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Dress Codes Are Bad Enough in Schools, We Don't Need Them Everywhere Else Too

About a month ago, I discussed how insulting it was for athletics commissions to force female athletes into more revealing outfits than they felt comfortable wearing.

Yet while that seems to be a problem in their fields, women in more mundane settings are likely to see that same level of arbitrary control and inconsistency when compared to men's standards driven towards the opposite direction.

That's a big part of why so many students are now protesting their school's dress codes as they put a similar disproportionate focus on women's bodies. The main difference is that the goal behind these codes is to turn any skin they may feel comfortable showing into a taboo that "distracts" their classmates.

And unfortunately, it's not as if the young women subject to such codes will necessarily see the end of them once they graduate and grow up. But that's not something we have to just put up with.

I would first like to make clear that I do understand why some standards for clothing exist in most contexts.

After all, it's not as if any of us are allowed to be nude while we're walking the streets. And if I'm wearing a shirt that shows a graphic snapshot from a surgery or a hateful slogan, I should hardly be surprised if I quickly get kicked out of wherever I'm trying to wear it.

Furthermore, it can be downright unsafe to not dress according to certain standards if you're doing a dangerous job that requires protective clothing.

But that doesn't mean that our culture should condone the broad ways that standards against "inappropriate" or "offensive" clothing can be and often are interpreted.

Pexels | cottonbro

Because while it's true that business owners and other institutions are usually within their rights to require whatever clothing standards they want, it's worth recognizing that in doing so, they're dictating their own personal ideas of what's "appropriate" to us.

And if school dress codes haven't provided enough examples of how easily this can be abused, consider the petty ways that some parents judge what others are wearing when they're just trying to pick their kids up from school.

Or consider the multiple cases where random individuals thought they had any say over what kind of swimsuits other people wear to public beaches.

Now imagine if those people had actual power.

Because it's quite possible for them to make the lives of people trying to access basic services harder just because they don't like their outfit.

That was the case with the woman in this video, who was made to wait all the way behind the building where she was getting her car inspected due to her short crop top.

And as she would soon learn, this happened despite the fact that the garage she visited didn't actually have a dress code in place. Some employee just decided they did and that it happened to line up with their personal tastes and modesty standards.

So if someone wants to impose their own personal dress codes, there's not much we can do about it until their manager happens to be in earshot.

And that kind of distortion and shaming can get even worse when there is actually a dress code in place.

For instance, a flight attendant publicly shamed this young woman and threatened to remove her from her flight simply for wearing the outfit you see here.

This aggression persisted even after she agreed to zip up her hoodie, leaving her in tears after she sat down.

And as we can learn from a similar story, airlines tend to have vague guidelines to "dress appropriately" and avoid "offensive clothing."

But while they might seem self-explanatory at first glance, they give a lot of room for personal interpretation as to what constitutes offensive clothing and we've already seen that such interpretations aren't always sensible.

And sure, you could certainly argue that these cases came from the excessive actions of certain uptight individuals.

But it's also true that the more uncritically we adopt the double standards and arbitrary limits we often see written into dress codes, the more empowered those uptight individuals become.

And since everyone we meet is going to feel differently about what we're wearing at any given time, we then become more likely to run afoul of those standards and see real consequences for what should be an inconsequential decision to wear clothes.

Is that how we want to live?

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