Decoding the Dress Code

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Decoding the Dress Code

Anika Bucek, Staff writer

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Gender expression has always been a fickle thing. Between clothing and personality, a lot has changed over the ages. As we look back in history, the lines between male and female expression get more solid the further back you look. From days of monarchy in England to the late 1900’s in America, gender roles in clothing and the physical expression of oneself have been strong. Although, nowadays the aforementioned “line” is, in most cases, virtually nonexistent due to the evolution in culture that has taken place.

When the topic of old dress codes comes up, many think of the rules applied to girls. Most people are aware of the regulations that forced female students to wear dresses and skirts, but, in actuality, the regulations were even much more extensive than that. It was not simply that it had to be a dress or skirt, but that it needed to be long enough. During the mid 1900s, skirt and dress lengths acceptable today were often considered scandalous. While it is true that in many schools, pants were not permitted, there are multiple examples of pants being acceptable as long as blouses were worn as well. However, this was not the case for every school. Clothing was not the only restraint brought to schools. In fact, some dress codes stated that hair must be worn down at all times and that makeup was to be unnoticeable.

Girls weren’t the only ones who had harsh regulations placed on their appearance throughout the ages. In fact, a Smithsonian article offers two images of strict dress codes exclusively for boys. What many would consider formal or even “nerdy” fashion in today’s age was mandatory during the 60s. Attire that is causal and widely considered “normal” today was unacceptable and “offends masculine appearance and good grooming”. Schools were also very harsh on the other extreme- trend breaking. Another dress code from the time cites that “vain, effeminate use of extreme fashion” are just as distasteful.

Obviously, mandatory school attire has gotten less and less restrictive over the years. This does not only mean that it has gotten less formal, but also less gender-specific. Boys pierce both their ears, girls shave their heads, people completely ignore the “gender barrier”. Some people even choose not to look like, or even identify as one gender or another, but to simply exist. Back in the day, this would have never been allowed inside the confines of a school, but nowadays people have become much more tolerant and accepting. Local senior Kai Whitehead openly expressed her opinions on the subject to me: “I think it’s a fabulous thing,” said Kai “Because I grew up wanting to play with action figures and stuff, but they were always geared towards boys. So I grew up thinking that there is a certain way you need to do things as a girl, and a certain way you need to do things as a boy. Now, living in a more accepting society, I see it’s all a shade of gray, and that’s a beautiful thing.” Kai then went on to get into the topic of dress. “Say a middle school boy wanted to have long hair or wear a dress. He could get ridiculed and that could detrimentally affect him, and those aren’t the ideals that we should be aiming to instill on the young population because singling out or targeting people who are different is not what this day and age is meant to be. People should be whoever they want.”

However, not everyone shares the open-minded opinions of Kai. They’re all over the internet, people who believe strongly in gender roles. On male makeup artists’ pages, or even pictures of male makeup artists on cosmetic brand pages, the comments are filled with things such as “Leave the makeup to women.” “This is disgusting.” and “No, it’s not the same. Please don’t post men, it’s horrible.” Arguments on the subject rage for hours online, all because of gender roles.

Throughout the ages, physical expectations placed on men, women, and humans in general have changed and flowed with the views of society. As people become more tolerant, so do our dress codes and appearance standards. Will society continue to become less restrictive? Only time will tell.

 

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