Have the New Dress Norms Changed the Normative?
By Alice Tecotzky and Ella Marriott
The clothing we wear is an important reflection of who we are, how we choose to express ourselves, and the message we wish to send to the world. With Packer’s new dress norms now in full-swing, do students feel as if they truly have more autonomy in the ways they dress and that the mentality surrounding clothing at our school has changed?
After a long and arduous process of amending the dress code, Upper School Division Head, José De Jesús, was finally able to introduce the new norms at an Upper School chapel earlier this year. Mr. De Jesús stressed that the language now used strives to remove gender from the equation and place emphasis solely on clothing that “is in violation of our community values or is not consistent with our mission of fostering an empathetic and safe environment.”
Archie Caride (‘21) worked alongside former students Lucy Simon (‘17) and Paul McLaren (‘17) last year to spearhead the movement for new dress norms that would more accurately represent the community’s values. The process began the summer before the 2016-2017 school year, and came to a head at an interest meeting held at the beginning of last year, the goal of which was to gauge the level of student and faculty investment in the subject.
“It was a very big turnout [at the interest meeting] and kids were very passionate about [the dress norms], so we decided that we should carry through with it,” said Archie.
In order to change the dress norms, Archie, Lucy, and Paul had to devote a great deal of time and energy to the issue. They sent out a survey to the entire Upper School community, wrote a 30 page proposal based on those results, and held another interest meeting. On top of that, they met with Mr. De Jesús on multiple occasions, presented their proposal in front of the entire administration and faculty, worked with Dean of Student Life Allison Bishop to write a draft of the new dress norms, and met with Mr. De Jesús a final time.
“I think it’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in school,” Archie said when asked whether he feels that all of the work he put into changing the dress norms was worth it.
While he does think that the student body has had a generally positive reaction to the dress norms and cannot think of any more room for improvement, Archie said he would reopen the issue at any point if students ever feel a need for further change.
Gender issues are an inherent part of the regulation of clothes, especially when it comes to school. In the years preceding the dress code adjustments, Packer students had vocalized a concern that girls were the primary intended audience of the old dress code, rather than the entire student body. They felt that an unfair and overwhelming emphasis was placed on girl’s clothing.
Ellie Happy (‘19) is one of the leaders of Feminist Alliance and is in support both of the way the new dress norms are phrased and how they have been instated.
“I think that it was great to provide more gender equality within the dress norms, not specifically referencing undergarments that girls maybe often show more than boys, [but] not necessarily by choice. There are now non-binary terms in the dress code, which is especially important, because gender is a spectrum,” said Ellie.
Delia Barnett (‘20) had been dress coded on multiple occasions last year, and explained that “it felt kind of weird.” She wondered why it was anybody’s place but her own to question the clothing choices she makes and her reasons for making them. When asked whether the attitude surrounding clothing at Packer has changed, Delia mentioned that she now consistently feels less judgement both from her peers and from the faculty for the shirts on her back.
“I still wear most of the same stuff I wore last year, but [the new dress norms] kind of changed the way I feel about it,” said Delia. “Last year my friends would say things about what I wear…and now I feel like people don’t really care as much.”
Packer students, newly presented with more freedom in how to they choose to express themselves, are now tasked with being able to respect and not infringe upon the new dress norms.
“We have to honor the trust that we’ve been given by the administration to uphold Packer’s values as a community, and I think that everyone in the upper school is able and ready to do so,” reminded Ellie.