RBHS dress code embraces individual freedom


Layla Kheiralla

When freshman Morgan Merritt gets ready for school, she worries about her homework and whether or not her hair and makeup looks good. She doesn’t really think twice about what she wears.
“I don’t think about the dress code,” Merritt said. “I just read magazines and dress based on what I see, even though I know it’s cliche. I don’t really care about the dress code because I know I dress accordingly to the system. My mom also tells me what to wear sometimes, so I care about her opinion.”
There isn’t much of a dress code, according to Assistant principal Lisa Nieuwenhuizen.
“It was a lot stricter 10, 15 years ago across the board in Columbia Public Schools, in both high schools, Hickman and Rock Bridge,” Nieuwenhuizen said. “I don’t feel we have much of a dress code. There’s an established policy in the student handbook that you can refer to the exact wording. It says something along the lines of ‘Should not be a distraction to learning environment,’ something like that, so it’s not like junior high where it says no hats or no whatever else they say. Our rule here is bare flesh. So the bare mid-riff, you know, the girls who wear, like, the little bra shirts and have 12 inches of skin hanging out or the really shorty-shorts where the bottoms are showing out of the shorts. And boys, when they have their pants sagging and their behinds are sticking out of their pants. All of those things. I know that there have been dress code violations in terms of people wearing shirts or hats that advertise things that are illegal for high school age students to own or consume or use, like marijuana or beer or whatever and so those are really the only dress codes that I’m aware of.”
Still, despite the leniency that doesn’t mean students have no limit as to what they can wear.
“I don’t think there’s a what not [to wear examples in the school handbook],” Assistant principal Deborah Greene said. “We will address excessive cleavage, extremely short shorts. I know the new style, back from the ‘80s is a belly shirt. You should be tasteful. I don’t wanna see six inches. None of us do, so there isn’t a restriction ‘You cannot wear.’ But we will address, if [what you wear is] just too much.”
It’s not just girls who are expected to dress accordingly to the system. It’s also boys.
“[Clothes that are always a no are] beer logos, pot leafs, pictures of naked people,” Nieuwenhuizen said. For instance, “we had somebody wearing a shirt with this girl with almost nothing on. It was so bad because she was really naked, and it’s like, ‘What?’ So, yeah, those kinds of things are never gonna be OK.”
Teacher Michelle Gerchen, who teaches civics and sociology, also agrees. “For men I don’t think that cut out tanks are appropriate. I think that shorter shorts, just like for girls could be an issue. I think that anything inappropriate on any t-shirt shouldn’t be allowed. [Another thing is] if there’s cleavage on a girl, [which] I had a problem with that with one of my students. I think girls, since they have more styles of clothing, they’re technically sometimes are more perimeters that are needed. In my high school, your tank tops had to have like three finger length and your shorts couldn’t go up past your fingertips if you put your arms down. I don’t know if we need that [in RB], but I would love to see belly buttons covered, tops covering sort of thing, that’d be ideal.”
Students appreciate the leniency of the dress code. However, some students say sometimes there is a little unfairness that goes on between what the boys can wear and what the girls can wear.
“Well, I’ve never ever heard of guys being dresscoded,” freshman Kaite Ritchie said. ”I’ve never heard someone say, ‘What you’re wearing is provocative or distracting to the girl,’ and that’s not to say that you never see a guy in a crop top or short shorts. In gym, the guys are able to have shirts with huge cutouts where you can see the entire side and torso and girls can’t even wear spaghetti straps and whenever I’ve confronted a teacher about that they say, ‘It’s so you don’t distract the guy.’ I mean, if I’m hot outside in gym and we’re running and we’re sweating, and it’s sunny outside, I wanna be able to wear whatever a guy can wear and at least not have to have sleeves on my shirt if a guy can show his entire torso.”
Ritchie has encountered some disagreements with teachers regarding what she or other girls can or can’t wear.
“At this school, [the dress code is] pretty lenient, but me and my friends have had some disagreements with the system,” Ritchie said. “Since there is no set up dress code here at Rock Bridge it’s kind of like do whatever you want as long as it’s like, casual or modest in some way. I’ve had my friends been dress coded before and the reason a lot of the times the teachers say is because they don’t want [the clothes] to be distracting to guys, which I find and a lot of my other friends find very offensive because the way they put that just makes it seem like my education isn’t as important as other guys, like it’s my fault a guy gets distracted. Instead of telling the guy, ‘Hey, don’t look at the girl,’ they’re telling the girl to ‘make sure that the guys not looking at you.”
Shawnna Matteson, who teaches World Studies and A.P World Studies, has had an encounter with a boy who wore a shirt Richie described. As a teacher, Matteson’s years of experience has prepared her to deal with students who don clothes such as cutout shirts. She pays attention to being tactful or careful with the student she is talking to.
“I have before [asked a student to leave a class because of clothing choice]. It’s been many years, but it was a style for a while where guys would cut the entire sides out of their t-shirts and you could see right through both sides, and I was known to ask the guys to pin their shirts. It’s not something that I think needs to be shared at school. Generally, it would be trying to catch them where the least number of people would be around to hear the discussion. You always wanna be very sensitive to the student. You don’t want to make them feel like that they’ve been marked as being completely inappropriate or anything like that. And I have in the past had male teachers ask me to speak with a female student because the male teacher didn’t want that student to feel uncomfortable or to feel that something was being said because they were being looked at as being sexualized. I don’t use distractions so much. You hear that a lot with clothing, like, ‘It caused a distraction.’ I don’t think about it in that sense, what I think about is we’re in public and what is our job today and our job is to learn. And so I don’t necessarily want someone dressed for the beach to be at school. This is a different environment. There’s a different set of clothing for that. That said,I don’t have issues with spaghetti straps as long as there’s nothing hanging too low, [being] obvious.”
Students say there is some degree of double standards that goes on between boys and girls. If a boy is to wear something at an assembly, for example, it might be considered funny while if a girl is to wear the same thing, some might deem it inappropriate.
“There’s a lot of more slut-shaming with girls then there is with guys,” Ritchie said. “With guys it’s more like, ‘Oh, that’s funny,’ and if it’s a girl, it’s, ‘They’re looking for attention,’ or ‘Oh, that’s so slutty,’ or something like that. I’m completely against slut-shaming so I don’t think that’s necessary at all.”
Freshman Raylen Blackston also believes in a double standard. He doesn’t believe that girls and boys should be dresscoded differently. As a casual dresser, he recognizes others rights to dress how they feel is appropriate or suits them as a person.
“Yes, I do [believe in a double standard] and I believe in equality between everybody,” Blackston said. “I don’t like the ‘boys can/girls can’t’ thing. If you wanna wear some [short] shorts, you can. You can wear whatever you want. Wear clothes that matches your personality.”
All in all, students can wear what they want as long as the student doesn’t intentionally try to wear clothes that are deemed provocative. Matteson believes that students should feel good about what he or she wears, but not purposefully try to dress suggestively.
“I think the first question the [students] should ask is if they feel comfortable, and I don’t mean just physically comfortable but also emotionally comfortable,” Matteson said. ’Is this something that makes me feel proud and confident?’ It’s difficult to lay down rules saying your hemline should be this or you should be able to touch the back of your dress; it’s very difficult because there’s such variation in fashion. But I try to think about it in the sense of would I wear this to a nursing home to visit my grandmother, and if it’s not appropriate for that environment, then it probably should lean more towards the conservative [side] for school. It’s not to say that you should feel like you should cover up or hide yourself by any stretch of imagination, but I certainly wouldn’t want to have a student try to dress really provocatively at school.”
By Layla Kheiralla