New Dress “Norms” to Potentially Replace Old Dress “Code”
BY JULIA MCCORMICK AND ELLIE STORY
Potentially gone are the days of pulling students aside for bra straps and crop tops. The Upper School dress code is in the process of shifting away from a series of rules to one general dress norms statement, and will no longer restrict undergarments or midriff exposure.
The dress code has been under re-evaluation since Student Council members Lucy Simon (‘17), Paul McLaren (‘17) and Archie Caride (‘19) hosted a dress code summit earlier in the fall. The summit was based mainly on the reformation of clauses number four, “All community members must wear undergarments. Undergarments should not be visible.” and five, “Clothes that expose the upper or lower torso, breasts, midriff, or buttocks are not allowed. Examples include the following: muscle style tank tops; low-cut or sheer tops; and short shorts.”
“The summit was a mixture of students and faculty members, both of which were members of the community that felt strongly about either revising the dress code or keeping it the same,” said Archie. “Based on the extreme emotional response to our prompts about the dress code, we were inspired to continue moving forward with it.”
After the dress code summit, the Student Council sent a survey to all Upper School students and faculty. 80.8% of the responders believe the dress code is inconsistently enforced, and 52.6% of responders said that they are okay with not having a dress code at all (19.8% were not okay with having no dress code). Concern amongst community members also came from a “difficult[y] of consistent, equitable and appropriate enforcement.” Issues of gender, body type, and hyper-sexualization of the female body were all concerns that were brought up in the survey. 79.4% of people think that the dress code targets women and many cited inappropriate encounters with faculty members over dress code violations.
A major potential change is teachers no longer being able to inform students when they violate the dress code. This responsibility may instead shift solely to the deans. Student Council responded to feedback about uncomfortable conversations between students and faculty by creating this rule, which they hope will avoid future negative conversations between students and teachers.
“We know that there are going to be a few very outspoken voices that will be a little frustrated with change, but the one thing that will be very helpful for [teachers] is that teachers are no longer allowed to dress code,” said Lucy Simon. “It’s in a dean’s hand, so that kind of awkward interaction between teachers and students will no longer be a thing.”
Lucy, Paul, and Archie presented a proposal to Head of Upper School Jose De Jesus which outlined student and faculty feedback to the survey as well as data on other New York City private school dress codes. St. Ann’s has no dress code, Poly Prep has a relatively strict and formal dress code, and many other schools have similar dress codes to Packer’s old one. Lucy, Paul, and Archie presented the idea of one blanket statement that will include guidelines about drugs, alcohol, and violence as well as an expectation for all community members to uphold. This potential new statement is still in the works but is the general direction the administration is heading.
“There are less rules that count as violations, so dress coding won’t happen as much unless there is an extreme incident,” said Paul. “The big fix is that there aren’t a lot of rules so there will be less dress coding.”
Over the last few years, dress codes have been nationally criticized for targeting women, sexualizing non-sexual female body parts, and contributing to rape culture. Many dress codes ask women to cover up parts of their body so that their male counterparts are not distracted, tying into a traditional “boys will be boys” attitude that some people say perpetuates victim blaming in rape culture. Others have expressed a desire for professional and modest attire in schools.
“I don’t think that the eradication of the last two clauses [of the dress code] will really affect the way students dress,” said Lily Pine (‘17). “But I think it will just make people feel more comfortable and generally more included in the Packer community and able to express themselves.”
On Feb. 14, a draft of the new dress norms were presented to faculty. The dress code is now being reviewed before it goes into its final draft. Faculty and administration are still talking about potential changes, but the new dress code should be finalize by the end of the school year. Next year, the updated dress norms will be printed in the student and faculty planners. This change does not apply to the middle school or lower schools.
Editor’s note 2/22/17: A previous version of this article that was published in The Prism’s February edition stated that “The Upper School dress code is officially changing from a series of rules to one general dress code statement, and will no longer restrict undergarments or midriff exposure.” However, the dress code is still under evaluation and the finalized version has not yet been decided as of 2/22/17.