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Dress Codes Growing in Style at U.S. Schools

Dress Codes Growing in Style at U.S. Schools

School dress code violations have become a frequent viral occurrence in the news, and they could become more commonplace, with more and more schools employing the use of clothing restrictions. A survey from Lands’ End found that the number of public schools with a dress code increased by 21 percent from 2000 to 2013.

Niche has also noticed this trend. According to more than 135,000 Niche users, only 2 percent reported having no school dress codes at all.

School Dress Codes: What is the dress code like at your school?

So why the increase in clothing restrictions in K12 schools? One reason could be what happened at Columbine High School.

Dress Code Debate

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire on their school in Littleton, Colo., killing 12 students and one teacher before turning their guns on themselves. After this tragedy, people looked for answers and soon were drawn to the behaviors of Harris and Klebold, including their clothing, which consisted of trench coats with pockets deep enough for weaponry. After this horrific attack, many schools started to adjust their policies on what students were allowed to wear to school in an effort to prevent another Columbine from happening.

But inhibiting violence is just one reason for dress codes. Another argument includes maintaining discipline and limiting distraction. By implementing policy that restricts short skirts, low-cut shirts, and questionable messages (a T-shirt with “Beer: It’s What’s for Dinner”), schools put in place a system to be adhered to, which instills control across all classes. However, many dress code critics claim that these policies can unfairly target certain groups, such as female students and some ethnic and religious minorities.

Pros and Cons of School Dress Codes

Pros Cons
Pros Can promote a sense of security
Cons Can hinder creative expression in students
Pros Less distraction for students so they can concentrate on their studies
Cons Dress code suspensions can take focus away from education
Pros Can instill discipline in students
Cons Rules sometimes not enforced uniformly
Pros Can promote better behavior in students
Cons Can be costly, depending on how strict the code is

Common Dress Code Rules

While every school may have a different set of clothing standards, these are some common dress code threads:

  • Students must abide by the “fingertip rule” when it comes to shorts or skirt length (must extend beyond fingertips).
  • Students cannot show their stomachs (belly shirt) or their shoulders (in tank tops).
  • Shirts with profanity or an “R” rating—including illegal acts, substances, and violent and sexual content—are prohibited.
  • Leggings are treated as tights and must be worn with tops or skirts that follow the “fingertip rule.”

School Uniforms

With all of the trouble that comes with dress codes, many schools are opting for school uniforms. In fact, U.S. public schools with school uniforms increased from 13 percent to 19 percent from 2003 to 2012. But, like dress codes, not everyone is supportive of school uniforms, which also have advantages and disadvantages.

Pros & Cons of School Uniforms

Pros Cons
Pros Can help prevent gangs from forming and diminish peer pressure
Cons Can be costly for lower-income families
Pros Can unify the school, no matter a student's family income or upbringing
Cons Can hinder a student's freedom of expression
Pros Can help school identify intruders
Cons Can make students targets at other schools/to outsiders

Cities with Highest Use of Uniforms in Public Schools

Higher percentages of public city schools than public suburban schools require students to wear uniforms. These six cities have the highest usage of uniforms in their public schools.

Rank City Schools with Uniforms (%)
Rank 1
Schools with Uniforms (%) 95%
Rank 2
City Cleveland
Schools with Uniforms (%) 85%
Rank 3
City Chicago
Schools with Uniforms (%) 80%
Rank 4
City Boston
Schools with Uniforms (%) 65%
Rank 5
City Miami
Schools with Uniforms (%) 60%
Rank 6
City Cincinnati
Schools with Uniforms (%) 50%

Source: SCHOOL UNIFORM STATISTICS – Statistic Brain. 2013 Statistic Brain Research Institute, publishing as Statistic Brain. July 11, 2014.

THe Bottom Line

Many are divided on the benefits of dress codes and school uniforms and whether they truly impact students, but with schools searching for better security methods in an effort to maintain control, dress codes are sometimes the smallest and easiest form of defense.

Author: Niche

Niche helps you discover the schools and neighborhoods that are right for you.