Of Goths and School Dress Codes

Autumn means back to school, or it least it does according to most calendars and retail establishments. Of course, for many school-age Goths, back to school also means back to being harassed about what they prefer to wear. The Lady of the Manners wishes that such annual torment were not the case, but some of the letters fluttering into the Gothic Charm School mailbox say otherwise.

The Lady of the Manners has talked about dealing with taunts, unkind comments, and bullying before. The brief recap in case you’ve forgotten: do your best to ignore whatever abuse is directed at you, don’t start fights (but defend yourself if someone starts physically attacking you), be polite to your teachers, and try to learn that your self-esteem does not need to rest upon the opinions of other people, nor does popularity at school have any tangible rewards once you’re “grown up”.

But, oh Snarklings, a letter from Maria to Gothic Charm School recounted a tale of harassment that was more than the usual sort of nonsense school-age gothlings suffer.

question: Dear Lady,

For school has started once more for the babybats. But alas, for some schools such as mine, the district is going on one of their rare ritual ‘purges’ of anything Out Of The Ordinary due to open houses, voting, Very Important Vistors, etc etc.

They have started pulling young goths and emos out of class and are being told their clothing is not appropriate and distracting (while the girls deemed ‘normal’ are sitting with their Too Short Skirts with Low Cut Shirts and gentlemen with their underwear hanging out are permitted to remain in class?). I have been informed a boy in another school has been forced to change out of his normal early 19th century clothing after 3 years of attending the school without issues.

What are we to do? For the goths in our district have been banned from excessively frilly things, industrial boots, bondage pants, fishnets, certain colors of hairdye (AKA any color that humans are not born with), removing piercings, long coats and basically banning just about everything but black tee shirts and blah-ish what they deem Normal clothing for us babybats. Even some tee shirts are banned due to eccentricity. What are the babybats who enjoy variety and indulging in our frilly clothing, industrial hardware and the emos who love their piercings to do?

A school district “purging” anything Out Of The Ordinary? Forgive the Lady of the Manners, she needs a moment to stop growling and rein in her temper. The very first thing you should do is find out if there is an official district-wide dress code; if there is, get a copy of it immediately. If there isn’t, check if there are individual school dress codes and acquire copies of those. Study the dress codes very carefully. See if they specifically forbid piercings, colored hair, or black clothing. The devil, as is often said, is in the details. If any dress codes merely refer to “not appropriate and distracting”, then you have something to work with.

You see, vague language such as “not appropriate and distracting” means that you can make a case for your (and your fellow babybats’ and emos’) chosen attire being no more distracting than the skimpier clothing favored by your more mainstream classmates. But making that point will require patience, research, and a firm grip on your temper (and urge your compatriot to do the same!). When a Person In Authority at the school singles one of you out for your “inappropriate” appearance, calmly point out that the school dress code does not specifically mention whatever it is they’re raising a fuss about, and that how they are treating you could be considered discrimination.

If the assorted dress codes have spelled out that items near and dear to all of the hearts of the gothlings and emos, then start questioning the authorities in the school district as to why they consider long coats, piercings, and frilly clothing to be disruptive, but skimpy clothing and visible undergarments are not.

The Lady of the Manners must point out two very important things to keep in mind for either scenario: one, try to get your parents on your side about this. It is a sad fact that school officials will pay much more attention to your concerns if your parents agree with you and are willing to get involved in your discussions. Two, it is absolutely vital that you and the other students that are affected by these “purges” do your best to be Model Students in every other regard. The less bad behavior that school administrators have to use as examples of how your wardrobe is a detriment to learning, the stronger the point you’re trying to make will be.

But what if you’ve tried presenting your case to teachers and school administrators, and they just won’t listen? What if you are informed that certain looks Are Not Allowed? Well, if you really feel like it, you can try to generate press interest in what is going on. Take a look at the example of this star student who was suspended for dyeing her hair pink. (Admittedly, she dyed her hair in tribute to her late father who had passed away due to cancer. That sort of reason does garner more approval than someone “merely” expressing themselves.) There’s also the example of the young man being harassed at school for wearing makeup, and the support that his mother is giving him. Blog about your campaign for school rules to be applied fairly. (The Lady of the Manners doesn’t need to point out that you should do your best to write your posts in a way that does not scream “spoiled teenage whining” with every line, does she? Remember, many people will automatically dismiss your concerns because of your age and your aesthetic preferences; do what you can to disarm those knee-jerk reactions.)

Don’t feel ashamed or guilty if you don’t feel up to the effort of trying to publicize your cause to make the school district Powers That Be change their ways. It is important to recognize when something may be a lost cause and may eat up time, emotional security, and sanity that you can’t afford to lose. As galling as it is to admit this, the Lady of the Manners realizes that sometimes you have to grit your teeth and put up with nonsensical and cruelly frivolous rules, because it’s more important to concentrate on getting through whatever situation you’re in with the least amount of heartbreak and fruitless effort. If you can’t see any way around the draconian dress code, express your rebellion in whatever small ways you can during the school days (striped tights or socks, dramatic makeup, pins and buttons proclaiming your allegiances), and console yourselves with the knowledge that your school years are not forever, and that this sort of nonsense will eventually be behind you as a “character-forming” memory.


The next lesson here at Gothic Charm School is looking to be More Burbling About Fashion, as several Snarklings have written asking the Lady of the Manners’ opinion on what are the basics of a Goth wardrobe. So in preparation, the Lady of the Manners is going to wander off to rummage through her closets and call it “research”. As always, please write with any questions!

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