Dress codes are — notoriously — no match for students who don’t approve of them. Perhaps you remember the kid who hid a banned T-shirt under a flannel (or maybe you even were that rebel)? But recently, two sets of students at different schools have changed their school’s clothing decisions by making a sartorial statement en masse.
At White Pass Junior and Senior High School in Randle,Washington, dozens of students — both male and female — showed up in drag to protest two male students being sent home the day before for wearing women’s clothing. And, similarly, at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School in Richmond, Virginia, male students showed up in short shorts to stand up for their female classmates who were told they were in danger of losing their leg-baring privileges.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Washington, D.C.-based psychologist Jill Weber, Ph.D., who specializes in gender and culture, tells Yahoo Style. “Twenty years ago, it might have been shameful for the student and now it’s a cause to rally around. It does fit with this generation. They’re more interested in being individuals than fitting in. It’s what a lot of friendships and bonding is based on today.”
Student Mason Mudge dressed as Miss America (King5.com)
The two male students in Randle, Washington, went to school dressed as Miss America and Nicki Minaj — it was “come as your favorite celebrity” day for the school’s Spirit Week — and were told by the principal to either change or go home. They went home. The next day, many of the students came to school dressed as the opposite sex to show solidarity with the boys. “I think it’s really awesome that all the kids support me and support the decisions that I made,” sophomore Mason Mudge, who was sent home for dressing as Miss America, told USA Today.
“It’s exciting,” Weber says. “There’s power in saying ‘we can do something actively about this’ and ‘we don’t have to take this.’ It used to be risky to put yourself out there like that. It’s definitely a culture shift. Differences are sexy and appealing to these students more so than they were to older generations.”
The superintendent said the school should have handled the situation differently, and across the U.S., the draconian nature of school dress codes are being questioned. “Now with changing times we pride children and adolescents on being individuals and demonstrate their individuality,” Riddhi Sandil, a psychologist and lecturer at Teachers College, Columbia University, tells Yahoo Style. “Sometimes dress codes can oppress that. It’s a very complex issue. It’s a mixed message to the child to say be creative and be yourself, but only within these certain constraints and restrictions.”
Students dressing as the opposite sex at White Pass Junior and Senior High School (King5.com)
In Richmond, Virginia, the guys rallied in support of the girls — they were told that if 10 girls were found to be wearing shorts that were too short (i.e. not fingertip length), all girls, but no boys, would be banned from wearing shorts the next day. “I was shell shocked and upset,” one student told Bustle. To protest, guys showed up to school in shorts that were definitely not fingertip length, while girls wore their most modest outfits. In response, the school sent an email to students saying they were going to review the dress code.
As to whether dress codes can legally be applied differently to men and women, in the past state Supreme Courts have ruled that they can — an Indiana appellate court upheld a ban on boys wearing earrings, even though girls were permitted to do so. But that may not always be the case. “Times have changed in terms of societal values and the impact of Title IX,” Perry A. Zirkel, a University Professor of Education and Law at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., tells Yahoo Style. “But the answer is still unsettled for now, depending on the extent of the differential, the justification, and — as usual — the attorneys and the judge.”