Sexist dress codes erode school pledges of equity, excellence


Publish Date:
August 15, 2022
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Stanford Law School professor Richard Thompson Ford is an expert on civil rights and anti-discrimination law and author of the book “Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History.”

He advises schools to toss dress codes, particularly when up to 90% of enforcement falls on girls. “You are targeting girls with the outdated idea that they’re responsible for distracting boys,” said Ford. “Frankly, my advice is drop these dress codes unless students are wearing something for which you’re concerned about their safety walking home or that violate tenets of public decency. Dress codes are just not worth the fight.”

While school administrators believe they can define sexy or erotic clothing, the history of dress demonstrates that what’s viewed as erotic changes from generation to generation and culture to culture, said Ford. “A generation ago saw a bare midriff as sexy; today’s students just don’t see it that way,” he said. “It’s not distracting to them, it’s just fashion.”

Those who shrug off dress codes as a minor infringement fail to realize the cost to girls who may have to buy new clothes and who lose instructional time when they are sent home, said Ford. And daily judgments of their bodies by adults in schools add to the insecurities that are already part of growing up.

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