Philadelphia Public School Dress Codes

By Jordan Carrier

Within the School District of Philadelphia, the dress code has always been a controversial topic. At most schools, a uniform is mandatory. The schools that don’t have a uniform tend to implement different types of dress codes. And some schools rarely enforce a dress code. After interviewing a group of students in the district, I reached the conclusion that many students feel like their dress code should be modified or removed. Let’s look at what they have to say.

Amaliya Yunusova: Senior, Central High School (No uniform)

BH: Does your school strictly enforce the dress code?

AY: We do not have a uniform at Central even though most of the other public schools in the Philadelphia School District have one. While we are given the freedom to wear most things to school, our dress code restricts that freedom to a certain degree and is enforced pretty strictly.

 

BH: What are the punishments for breaking the dress code?

AY: I believe that usually, faculty will give you a warning to put something else on to cover yourself. However, certain teachers are less understanding and will immediately take your student ID and have you serve a detention.

 

BH: Do you view the dress code as fair or unfair towards all genders?

AY: The dress code has been unfair in many ways I’ve observed while attending Central. I have seen girls be reprimanded and punished for having their shoulders out. I view this as an issue because this is teaching women to accommodate men’s inability to control themselves rather than simply fixing the issue at its core by teaching young boys to be more respectful. I believe that this is indirectly promoting rape culture in America by teaching women that they are the problem when in reality, they are far from it. I have also seen teachers dress code students for wearing traditional, cultural scarves; I found that to be extremely unfair.

 

BH: If you could modify the dress code, what would you change?

AY: I would give female students more freedom and get rid of the rules that limit how much skin they are allowed to show. I believe that shoulders and stomachs shouldn't be as sexualized as they are currently. I would also allow students to wear scarves on their heads, as it shows no true threat and the inability to do so seems absurd to me. 

 

BH: Have you ever been dress coded? If so, did you feel as though it was justified or fair?

AY: Thankfully, I have never been dress coded before. I have seen many unfair dress codes, however, for the aforementioned reasons

Patricia Frimpong: Freshman, Girls’ High School (Uniform)

BH: Does your school strictly enforce the dress code?

PF: They did in the beginning of the year due to the hotter weather but during the winter, they didn’t dress code as much.

 

BH: What are the punishments for breaking the dress code?

PF: They send you to the school store, make you change into a Girls’ High (GH) shirt, and give you detention.

 

BH: Do you view the dress code as fair or unfair towards all genders?

PF: Since it’s an all girls school, I can’t really comment on gender. Our uniform policy is a GH shirt with any bottoms. It’s a pretty fair dress code.

 

BH: If you could modify the dress code, what would you change?

PF: If I could modify the dress code, I would change the rule about shorts and skirts. Currently, if we wear shorts, they have to meet mid thigh; however, skirts and dresses have to meet at the knee. The skirts might as well be able to meet mid thigh just like the shorts.

 

BH: Have you ever been dress coded? If so, did you feel as though it was justified or fair?

PF: I have never been dress coded. I do feel as though girls' high’s dress code is fair most or all of the time. I kind of consider myself lucky. Going to an all girls school definitely helps. 

Zachary Wray: Junior, Masterman High School (No uniform)

BH: Does your school strictly enforce the dress code?

ZW: The dress code is only somewhat strictly enforced. It is definitely enforced more in middle school and on girls.

 

BH: What are the punishments for breaking the dress code?

ZW: The punishments are getting told to change clothing. Punishments depend on the teacher and dean’s discretion.

 

BH: Do you view the dress code as fair or unfair towards all genders?

ZW: Unfair. Girls should be able to wear what they want.

 

BH: If you could modify the dress code, what would you change?

ZW: I would make the dress code so that it doesn't unfairly target girls. I would do so by removing a lot of the code’s language regarding spaghetti straps and skirt lengths.

 

BH: Have you ever been dress coded? If so, did you feel as though it was justified or fair?

ZW: I have never been truly dress coded. Sometimes, I’ve worn risqué t-shirts but I’ve only ever been talked to. No teacher has told me to change my shirt.

Carolyn Craighead: Junior, Academy at Palumbo (No uniform)

BH: Does your school strictly enforce the dress code?

CC: It truly depends on which teachers see you.

 

BH: What are the punishments for breaking the dress code?

CC: Teachers will force you to wear one of the t-shirts or shorts that the dean has in her office.

 

BH: Do you view the dress code as fair or unfair towards all genders?

CC: Unfair. The boys basically walk around the school topless or in wife beaters (a sleeveless, thin undershirt). However, if a girl’s shoulders or belly button are out, she will indirectly get slut-shamed all because boys can’t “keep it in their pants.”

 

BH: If you could modify the dress code, what would you change?

CC: If I could make some changes, I would allow girls to show a little skin, such as shoulders and stomaches.

 

BH: Have you ever been dress coded? If so, did you feel as though it was justified or fair?

CC: Yes, I had a long sleeve crop top one day and got dress coded. I was called to the dean’s office and forced to change my top into a dirty, smelly t-shirt hidden in a desk. I don’t think that this action was fair because my top was long sleeved

Michaela Berger: Junior, Science Leadership Academy (No uniform)

BH: Does your school strictly enforce the dress code?

MB: Not particularly. People are allowed to wear tank tops, short shorts, crop tops, etc.

 

BH: What are the punishments for breaking the dress code?

MB: A verbal warning such as “wear the dress code tomorrow.”

 

BH: Do you view the dress code as fair or unfair towards all genders?

MB: I personally have not seen any gender discrimination with the dress code. Everyone at SLA is basically allowed to wear whatever they want.

 

Makayla Cunningham: Sophomore, Frankford High School (No uniform)

BH: Does your school strictly enforce the dress code?

MC: Yes, if we are caught with open toed shoes or half shirts, we are sent home immediately or put in an in school suspension for the day. 

 

BH: Do you view the dress code as fair or unfair towards all genders?

MC: I feel as though it’s fair to everyone, we can wear what we want as long as it isn’t inappropriate.

 

BH: If you could modify the dress code, what would you change?

MC: I would like for Frankford to regain its uniform. I feel like if we had a uniform, everything would be more organized. 

 

BH: Have you ever been dress coded? If so, did you feel as though it was justified or fair?

MC: I have been dress coded, multiple times actually, and I don’t think it was justified. I feel as though we should be able to express ourselves if they allow us to.

 

Ava Holtzman: Junior, Central High School (No uniform)

BH: Does your school strictly enforce the dress code?

AH: Teachers and faculty vary when it comes to the enforcement of our dress code. However, those who do strictly enforce it go to extreme lengths to get students in trouble. These lengths include tracking one’s classes and even going into student restrooms.

 

BH: What are the punishments for breaking the dress code?

AH: The punishment is typically detention for breaking the dress code.

 

BH: Do you view the dress code as fair or unfair towards all genders?

AH: I think that Central’s dress code is reasonable and should be used as a guide to students rather than a tool used by teachers and faculty to police students and their bodies by letter of the law. The dress code is specifically geared towards female students. This gives the adults in the building who are ideally supposed to be keeping us safe an excuse to violate and control a very basic right of expression as to how one dresses. This over-policing of female students also perpetuates the idea that it is the responsibility of the female to dress modestly to not distract from a male student's education, which is essentially more valuable and protected than her own. 

 

BH: If you could modify the dress code, what would you change?

AH: If I were able to modify the school's dress code, I would simply say that rather than mandatory, these rules are suggestions. Students would be able to dress themselves at their own discretion (within reason).

 

BH: Have you ever been dress coded? If so, did you feel as though it was justified or fair?

AH: I have never been dress coded. To be honest, it is not because I have always dressed accordingly to the school rules but because I have not been targeted by strict faculty. Fortunately, I have had pleasant experiences with the open-minded teachers of the IB Program who understand that the enforcement of the dress code is an archaic ritual of sexism in our schools.

 

Zykia Wright: Sophomore, Parkway Center City Middle College (Uniform)

BH: Does your school strictly enforce the dress code?

ZW: Yes and no.

 

BH: What are the punishments for breaking the dress code?

ZW: We have specific Parkway shirts and hoodies that we have to wear and most times if you're not wearing those specific uniforms you get a uniform violation. We are also allowed to wear whatever bottoms we want. We are able to wear ripped jeans as long as we have tights on underneath. From freshman year to sophomore year we are “required” to wear our Parkway gear, but starting junior year it's no longer mandatory. Our dress code is a little hard to wrap your head around sometimes. 

 

BH: Do you view the dress code as fair or unfair towards all genders?

ZW: Unfair. The dress code is very pick and choose for the females. One minute we can get away with tights or shorts or jeans and then the next minute we can't. During the summer, females are basically allowed to wear booty shorts but yet we are not allowed to wear ripped jeans. Sometimes, the boys can get away with ripped jeans but when the girls do it, we are dress coded more because the jeans might be too revealing.

 

BH: If you could modify the dress code, what would you change?

ZW: I personally don't feel like our dress code needs to be modified because 78% of the time the dress code is not even followed. 

 

BH: Have you ever been dress coded? If so, did you feel as though it was justified or fair?

ZW: I believe that I have only been dress coded once and it was because of my ripped jeans. I guess it was justified because I knew that I wasn't allowed to wear them unless I had tights on underneath but at the same time the jeans weren't even that revealing. Ultimately, our dress code is very wishy-washy.

 

Kelly Zammuto: Junior, High School For Creative & Performing Arts (No uniform)

BH: Does your school strictly enforce the dress code?

KZ: Usually, no. Every once in a while some people will get in trouble and receive detention after they break the dress code too many times.

 

BH: Do you view the dress code as fair or unfair towards all genders?

KZ: Unfair! I’ve seen so many male dancers in short shorts without shirts on. It should be a lot more set in stone and equal for everyone.

 

BH: Have you ever been dress coded? If so, did you feel as though it was justified or fair?

KZ: I have been officially once. It was pretty unfair because other girls were wearing very similar clothes and have never even been written up.

 

Ibrahima Diallo: Junior, Furness High School (Uniform)

BH: Does your school strictly enforce the dress code?

ID: Yes. For boys, our uniform is a collared gray shirt (with the school logo printed on it) and black pants. Instead of wearing the gray shirt you can buy and wear a Furness t-shirt. For girls, the uniform is a black skirt and gray school shirt. 

 

BH: What are the punishments for breaking the dress code?

ID: If you break the dress code, they make you pay $1, give you detention, and call your parents.

 

BH: Do you view the dress code as fair or unfair towards all genders?

ID: I think that it’s fair.

 

BH: If you could modify the dress code, what would you change?

ID: I would change the fact that we cannot wear jeans.

 

Kaitlyn Rodriguez: Freshman, High School For Creative & Performing Arts (No uniform)

BH: Does your school strictly enforce the dress code?

KR: My school isn’t strict about the dress code. They don’t enforce it as much; we can wear whatever we want as we don’t even have a uniform. They only enforce the dress code if the clothes you are wearing are a bit too inappropriate.

 

BH: What are the punishments for breaking the dress code?

KR: The punishment would be a warning or detention if something was too short or too inappropriate. 

 

BH: Do you view the dress code as fair or unfair towards all genders?

KR: In my point of view, the dress code has been fair towards all genders in my school. No one is discriminated against for what they wear.

 

BH: If you could modify the dress code, what would you change?

KR: Personally, I would not modify anything. The school I go to (CAPA) lets your creativity shine and you are able to express yourself in the way you want to. This makes us feel more comfortable about who we are.

 

Lucy Duckworth: Junior, Masterman High School (No uniform)

BH: Does your school strictly enforce the dress code?

LD: The dress code impacts younger students far more than it does high schoolers. That’s always seemed odd to me—why enforce “modesty” for just the pre-pubescents, if the point of the dress code is to avoid sexualizing girls? Middle schoolers, especially fifth and sixth graders, bear the brunt of the burden. 

By the time we get to high school, I don’t think many students get dress coded, if anyone. Part of it has to do with whoever’s enforcing the dress code— for whatever reason the person in charge doesn’t do it. I wonder if part of it has to do with the fact that younger students tend to be less confrontational about these things, and that high school girls would find it outrageously creepy and sexist to be told to cover up—and would rightfully protest it.

 

BH: What are the punishments for breaking the dress code?

LD: Honestly, I don’t remember. I was never dress coded, so I’m not sure what the punishments are. But I remember it was always embarrassing for girls who were. 

 

BH: Do you view the dress code as fair or unfair towards all genders?

LD: I think that the dress code is unfair. What’s unfair is how in its attempt to de-sexualize the classroom, it solely gives that responsibility to the girls. That whole attitude is ridiculous; if boys are the ones being distracted, why not tell them to control themselves? 

When girls get dress coded at Masterman, it’s never “desexualing” anybody. The girls who are dress coded are 10, 11, or 12 years old. They’re wearing shorts because it’s hot. They’re wearing tank tops because there’s no air conditioning in the school. It’s disgusting to me that an adult would make a child ashamed of herself when she wasn’t distracting anybody.

It’s tied into rape culture. It’s easier for people to blame the girl. It’s why we tell girls to be responsible when they go to college. Nobody tells their son not to rape anybody because it’s a harder conversation to have. Avoiding it, however, contributes to the problem.

 

BH: If you could modify the dress code, what would you change?

LD: If I could change the dress code, I’d take out the parts that focus on covering up girls’ bodies: short/skirt length, v-necks, spaghetti straps, etc. Nobody wants to show up looking indecent. Do school administrators think we all are dying to show up in bathing suits? Of course we aren’t. We’re self aware. We can dress ourselves.

 

BH: Have you ever been dress coded? If so, did you feel as though it was justified or fair?

LD: I have never been dress coded.