The Packer Dress Code: a Reflection of Our Evolving PC Culture
Above: Packer gym uniform in 1911 (credit: Packer archives)
As we go into the last stretch of long school days and late nights of homework, the topic of summer vacation and the finally-warm weather echoes through Packer’s hallways. After officially hanging up our winter coats, we have the rest of our school year to showcase the summer clothes which have been gathering dust for half a year at the bottom of our drawers. At Packer, this means the privilege of bringing out our shorts, tee-shirts, tank tops, skirts, and dresses, clothing choices which couldn’t be made at many other schools around the country.
In recent years, Packer’s dress code has undergone drastic changes to better fit our modernized world and constantly changing PC culture. Between 2016 and 2018, Packer took strides to debunk the once controversial language in our dress code. This meant excluding words hinting at the sexualization of girls’ bodies, such as forbidding clothes that are “too tight” or “too revealing.” Students argued that it should not be the teachers and faculty who are deciding how “sexy” female students’ clothing makes them appear.
As stated in this year’s Upper School Student Handbook, our dress code now reads, “We trust our community members to make responsible choices about their school attire. Students and faculty should wear clothes that allow them to participate fully in school activities. We do not tolerate clothing that is in violation of our community values or is not consistent with our mission of fostering an empathetic and safe environment.” It focuses more on prohibiting clothing with references to “hateful rhetoric” such as racism, homophobia, sexism, violence, alcohol, and other drugs, as opposed to policing how students’ bodies are allowed to look in certain types of clothing.
Many other Brooklyn private schools have also adapted their dress codes to fit in with the increasingly prevalent wave of feminist empowerment in a #metoo and PC era. Between 2015 and 2017, the Poly Prep dress code did a complete 180, and went from having a strict requirement of a polo shirt and conservative bottoms to a dress code similar to ours now.
Here at Packer, students’ education and experience is valued over the length of their shorts, yet there are still many schools in New York City and beyond that continue to enforce antiquated, sexist beliefs through their dress codes. Shouldn’t girls be allowed to wear clothes that enable them to comfortably swing on the monkey bars at recess and play soccer with their male counterparts, regardless of how much skin they expose?
A controversy surrounding the choices that women make about their clothing has made national news headlines in recent weeks. The “leggings controversy” began when Maryann White, a mother of four sons, wrote a letter to the University of Notre Dame school newspaper begging females to “think of the mothers of sons” before purchasing a pair of leggings, which she described as the “unforgiving garment” showing off their “blackly naked rear ends.” The letter placed responsibility on women to change how they dress rather than chastising men for looking at them inappropriately. By making it seem like men were burdened by the temptation of glancing at a woman in tight clothing, White exhibited the opinion that holds gender norms sacrosanct when it comes to dress codes and the sexualization of clothing choices.
As a student of Packer, it is hard to imagine a simple clothing choice like comfortable leggings being forbidden, but then again, we are surrounded on the daily by more liberal, contemporary beliefs, which our school is pushed to keep up with.
At Packer, we get to wake up every morning and choose our outfit based upon what is most comfortable, and most importantly, what makes us feel confident. Schools that require uniforms, such as Spence, Chapin, and Hewitt, all of which are all-girls, miss out on experiencing the opportunity for self-expression through clothing choice, a privilege which we often dismiss as part of a simple daily routine.
Packer has taken giant strides towards dismantling unfair dress codes and the sexualization of girls’ bodies in relation to their clothing. We have accomplished this through open and honest dialogue among students, faculty, and parents about the issues at hand—sexualization, stereotypes, discrimination, and harassment. The conversations surrounding this topic are crucial for an inclusive environment, and should both continue and serve as an example to other areas of Packer issues, as well as to other schools. In reconsidering its dress code, a school is able to grow as a community and continue working toward erasing the unfair inhibition of expression through clothing.