Corner Column

Posted 7/28/22

The old saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same, is true for high school dress codes.

They are making news again, with one district to our west going overboard with …

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Corner Column


The old saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same, is true for high school dress codes.

They are making news again, with one district to our west going overboard with controversial restrictions (no dresses, skirts or skorts after 4th grade).

Mineola High School Principal Mike Sorenson went the other direction last year, loosening up a few things, with the logic that some battles are best fought without drawing a line in the sand, knowing that giving a little in one place can result in better outcomes in other places.

He even drew praise from senior Jack Heard in his salutatorian speech at graduation.

Last Monday Sorenson noted a slight change in the way shorts will be measured, changing from a minimum inseam measurement to the easier-to-enforce fingertip length.

It’s not a new battle.

One of my classmates, a tall beauty who was a classy dresser, had the embarrassment one day in sophomore English of having to stand before the class with arms at her sides to see if the length of her dress met the code. It did not, though not by much. Off to the office she went, suffering the disadvantage of long arms and long legs after her attire apparently had passed muster in three prior classes that day.

Her dress had not been altered to violate the code, it’s just that when it came off the rack, her arms dangled a bit past its hem. It was not a disruption to the learning environment – this was an honors English class.

Sometime later, perhaps the following year – the details are hazy – I think maybe there was a legal challenge involved and the dress code basically went out the window. One savvy classmate was prepared and by the end of the day was walking the halls in her previously-disallowed pantsuit. (We have gone from banning girls pants to banning dresses, oh my.)

By the end of the following year, several of my friends and I had grown hair well past the former restriction of collar-length. Facial hair appeared, along with hot pants.

That was 50 years ago.

Along around the late 1980s a small controversy surfaced at the local junior high when a young lady who could not have been more than 13 or 14 was sent home. Again, she was someone considered an otherwise good student.

Her violation actually concerned a pair of overalls. Not exactly the style of dress to lead to discipline problems, although I suppose anything is possible.

It seems the assistant principal had judged hers to be too tight. A friend and part-time stringer at the newspaper lambasted him for not having anything better to do. Maybe she had not had the chance to adjust her wardrobe after a growth spurt. It happens around that age – outgrowing clothes faster than they wear out.

Move the calendar ahead to the mid-1990s, and I was appointed to a committee studying the high school dress code for a large district in south Dallas County. 

I’ll never forget the way one teacher described how the young ladies tried to push the limits. Something about these cuties who want to wear their Daisy Dukes to school and how we might author rules to prevent that. Again came discussion for the best way to measure length without creating an uncomfortable enforcement issue. There’s just not a perfect answer.

People come in all shapes and sizes, and that can impact what looks stylish and professional versus something less so.

Some districts have gone to a narrowly-defined code, not quite uniforms, but a standardized style of dress with some variation, with the dual goals of preventing modes of dress that push the norms while addressing the issue of economic disparity. Not a bad idea.

Nowadays, even more formal events like weddings and funerals can sometimes draw casual wear that would have been unthinkable not too many years ago.

Perhaps some folks think that first impressions (or second or third) don’t matter much anymore. Count me among those who still think it matters.