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Riverdale students debate dress code

TorvaldsRiverdale has spent the last few weeks abuzz over the dress code.

This is not just apparent in the posters (which are great): “I didn’t put it on to distract you. Don’t make me take it off because I did,” “Don’t define me by the male gaze” and “My short skirt, leggings or shorts don’t mean I lack self-respect.”

In fact, the administration has actually held meetings in advisory and sometimes with delegates from classrooms to decide what to do about the dress code.

The code is 15 years old and says, at its simplest, no “butts, boobs, bellies, bra straps, bras or boxers” should be visible. Rumors fly as to the reason for the sudden debate, ranging from absurd to benign. Almost everyone seems in agreement that the dress code should be made clearer. After all, what does “butts” refer to? Actual butts? Or tight pants? And what makes bra straps so offensive?

Some people believe the standard for the dress code should be “professionalism.” This is absurd. Short shorts at school are not professional, true, but neither are basketball shorts, a common article of clothing among those who call for that change. The bottom line is that school isn’t and shouldn’t have to be a time for “professional” dress: It simply isn’t comfortable, and it detracts from the learning environment just as much in that sense. Nobody I know is interested in spending a hot summer day trying to learn in business-casual attire.

Another group calls, simply, for modesty. This is just as ambiguous as the current dress code (which also reads “anything a reasonable adult would deem appropriate”) but is arguably more gendered. Rarely, if ever, do people tell boys to be modest, but I can’t count the number of times that I have personally been directed by that word. Modest does not mean “girls only,” but it certainly implies it.

I have my own solution.

Simplify the dress code further: “Shoes, pants and shirt (or dress) required.”

As a small and somewhat sheltered public-private school, we are afforded opportunities to try things larger high schools couldn’t do. So I think that we should all but abolish the dress code, for a number of reasons.

First of all, it teaches a great lesson to students and staff alike. People are not defined by how they dress. If our formative learning environment treats scantily clad bodies less like objects and more like people, we could change attitudes towards clothing and objectification. Sure, there might be times when people come in wearing not enough clothing. However, high school kids are old enough to understand that school and free time are different. I would no less go to school in a swimsuit than I would to a pool in jeans. Because Riverdale is so small, people end up acting pretty similarly to one another. Nobody dresses obscenely now, despite the fact that the dress code is never really enforced.

The second reason is “in loco parentis.” This was the reason cited to me when I questioned the validity of a dress code, seeing as college and the rest of real life has none. In loco parentis means that schools may act as parents to students, in their best interests. I think it is in the best interest of students to learn how to act and how to learn in an environment that may be distracting to some, precisely because real life has no dress code. No college professor is going to quietly ask the girl in the second row to pull up her shirt or for her friend to pull up his pants. Now is a good time to learn that everybody is responsible for their own actions, and not necessarily for changing the actions of others.

Lastly, it’s a great exercise of trust and transparency between the administration and the students. Nobody knows why the dress code is being debated and many people are distrustful of the motives of staff in going forward with this. If the administration demonstrated a good deal of trust in us, as students, by quietly doing away with the dress code entirely, the school would be a happier and more cohesive environment.

I do not believe my solution is perfect, and I definitely don’t think it could be applied well to schools larger than our student body of 250. My solution does not cover articles of clothing with hateful or inflammatory messages on them, which I don’t approve of. It does little to reassure educators of their students’ continued use of clothing. But it isn’t gendered. It places trust in kids who, really, deserve it. And it prepares us for adulthood in a way that we wouldn’t get anywhere else.

Patricia Torvalds is a junior at Riverdale High School, and she writes a monthly column for the Review. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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