The Arbitrary Institution of Dress Codes and False Appearances

Dress codes and tattoos at work
School Dress Codes

In middle school and high school, I witnessed the enforcement of blatantly sexist dress codes that targeted girls for exposure of their skin. Girls were not allowed to wear spaghetti strap tops or tank tops despite the high temperatures in the summer. As if the exposure of a young woman’s shoulder is that tantalizing. It was obvious that curvy girls were targeted more than others, basically for having more skin. Because skin is so damn sexy, it’s sinful. And of course, guys were rarely confronted about their dress code violations. They were also not supposed to wear tank tops and yet they always did, and I don’t blame them. Nobody, not guys nor girls, should have to cover up their skin because of an outdated belief that the human body is inherently sinful.

I recall wearing a white tank top to my middle school once. I was immediately confronted by a teacher who told me my tank top was inappropriate. I was thirteen years old, sweating from the summer heat, and completely ignorant of what sex was, and yet my shoulders were so inappropriate they might as well be another sexual organ. I might as well even name this article, “The Mysterious Allure of Women’s Shoulders” because that’s basically what dress codes are about. That and our seductive legs.

School dress codes are so obviously sexist that it’s hard to fathom the reasoning behind their continued existence. In this article from The Guardian, it is pointed out that part of the reason schools enforce dress codes is because of the “adult males who need protection from themselves.” Seriously, when’s the last time you heard a male student complain about being distracted by a female counterpart’s clothing choices? It’s not the boys making the rules. It’s the administrators. A young woman should not be shamed and discriminated against just because her adult teachers can’t contain themselves from staring at her glorious shoulders. Wait, do educators have a thing for shoulders or something?

In the Workplace

The useless dress codes don’t stop at schools. Women as well as men are subjected to arbitrary dress codes in the workplace. The traditional suit and tie has been a standard for men on the job whereas woman have had several different types of formal wear, both being subject to dress codes even in casual settings. But what’s the point? What makes certain clothing items more “professional” than others? Please take a minute to ponder the meaning of life and why humans chose to place such high value on skirts and heels and not on jeans and sneakers. Why is there such high value on discomfort? Congratulations, the effort you put into making it through the day in uncomfortable clothing really proves your work ethic. Oh, and make sure to put on some makeup, too, because your natural face doesn’t meet our workplace standards of feminine beauty. And if your hair isn’t naturally long and straight, make sure to use as many hair products as possible because we can’t have customers witnessing your humanity.

This use of workplace uniform gets rid of each employee’s individualism and creates a “team-oriented” workforce of selfless clones. But, if I remember my studies correctly, a team is a group of diverse talents and skills that work together to create something. So requiring each employee to be as identical as possible really contributes nothing to the creation of a team. People are people and they are going to look and act different no matter how much you try to suppress their individuality.  Women are women and they are going to have womanly bodies no matter how much you try to cover them up.

Tattoos, Piercings, and Unnatural Colored Hair

There is also the big issue of discrimination against people with body modifications such as piercings, tattoos, and dyed hair, which have remained taboo forms of self-expression in almost strictly business policy. According to this Pew Research Center survey, 36% of men and women. ages 18-25, are tattooed while about half have one ore more of the three body modifications. That’s half of an entire generation of young adults who may face challenges when it comes to finding work. And what exactly is so wrong with having a sleeved arm or a lip piercing or green hair? At this point, piercings, tattoos, and colored hair are completely normal things to see on people in daily life. There’s no logic as to why a person would get offended by any of these. Companies that still maintain these prohibitions are only feeding into the irrationality of the bigots who influence them. Having a tattoo doesn’t and can’t make someone a bad person. Tattoos are just drawings on someone’s skin. Unless someone gets their brain tattooed, I don’t think a damn work of art is going to have any affect on someone’s mentality.

Basically, if you really just stop to think about society and the fact that it’s an unnatural, human creation, you’ll start to realize that dress codes have no actual worth in the grand scheme of things.

Image by Zdenko Zlvkovic.

Shauni Cardenas
Socially anxious college student learning how to adult. Enjoys fiction writing, drawing, and binge-watching Doctor Who and The Walking Dead. Obsessed with dark chocolate, koalas, and anything that sparkles.