The issue with dress codes

Everyone knows what a dress code is, they’re a set of rules in regards to someone’s appearance. We had them every year in primary school and it didn’t stop until college. 

The rules were usually something along the lines of “no spaghetti-strap tank tops, no rips in jeans above the knee, no crop tops” and so on and so forth. But why?

The common answer is because the school thinks it’s “inappropriate,” but the real reason is that school boards think they are distracting to male students. What exactly is so inappropriate about exposed shoulders or someone’s stomach? And why can’t parents teach their sons to respect a woman and her body? 

Now, as college students, we don’t have to navigate these same problems nearly to the same extent as we did in high school. But work is a different story.

Dress codes are put in place at work so the employees of a company can represent their employers in the best way and most professional way possible. However, sometimes the dress code in the workplace just doesn’t make sense. 

The summer before she started her freshman year of college at Georgia State, Hermala Hailegabriel got a job at the Hyatt Regency Hotel located in Downtown Atlanta. 

“When I started the job, my hair was natural,” Hailegabriel said. “As soon as I got my hair flat-ironed, my manager noticed and commented, ‘I like your hair like that.’. Ever since then, I never dared to wear my hair natural again. 

Despite Hailegabriels manager giving her a compliment, she was able to decipher the true meaning behind the seemingly kind words.  “I was so insecure about my hair I literally packed a hair straightener to press my hair before my shift started. Even though the words “Wear your hair straight” did not come out of my manager’s mouth, it was implied that he preferred it to be that way. The tone is hard to describe but you could basically hear the relief in his voice.”

Hailegabriel isn’t the only one who has experienced something like this. There have been countless stories in the news about children, particularly black children, who have been sent home with a message to their parents that their hair is “inappropriate” for school and that something needs to be done about it.

Some dress codes are a dated, discriminatory and quite frankly sexist policy. When you really delve into dress codes they only really apply to two groups of people: women and girls more broadly and women of color in particular.

In what way do exposed shoulders or a black girl’s natural hair affect how other people perform at school or in the workforce? That’s right — it doesn’t. Natural hairstyles, that is, anything that isn’t straight, flat-ironed hair, like braids or faux locs, are frowned upon in a workplace.

These things don’t affect how people work, the quality of work they do or the productivity of their peers. But don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for a dress code. Without one, people would probably come into work wearing sweatpants and a hoodie. There are guidelines needed to keep things professional.

However, that doesn’t explain why dress codes are so strict. If your job is to sit behind a computer all day and have one meeting a week, must we be in our Sunday best?