From Less Code to Dress Code

A groan was heard around the small cafeteria table when Lick-Wilmerding’s new dress code was casually brought into the conversation. Students from sophomores to seniors have something to say about the crackdown on the school’s former “shirt and shoes” attitude toward Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 2.37.55 PMapparel.
One of the most controversial aspects of the dress code, taken straight from the handbook, is the stress it puts on “refraining from dressing provocatively or in a way that distracts others.” This restraint includes not wearing short-shorts, micro skirts, plunging necklines, open shirts, tube tops, low riding pants and tights without shorts, long shirts or skirts. The new dress code also forbids students from wearing clothes that display images and/or text related to violence, sex, drugs and alcohol (page 152 of the Student Handbook). Though these rules seem logical, many students feel, especially at a school that promotes self-expression, they are an unfair restriction prohibiting articulacy.
Amanda Landavarde ’14 brings up the other complaint about the new code, “I think that currently the school dress code is pretty much exclusive to women and unjustly targets women with certain body types.” Although technically all clothes could be worn by either gender, the reality remains that when focusing on tights and provocative clothing, it is girls that are being addressed.
Both Randy Barnett, Dean of Academics and Instruction as well as Kate Wiley, Dean of Students, counter this argument. Mr. Barnett observes the media’s effect on women, “In the culture we live in, females tend to be more objectified; over-sexualizing clothing tends to affect women more.” Ms. Wiley agrees with this statement, adding that, “Sex sells clothing, and the marketing of clothes to young women puts an ample amount of stress on this kind of advertising.”
However, she does not believe there is a deliberate focus on women in the dress code. “Changing in the hallways has always been an issue for men and women, as well as the themes regarding sports teams.” Concerning self expression, Ms. Wiley strongly believes there “is still room for individuality.” Mr. Barnett adds, “At Lick, we teachers are educating the students in the most influential types of self expression, in writing, visual medias, all intellectual mediums. Self expression should not just be through dress, which has the potential to create an unsafe environment.”
Despite popular belief, the new dress code has been in consideration for four to five years, and has not stemmed from any group of students specifically or any recent past actions. The new dress code is a response to the frequent complaints from students, parents and faculty who are uncomfortable with some students’ attire. Sofia Karliner ‘14 feels that “If a student is confident in what they wear, they are not degrading themselves or degrading their gender.” She also believes that “Distraction, which is said to be a main reason for the new dress code, will face students once they step out of Lick’s doors. Although dressing for an academic environment is important, it is not the responsibility of the female to be less distracting for the benefit of the community.” However, the administration sees Lick as an intrinsically educational institute, with a fundamental purpose of creating a safe learning environment for all parties involved. This includes the influences of clothing choices, not only during school hours, but also at school functions. Mr. Barnett points out that, “teens always push the limit, and regarding apparel choices, limits need to be specifically set. This is not only because we go to school in a multicultural scholastic environment, but also because students need to respect the many different religious and cultural ideals that surround them.”
Why a new dress code was necessary can be argued from many different angles; the harder issue the administration had to contend with was how to implement it. Broader themes needed to be addressed around the issue of enforcement; issues such as the necessity to set a tone for the rest of the year, a need to put emphasis on senior figures, and how publically to enforce the apparel discretions are still being debated.
Currently, the role of enforcer falls mainly to the Deans, Ms. Wiley states that, “Deans need to address the dress code violation initially and clearly. It can be hard for teachers to maintain the strong personal connection with students in their classes if they feel the need to address their dress code infraction. ” Why or how a student is spoken to can vary from day to day, “Yeah, today Ms. Wiley briefly motioned me with her hands to pull down my shirt, cause apparently I was showing too much stomach,” a student stated in passing. Embarrassment and anger are both feelings felt when a Dean or faculty member approaches a student for a clothing infringement. However Ms. Wiley says she only says something when “I see it, and the time is appropriate” adding that [she] “never goes looking for it.”
The why and the how of the new dress code are finalized, although Ms. Wiley says, “I am always open to conversation.” The academic setting of Lick-Wilmerding is an environment where the safety of all members is highly regarded. Nevertheless, Boo Kirkwood ’14 wonders if “the eccentricity of Lick at stake.” Either way, there is a fine line between honoring Lick’s dress code, and expressing and exploring one’s personal style, balancing between the two will continue to be an important part of growing up.

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