Illinois High School Introduces Inclusive Dress Code

In a year full of attacks on women, girls, and marginalized communities, one high school is taking steps to protect students’ right to learn – regardless of what they are wearing.

Evanston Township High School (ETHS) started the 2017-2018 year in typical back to-school fashion by unveiling a summer makeover. The public school, just north of Chicago, debuted a brand new dress code, paying specific attention to gendered and cultural stereotypes embedded in the former code and adding language that is inclusive of students’ nuanced, unique identities.

Using a template created by Oregon NOW (available for free download here) ETHS is creating a space where students’ education is paramount to sexist, racist and other oppressive clothing norms. The two-page section of the student handbook dedicated to the dress code ensures that:

School ​staff​ ​shall​ ​enforce​ ​the​ ​dress​ ​code​ ​consistently​ ​and​ ​in​ ​a​ ​manner that​ ​does​ ​not​ ​reinforce​ ​or​ ​increase​ ​marginalization​ ​or​ ​oppression​ ​of​ ​any​ ​group​ ​based​ ​on​ ​race,​ ​sex,​ ​gender​ ​identity,​ ​gender​ ​expression,​ ​sexual orientation,​ ​ethnicity,​ ​religion,​ ​cultural​ ​observance,​ ​household​ ​income​ ​or​ ​body​ ​type/size.

By acknowledging that dress codes are often harmful, in particular to women and gender nonconforming people of color, ETHS is redefining a rule system which has formerly relied on policing and shaming into one which explicitly avoids the oppressive ways dress codes can make students feel unwelcome at school and bar them from accessing the education they deserve. This has particular implications for young women who are often labeled as distractions and held to the sexist double standards dress codes cultivate.

The six point list of values clearly stated in the new policy uphold a commitment to students’ learning by prioritizing physical and emotional comfort. Rather than allowing administrators to simply “forbid students from wearing certain items,” as the Chicago Public Schools policy states, ETHS explicitly identifies what students may wear paying particular attention to controversial items.

For example, leggings, an item which were previously banned, are now included on the list of items student may wear. In an era when leggings have become as controversial as nipples, the garment is too often used as an excuse to police women’s bodies, and ETHS is right to buck that trend. Earlier this month, a principal in South Carolina made headlines for body shaming students who are not “a size two or smaller” for wearing leggings because they looked fat. This summer, while boarding their flight, two teen girls were called out by a United Airlines attendant who told them that their leggings were in conflict with the airline dress code. In spite of public outcry, United maintained their dress code policy.

Which is why the move by ETHS is a bold and necessary step towards creating a space for students to learn free from racist and sexist rules. The school understands that it’s the systems and policies that need to change, not the students. We can only hope that other schools will follow suit.

Header image credit

Join the Conversation