unjust methods to enforce gender roles. 

Contrary to what is suggested, dress codes are not proven to increase learning or academic productivity in schools. Rather, the opposite can occur. Instead, they prohibit creativity and motivation, similarly worthy aspects of education. The aforementioned study also proved that 61 percent of employees report feeling more relaxed on days when a dress code is not enforced than on days when one is. 

Despite a dress code’s harm and potentially stress-inducing impact on the affected community, corporations and schools employ the idea that dress codes are beneficial to work ethic to justify their use. For instance, Bishop O’Dowd, a Catholic private school located in Oakland that BHS is similar to in both proximity and community, regulates student dress code very closely. Their 2011-2012 Student–Family Handbook reads, “The faculty and administration of Bishop O’Dowd High School believe that appropriateness in attire has a positive influence on student work and that it enhances the learning environment for all involved.” However, contradicting their previous statement, their Handbook later states, “Any student who violates the dress code at any time during the school day will not be allowed to attend classes until the situation is rectified…” Prohibiting a student from attending classes is a disturbance to their education, one that is more disruptive than a student’s ability to dress freely. 

BHS is right in not mandating a dress code. It provides students with the right to dress and express themselves freely and shapes an environment that is beneficial for their academic, mental, and social well-being.