Authenticity of the Dress Code: Questioning the Crop Top Ban

On July 20, Mr. James Stanley, Dean of Students, sent an all-school email informing members of the community that the faculty had decided to alter the dress code for the 2016-2017 school year. The new dress code asks little more than for students to dress in a manner they deem appropriate and respectable.

Choosing what we wear and when to wear it is a means of self-expression and self-exploration that can reflect our culture, our personality, our mood, and our comfortability. This new and wide latitude of diversity and flexibility is well aligned with the School’s increased focused on fostering an inclusive, supportive community.

We applaud the removal of standards biased by a gender binary and Western hegemony. We applaud the increased emphasis on conversation — in place of the previous bald criticism, — when a faculty member disagrees with a student’s choice of dress.

However, despite this progress, the administration appears hesitant to fully accept its new dress code standard. For instance, crop tops were recently prohibited—judged inappropriate and disrespectful, by the new code’s logic. We disagree with this decision.

The argument stands that crop tops are not suitable for the workplace, and, rightfully, in many cases, this is true. Crop tops are generally considered informal wear — but so are T-shirts, sweatpants, and jeans. And even so, there are workplaces where certain kinds of informal wear are not just permitted but expected: Silicon Valley, for example.

We agree that some crop tops are not acceptable for an academic setting, and even conservative crop tops are not appropriate at all times. However, we hold that — like t-shirts, sweatpants, jeans, and truly any clothing item — they should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

When a clothing item like crop tops is banned outright, the rule is clearly no longer meant to address the clothes, but instead the body part they cover or, more to the point, reveal. The crop top ban reads, in translation, “no exposed midriffs.” The administration has failed to provide sufficient justification: what about a person’s midriff is inherently unbecoming for an academic setting? What makes it less appropriate than, for example, one’s shoulders, knees, or back?

Perhaps, as some students fear, this ban is the first step of many in increasingly restricting students’ dress, particularly for those female or female-presenting students, in the name of enforcing modesty.

This ban does not promote a “focused learning environment,” or a “safe, inclusive community,” and especially not “constructive and positive conversation” — all phrases from the new dress code. Instead, it sexualizes yet another part of the body.

We recognize the increased student responsibility not to abuse the now blurred lines between what is acceptable attire and what is not. However, we ask for the administration’s trust in students to be aware and sensitive of the nuances of the dress code, and to follow it properly.

Banning specific items of clothing is a slippery slope. Let’s remain atop the mountain.

This opinion represents the views of the 110th editorial board of The Choate News.

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