Do Teachers Need Dress Codes Too?

Teachers in Dubuque, Iowa, must adhere to a new, districtwide dress code. (Photo: Getty Images)
Teachers in Dubuque, Iowa, must adhere to a new, districtwide dress code. (Photo: Getty Images)

Officials at a community school in Dubuque, Iowa, are challenging faculty members to dress more professionally and to lead by example when it comes to their attire.

The school district leaders have drafted a set of guidelines (they’re careful not to call them “rules”) to help teachers dress in a more consistently professional way, according to the Telegraph Herald. If a teacher does wear something that goes against the guidelines, though, he or she might be required to change — and that article of clothing might be banned going forward.

“We’re trying to bring it to a standard of professionalism across the district so it’s not sort of hit-and-miss in a building or between buildings,” Superintendent Stan Rheingans said, according to the site. The powers-that-be aren’t asking for anything outrageous; they’re simply requesting that teachers dress in a way that’s “acceptable in a business environment,” citing flip-flops, yoga pants, and graphic T-shirts as prime examples of unacceptable apparel.

Ultimately, school officials hope the new sartorial standards will encourage the employees to present themselves as positive role models and “create a level of respect from the students,” school board Vice President Tami Ryan was quoted as saying. Not a tall order, considering students (ideally) look up to their teachers to begin with.

Dress codes are nothing new in schools, of course, and neither is controversy surrounding them. The rules are typically imposed on students, though, which is why the Dubuque officials’ decision is so noteworthy. Sexism and discrimination have been at the center of most dress-code scandals to make news in recent years.

According to an article the Guardian, “enforcing dress codes [often] teaches girls to be ashamed, not modest.” The article cites a Virginia student who was kicked out of prom because her dress incited “impure thoughts” in some male chaperones, as well as a junior high school in Illinois that banned girls from wearing leggings because they were too “distracting to boys.” Whether fair or not, Dubuque officials’ guidelines against anything “revealing or provocative” address the same concern for teachers.

Dress codes may just be making their way to faculty rooms, but they’re nothing new in office environments, of course. Typically, the rules are pretty standard, and “casual Fridays” have become increasingly common. But sometimes, office dress codes go above and beyond — as in the case of Swiss bank USB’s highly publicized (and ridiculous) 44-page dress code that barred black nail polish and “unruly beards,” and even included tips on personal hygiene, according to the BBC. There’s also the story that’s been making rounds on the Web about a group of interns who were fired en masse after protesting the dress code at their workplace (and calling out the footwear of a disabled co-worker).

Scandals aside, dress codes at their core have been an ever-evolving means of maintaining decorum in an official setting. The New York Times cites “the Casual Friday movement of the 1990s and the success of the Facebook I.P.O. in 2012 with its hoodie-wearing billionaires” as possible reasons for the loosening standards of professional attire. That said, “gender equality” and “fluidity” were also listed as reasons for the shift in attitude when it comes to workplace garb. Case in point: Due to new guidelines set forth by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, employees are protected from having to wear ties, heels, or anything “based on sex or gender.”

Perhaps it’s because of all this controversy — in the classroom, in the boardroom, and even at prom — that Dubuque’s new, pretty reasonable guidelines seem so bold. Or maybe it’s because the district is quietly equalizing the dress-code debate and holding teachers to the same standards as the students whose outfits they frequently police.

Or it could just be refreshing that Dubuque is recognizing teaching as a career just as important and legitimate as banking or law. As Ryan of the Dubuque school board put it, “We want to get the message out that [teaching] is a profession. Dress professionally.”

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