Dress Codes Are Not Sexist
So the latest outrage of the day seems to have arrived, this time in the form of a crop top. Apparently some female student at some high school suffered the traumatic experience of being told by her school to go home and change her clothing because her top was deemed too revealing. Our aspiring Germaine Greer would have none of this, of course, and deeming this order to be one that “sexualized” her choice of dress she took her story public. The results were almost clichéd by how typical they have become these days to the most minor, insignificant case of perceived offensiveness. There was the inevitable twitter hashtag campaign, the “Crop Top Days” of solidarity, and the usual talking heads on the networks decrying this latest example of patriarchal, misogynistic sexism.
Now, before I go any further, I would like to make an effort towards fairness. Some of the issues raised in this “controversy” are actually valid, particularly the complaint that quite often these days dress codes are enforced more heavily upon female students than their male colleagues. From what I have observed, the collection of admirable cretins commonly known as “youth” these days all dress in an appalling fashion (a trend that has sadly begun to be picked up by their elder peers), but men are by far the worst culprits in this regard. In my high school days the prevailing fashion amongst my male classmates was an oversized t-shirt, baggy jeans falling halfway down the ass over boxer shorts hiked up to the waist, and a baseball cap wore at some absurd angle. The girls at my school at least made an effort to keep up appearances, and that trend seems to hold today. Yet inevitably when cases like this arises it seems to involve a female student being told her dress is inappropriate. However, the solution to double standards is not to throw them to the winds, as much of the talk surrounding this latest “scandal” seems revolve around, but rather to enforce them equally.
And there is good reason for this. Contrary to the fashionable flavour of public opinion amongst today’s would be philosophes, the purpose of school (especially at the pre-post-secondary level) is not to explore one’s creativity or learn to love oneself for the unique little snowflake you are, but instead to learn! School is about having knowledge, skills and information passed on to young people that will allow them to become self-sufficient, functioning members of society in adulthood, and that extends beyond pure academic matters. One such lesson is that, out in the real world, appearance and standards of dress matter.
In most job environments there will be dress codes, even if they are only informal ones. Standards will exist, and they must be met. Show up to a job interview in a revealing top and short-shorts and chances are you won’t get the job (and protestations that this “sexualizes” your clothing choice will amount to naught). Most professional careers demand that employees maintain a professional standard of clothing, and it has nothing to do with whether what one is wearing affects one’s ability to do the necessary work but instead that it is just what is done. This is not an expectation one only finds among the 1%er types in this world either. In high school I worked at MacDonald’s for a time, did a stint caddying at a gold course, and then went on to stock shelves at a grocery store and in each of those roles there was either a standard uniform to be worn or an expected degree of well-groomed presentation that needed to be maintained. Even clowns have a dress code, admittedly one that requires red noses and extra-large shoes.
You can decry this as unfair all you want, but it is the reality of the world we live in, and it stems from the fact that we all naturally judge others based on appearances. We expect lawyers to wear suits, the bloke behind the counter pouring our coffee to wear a Starbuck’s apron, the doctor treating our injuries to wear a skirt that falls somewhere below her mid-hip level.
And sadly, standards such as these are in decline in society today. Look at old pictures of the Great Depression, and you’ll see long lines of unemployed, probably homeless, men lined up outside of soup kitchens dressed in well pressed suits and ties. These were the epitome of the proletariat, working class of the times, yet they still made an effort to present the best of themselves to broader society because that was what was done at the time. Even if they weren’t of the upper-class they aspired to present themselves as the upper-class would. I have few memories of my grandfather, a World War Two veteran who died when I was in my early teens, but I do remember he was never without a well starched, collared shirt and a pressed pair of trousers. Today we have tech billionaires who prance about in t-shirts and jeans and rap-artists decked out in ten thousand dollar track suits put forward as the idols of fashion, and we are the poorer for it.
I can certainly understand why our dear progressive of modern days do not like such thinking. If the central principle of your existence is that everyone is equal, having visible reminders in the form of dress that we are not so is certainly something you would find irksome. However, it is an undisputed fact of life that we do judge one another in such a fashion. In every society known to man there has been an expected level of dress that we all maintain based upon one’s station in life. Teaching this fact to young people is an entirely justifiable pursuit of our education system. What we need is not more creativity but instead more uniformity. So for God’s sake ditch the crop top and put on a sweater. That’s not “sexualizing” your outfit choice, just a reality of the world we live in.