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Cannes Film Festival has a dress-code that requires men to wear tuxedos and women to wear gowns and high heel shoes.[1]
Cannes Film Festival has a dress-code that requires men to wear tuxedos and women to wear gowns and high heel shoes.[1]

A dress code is a set of rules, often written, with regards to clothing. Dress codes are created out of social perceptions and norms, and vary based on purpose, circumstances and occasions. Different societies and cultures are likely to have different dress codes, Western dress codes being a prominent example.

Dress codes are symbolic indications of different social ideas, including social class, cultural identity, attitude towards comfort, tradition and political or religious affiliations.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ School Dress Codes: When Do They Go Too Far?
  • ✪ LPU: New Uniform & Dress Code Policy | Must Know |


- All right, what's the one thing that this shirt, this cap, this do-rag, even these pants, what do they all have in common? They're all clothes that schools have banned. Take a look at this scene. Does it seem familiar to you? (fast-paced techno music) - [Principal] Your shirt's inappropriate. Cover your shoulders Take off your cap, and no jeans with rips. - If you're in high school or middle school, dress codes are probably something that you're really familiar with. Most dress codes require students to dress modestly, so they don't distract or interfere with learning. I remember when I was in middle school, we had to wear uniforms, but you weren't allowed to have long hair. And I had braids, so the first day of school, they literally were like, "Yo, cut your hair, or get out." And in recent years, this old school dress code thinking has gotten heat from opponents who say these policies are sexist and racist, because they typically target women and people of color by banning the things they might wear, like short skirts, thin tank tops, or dreadlocks and braids. Like this little boy, who was banned from school, because of his dreads. According to this analysis, from Pudding, the average dress code bans 32 items with numbers reaching as high as 97. It's becoming such a problem, that students are using social media to expose this. And it's been getting a lot of media attention, like this viral video from a Texas school that was meant to teach students the dress code, but missed the mark. ("Bad Girls" By M.I.A.) So the big question is, how should schools decide on dress codes? This is where our friends from Etiwanda High School in Southern California come in. So let's talk to Samantha, Sesha, David, and Zhenwei. These students are part of a national youth journalism program called PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs. They researched, wrote, and helped produce this episode of Above the Noise. - We asked students from other schools around the nation about how they feel about their dress codes. - I think that the dress code is extremely biased and it favors the guys, obviously, because they can get away with more. - When girls getting pulled out of class, or a boy is getting pulled out of class, so that they can go home or fix their clothes, it disrupts their education. - Personally, I'm not in support of dress code, because I don't like the fact that they take away your expressions with how you present yourself. - Some students are so upset by their dress code policies, they're taking matters into their own hands and trying to get their dress code changed. Like the students from Lincoln Middle School, in Alameda, California. They worked with their teacher to demand change to the school's dress code policy back in 2016. I think that they're the perfect issue to get students involved in, because it's something so critical, just almost like homework policy to hear students' voices in. So the more student input on dress codes, I think, the better. - I was wearing just ripped jeans that maybe had two holes in them, both on the knees, nowhere higher than that, and just a plain high-collared shirt like this. I was getting pulled out of class, and I think that's just not necessary. It was disrupting my day at school and made me feel really bad about myself. - Boys and girls were wearing ripped jeans. And girls were way more targeted and stopped by teachers. I was involved in school leadership, and we were listening to students, and when this came up repeatedly, we knew that there was a problem. - I ended up writing a couple of speeches to present to the faculty here, and to the school board. - We really wanted to try to create an atmosphere that was more welcoming, where kids felt like they could be themselves. And so, when we told the district that, they really started to listen. It ended up being myself as a teacher, and four middle school students from Lincoln Middle School, where I teach, who got to sit down with administrators from all over our school district to come together and discuss how are we going to make these necessary changes? Our goal is for students to be in class, and being able to focus on learning. Not so much focused on what they look like, or what other people are thinking they look like, or are they going to get in trouble for what they're wearing? - Okay, so we've heard loud and clear from many students, that they think their school's dress code is just too strict. But believe it or not, some students do think a more strict dress code helps students focus on learning. - Dress code's very important to have at a school, because the students represent the school, the students and staff. And the students should represent the school appropriately, and they shouldn't really take school as a "let me show off my body." - It's kind of important to a certain extent, because there are a lot of people who walk around with pajama pants. And I feel like that's too casual. I think there's a fine line between being casual and being really dressed up, though. - Many schools and administrators see strict dress codes as a way to instill discipline and prepare students for the professional world. Lots of jobs require employees to dress according to a set of professional standards. Like, you don't see many cropped tops and jorts in a typical office. (wolf whistle) And there are lots of jobs that even require uniforms, so the argument goes. By having a dress code in schools, students are more disciplined and better prepared for life in the workforce. - [Zhenwei] We talked to Azande Aikens, assistant principal of discipline at Etiwanda High School. He thinks the dress code minimizes distractions and prepares students for college and career readiness. - I think dress code benefits the student body in general, in a number of different ways. One, it just helps sets guidelines, or just helps students understand some of the things that they should and should not be wearing. It also provides a safe learning environment. When I say that, really, I'm focusing on things that are more offensive. In safety, for example, wearing a ring that's very heavy or that you could injure someone, things like that. I think there will always be some type of dress code in place. Student voice is very powerful. I like hearing from the students, especially on this topic. Making adjustments as things change, and time changes, I think that's something that, definitely, that districts and schools will look at. - So Zhenwei, for you, what do you think are the big takeaways from this? - It seems the conversation about dress code is never going to end. But I think schools should really be listening to the youth and their opinions on dress code, because we're impacted the most by this system. Right, Myles? - Right. It's a tricky situation. How do you balance school rules with student rights? We understand that rules are necessary, but that doesn't mean that they have to be sexist and racist. So now we want to hear from you. Consider your personal experiences with dress codes. What do you think is the best way for a school to decide on a dress code? Let us know in the comments below. Special thanks to Etiwanda High School, and journalists Zhenwei, Sesha, David, and Samantha for providing ideas and helping us on the creation of this video. And thanks to our partners at PBS SoCal. And if you liked this video, check out this one from students from Northview High School. And stay tuned for more episodes like this one, coming up. And for all you teachers out there, your students can join the discussion on KQED Learn. And as always, I'm your host Myles Bess. Remember, stay Above the Noise. Like, subscribe, you know the routine at this point. Till next time. Bye. See you later. Peace out. (laughs)




In seventh through the 9th centuries the European royalty and nobility used a dress code to differentiate themselves from other classes of people. All classes generally wore the same clothing, although distinctions among the social hierarchy began to become more noticeable through ornamented garments. Common pieces of clothing worn by peasants and the working class included plain tunics, cloaks, jackets, pants, and shoes. According to rank, embellishments adorned the collar of the tunic, waist or border. Examples of these decorations included, as James Planché states, “gold and silver chains and crosses, bracelets of gold, silver or ivory, golden and jeweled belts, strings of amber and other beads, rings, brooches, [and] buckles”.[2] The nobility tended to wear longer tunics than the lower social classes.[2]

While dress codes of modern-day Europeans are less strict, there are some exception. It is possible to ban certain types of clothing in the workplace, as exemplified by the European Court of Justice's verdict that "a ban on Islamic headscarves at work can be lawful". [3]

The Americas

The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast had a complex social hierarchy which consisted of slaves, commoners and nobles, with dress codes indicating these social distinctions. John R. Jewitt, an Englishman who wrote a memoir about his years as a captive of the Nuu-chah-nulth people in 1802-1805, describes how, after some time living there, Maquinna and the chiefs decided that he must now be "considered one of them, and conform to their customs". Jewitt resented the imposition of this dress code, finding the loose untailored garments very cold, and attributed to them a subsequent illness of which he almost died. He was not allowed to cut his hair, and had to paint his face and body as a Nootka would.[4]

Muslim World

Islam, founded in the 7th century CE, laid out rules regarding attire of both men and women in public. Gold adornments and silk clothes are prohibited for men to wear, as they are luxurious, but they are permissible for women. Men are also required to wear the ihram clothing while on Hajj, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

It is recommended in Islam for women to wear a hijab at all times when in public, as part of the Islamic standard of modesty.

Indian Subcontinent

Sikhism, which was founded in the Indian subcontinent around the end of the 15th century also requires a dress code. Male Sikhs, who are members of the Khalsa are required to wear a turban at all times.

Laws and social norms

Model of a nude beach in the DDR Museum, Berlin
Model of a nude beach in the DDR Museum, Berlin

Each country has its own set of cultural values and norms. Wherever you go these norms and laws regarding clothing are subject to change depending on the region and culture. For example nudity is something that changes in acceptability depending on where you are. In New Guinea and Vanuatu, there are areas where it is customary for the men to wear nothing but penis sheaths in public. Women wear string skirts. In remote areas of Bali, women may go topless. This is uncommon in more western countries. Although in America and some parts of Europe, there are nude beaches.

In the United States, The Gender Nondiscrimination Act, prohibits employers, health care providers, and housing authorities from discriminating against people on the basis of gender.

Private dress codes

A visual on what Black Tie dress code looks like.
A visual on what Black Tie dress code looks like.

Many place have their own private dress code; these organisations may insist on particular dress codes or standards in particular situations. Such as for weddings, funerals, religious gatherings, etc.


Employees are sometimes required to wear a uniform or certain standards of dress, such as a business suit or tie. This may depend on particular situations, for example if they are expected to interact with customers. (see also International standard business attire)

In western countries these policies vary depending on the industry with lawyers, bankers, and executives often wearing suit and tie. Some businesses observe that anti-discrimination laws restricts their determining what is appropriate and inappropriate workplace clothing. Requiring men and women to dress differently at the workplace can be challenged because the gender-specific dress codes would be based on one sex and could be considered stereotypical.[5] Most businesses have authority in determining and establishing what workplace clothes they can require of their workers. Generally, a carefully drafted dress code applied consistently does not violate anti-discrimination laws.[6] So long as the dress code does not favor one gender over the other it is usually acceptable by law for employers to have a private dress code.[7]

Formal wear

In western counties a "formal" or white tie dress code typically means tailcoats for men and full-length evening dresses for women. "Semi-formal" has a much less precise definition but typically means an evening jacket and tie for men (known as black tie) and a dress for women. "Business casual" typically means not wearing neckties or suits, but wearing instead collared shirts, and trousers (not black, but more relaxed, including things such as corduroy). "Casual" typically just means clothing for the torso, legs and shoes. "Wedding Casual" defines yet another mode of dress, where guests dress respectfully, but not necessarily fancily.

Business casual

Business casual dress is a popular workplace dress code that emerged in white-collar workplaces in Western countries in the 1990s, especially in the United States and Canada. Many information technology businesses in Silicon Valley were early adopters of this dress code. In contrast to formal business wear such as suits and neckties (the international standard business attire), the business casual dress code has no generally accepted definition; its interpretation differs widely among organizations and is often a cause of sartorial confusion among workers.

The job search engine offers this definition, "In general, business casual means dressing professionally, looking relaxed, yet neat and pulled together." A more pragmatic definition is that business casual dress is the mid ground between formal business clothes and street clothes. Generally, neckties are excluded from business casual dress, unless worn in nontraditional ways. The acceptability of blue jeans and denim cloth clothing varies — some businesses consider them to be sloppy and informal.

Education system

Many schools around the world implement dress codes in the school system to prevent students from wearing inappropriate clothing items to school and was thought to help influence a safer and more professional environment.

United States education

In 1996, former U. S. President Bill Clinton announced his support for the idea of school uniforms by stating, “School uniforms are one step that may help break the cycle of violence, truancy and disorder by helping young students understand what really counts is what kind of people they are.” Many school districts in the United States took up the idea.[8]

Even though dress code was created to positively affect schools, a common held belief in the U.S. is that the rules actually impede on students' right to self-expression. There have been many court cases regarding school dress code, the first being the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. The case was held because students wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam war.[9]

Dress code violations

Non-communicative dress code violations in public schools are violations that are without implications of hate, gang-affiliation, etc.[10] Communicative dress code violations are violations of an explicit nature, where the clothing has implications of hate, violence, gang-affiliation, etc.[10] In cases where dress code rules in public school systems have been violated by non-communicative clothing, courts repeatedly legitimise dress code discrimination based on gender.[11] Amongst the transgender populations, gender based dress codes are primarily enforced against individuals who do not yet pass.[11]

Dress code backlash

Certain dress code restrictions in schools across North America are believed to be perpetuating sexist standards,

In March of 2014, a group of middle-school girls from Evanston, Illinois protested their school's dress code, which prohibited them from wearing leggings to school under the pretense that it was “too distracting for boys.” Thirteen-year-old student, Sophie Hasty, was quoted in the Evanston Review saying that “not being able to wear leggings because it’s ‘too distracting for boys’ is giving us the impression we should be guilty for what guys do.” In a Time magazine article covering the incident, Eliana Dockterman argued that teachers and administration in these schools are “walking the fine line between enforcing a dress code and slut shaming.”[12]

On Monday, September 22, 2014, "about 100 pupils walked out of Bingham high school in South Jordan, Utah."[13] Students staged a walkout because more than a dozen girls were turned away from a homecoming dance for wearing dresses which violated the dress code rules.[13] "School staff allegedly lined up girls against a wall as they arrived and banished about two dozen for having dresses which purportedly showed too much skin and violated the rules." It is believed that this act was awkward and humiliating towards the female students, which spawned the walkouts.[13]

Canadian education

Dress code backlash

A Canadian teenager, Lauren Wiggins, was given detention in May 2015 for wearing a floor-length dress with a halter neckline. The punishment prompted Wiggins to write an open letter to the school's assistant vice principal at Harrison Trimble High School in Moncton, New Brunswick. In the letter, Wiggins concentrated specifically on the fact that females are often blamed for the behaviour of males, saying that if a boy "will get distracted by my upper back and shoulders then he needs to be sent home and practice self-control." She was then given a one-day suspension after writing and submitting the letter.[14]

See also


  1. ^ "Is the Cannes Film Festival's dress code sexist?". Retrieved 2019-04-08.
  2. ^ a b Planché, J. R. (1847). History of British Medieval Costume: From the Earliest Period to the Close of the Eighteenth Century. C. Cox. pp. 28, 32–35.
  3. ^ Langdon, Vedder Price PC-Esther; Maude, Jonathan. "Dress Codes and Religious Symbols at Work in the EU | Lexology". Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  4. ^ A Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt, only survivor of the crew of the ship Boston, during a captivity of nearly three years among the savages of Nootka Sound: with an account of the manners, mode of living, and religious opinions of the full text here p161 onwards
  5. ^ "Employee Dress and Appearance". Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved 27 September 2017.(subscription required)
  6. ^ Thomas, Robin. "Dress Code Legal Issues". Personnel Policy Services Inc. Archived from the original on 14 March 2016.
  7. ^ "Illegal Workplace Policies: Appearance, Dress Codes, and Grooming Policies". Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  8. ^ Bowen, Sherry. "Should Kids Wear School Uniforms?". EduGuide. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  9. ^ "School Dress Codes - FindLaw". Findlaw. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  10. ^ a b Herbon, Beth, and Jane E. Workman. "Dress and Appearance Codes in Public Secondary School Handbooks." Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences 92.5 (2000): 68-76.
  11. ^ a b Smith, Natalie. "Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in Public School Dress Codes: The Necessity of Respecting Personal Preference." Journal of Law & Education; 41.1 (2012): 251-60.
  12. ^ Dockterman, Eliana. "When Enforcing School Dress Codes Turns Into Slut Shaming". Retrieved 2015-11-16.
  13. ^ a b c Carroll, Rory. "Students protest 'slut shaming' high school dress codes with mass walkouts". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  14. ^ "High Schooler Lauren Wiggins' Letter Nails Exactly What's Wrong With School Dress Codes". The Huffington Post. 14 May 2015.

External links

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