Here we go again. A public school’s dress code rules are making national news again. This time it’s a middle school in New Jersey that’s in the headlines for forbidding eighth grade girls from wearing strapless dresses to their end-of-the-year dance.
The principal at Readington Middle School in Readington Township, N.J., reportedly decided that girls’ bare shoulders are “distracting to boys.” Sharon Moffat sent a letter home with students last month stating that only “dresses with straps” were allowed, according to Reuters.
Some students and parents were outraged by the ban. Charlotte Nijenhuis, a parent at the school, told Reuters that “the dress code shreds the 14th Amendment right to equal protection since girls for the past six years have been wearing sleeveless fashions to the dance.”
Nijenhuis’s daughter Claudine, 14, who plans to go strapless despite the new rule, wrote in a letter to the principal, “Basically by saying ‘it distracts the boys’ you’re also saying that it is our fault on how they control their own behavior.”
I agree with Claudine that it’s unfair to single out the girls. The boys ought to be reminded to control their hormones and keep their hands to themselves. And I think that school administrators should probably be more concerned with dress hemlines rather than the absence of dress straps.
But I do worry about how teen clothing has become increasingly skimpy over the years and how the latest teen fashions sexualize young girls. Some 25 years ago when I was in middle school I remember wearing a long blue rayon skirt and a white top to my eighth grade dance. My mom curled my hair and let me wear lipstick. For my eighth grade graduation I wanted “more than anything” a flowery Laura Ashley dress with big puffy sleeves. I ended up with a less expensive knock-off pulled from a rack at Marshall’s. I can only imagine what middle school girls are wearing these days as they walk across the graduation stage.
I don’t think I would have ever dared to wear a dress that showed my shoulders in middle school. That desire didn’t come until high school when I remember buying a white strapless glittery gown at the Gunne Sax outlet in San Francisco. Today’s girls are growing up much faster—applying makeup, painting their nails, waxing their bikini lines, getting boob jobs…at younger and younger ages. I wish we could slow things down because youth is precious and fleeting and girls should embrace it for along as possible, but I’m not sure a school dress code is what’s going to make that happen. We really need Hollywood celebs, clothing companies and the film and movie industry to help us turn back the clock and bring back those puffy sleeves.
Schools across the country have made news headlines for introducing dress codes. Here’s a look at some of those stories.