Of Dealing With Vague and Repressive Dress Codes

Hello Snarklings! This time around at Gothic Charm School, the Lady of the Manners is going to address a subject she’s talked about before, but one that is a never-ending concern: school dress codes.

The Lady of the Manners often thanks her lucky (dark) stars that the trend for all-encompassing, yet vague, school dress codes hadn’t taken root during her scholastic career. (The Lady of the Manners also thanks her lucky dark stars that things like Facebook, Twitter, and LiveJournal were not around during her semi-over-emotional teens and early twenties, but that’s a different post entirely.) The Lady of the Manners understands, to a degree, what school boards are trying to achieve with the dress codes; if students all have a similar appearance, then in theory there might be fewer disruptions and bullying because of a student’s clothing. (The Lady of the Manners has been told there are studies showing that school uniforms, not vague dress codes, have indeed helped cut down on bullying.) However, the Lady of the Manners also knows that it doesn’t matter if there is a dress code, the students will still find things to harass and haze each other about, and feels that the time spent drafting school dress codes would be better spent on finding strategies to deal with bullying. Maybe someday these things will happen. Say, when we live in a perfect world, or when the Lady of the Manners finally achieves her girlhood dream of becoming the gothy vampire queen of the universe.

What prompted the Lady of the Manners to write about school dress codes again? A poignant and articulate plea for help with them, from Jadzia Dark at Heart:


question: Dearest Lady of Manners,
I happened upon your site a little less than a week ago, and I absolutley adore
it. My high school has a slightly larger Goth scene than most. I recently
received a copy of my high school’s newest dress code revision. While I am
aware that you have covered this topic before, I have encountered a problem
that is more in-depth than any of the others mentioned in the archives. My
school’s administrators have banned “un-natural hair color, piercings (other
than upon the ears), and anything freak-ish, odd, or out of the ordinary.” Now,
the administration has always been very vague, but this, in my opinion, is not
just vague. I feel that it is discriminatory as well. They mention nothing of
the revealing clothing choices made by my mainstream classmates. Most of us
Snarklings wear black or incredibly dark jeans and button down black shirts, and
once a week we’ll wear more elaborate clothing selections. I am horrified at
the thought that we all might be forced into wearing Hollister, Abercrombie, or
Aeropostale shirts along with light blue jeans and camoflauge hunting boots.
The key point to my writing is not to rant about the disgracefulness of my
preppy peers attire, but the main point is that the school administrators have
now declared anyone violating this terribly vague code will be expelled with no
inquiries made. Do you have any suggestions as to how us young Snarklings can
combat these outrageous rules?

Why yes, Jadzia, the Lady of the Manners does have some suggestions for you young Snarklings. But they involve patience, organization, and very good communication skills. However, if you feel that you and your friends are up to it, here’s what you should do:

– Get a copy of the current school dress code, and take notes about every rule that is vague. For example, “unnatural hair color”; does that mean that sporting a hair color other than the one you were born with is against the dress code? Because the Lady of the Manners is certain that there are classmates of yours with blond highlights or other such “unnatural” tints. Yes, the Lady of the Manners is sure that what the school officials meant by that rule is “hair colors not resembling those found in nature”, but the wording doesn’t actually say that, does it? Or the ban on anything “freakish, odd, or out of the ordinary”; if you go by, say, the Lady of the Manners’ definitions of such things, that would mean that exaggerated press-on French manicures and spray tans would be banned. (Throughout the land, by the way, not just at your school. Oh, and those Ugg sweater boot things – they’re not acceptable except as around-the-house slippers, and only if it is absolutely freezing.)

– Once you have those notes, write up specific questions about each rule you have marked. You want to point out the inconsistencies and fuzzy language. For example, are vintage or antique-inspired fashions considered “out of the ordinary”? If so, are the faculty going to go around expelling every student who wears something other than jeans and a t-shirt? (Which, to be crankily precise, came into fashion around oh, the early 50s, and so counts as a vintage-inspired look.) Make sure that the questions are clear, have one point per question, and are as free from emotionally-loaded language as possible. Because your next step is …

– Get your parents together, and present these questions to them. Again, in a perfect world, your parents and the parents of your friends would be completely supportive of your cause (and of you being Goths), but the Lady of the Manners is willing to bet a parasol or two that this isn’t the case. But in some ways, having some adults who aren’t completely sympathetic to your cause is a good thing, because what you’re doing here is practicing your arguments. “Arguments” not meaning heatedly emotional, dramatic objections, but instead well-reasoned objections to a vague and possibly discriminatory set of rules. Listen to what the parents have to say, and figure out how to respond to the objections they bring up. By voicing their concerns, they’re doing you a favor, because you’re going to need to practice explaining your objections without losing your temper. Also, you will probably need the help of an adult to set up the next step, which is …

– Set up an appointment with whomever has control over the dress code, whether it be the school principal, a faculty advisory board, or people from the school district. And while the Lady of the Manners would like to think that a group of students would be taken seriously enough that they could make an appointment to discuss such things, she suspects that your cause will be taken a mite more seriously if it appears to be spearheaded by a “responsible” adult. Also, if your school has a strong paper, work with the school journalism department to get an editorial written about your concerns with the dress code.

– When the day comes for the meeting about the dress code, you and your friends should dress carefully in your most respectable, but very definitely gothy, outfits. Then, present your concerns to the people in charge.

Now, let the Lady of the Manners be very clear: no matter how clear, organized, and articulate you are when you present your case to the ruling school body, there is a strong chance that the finally outcome will be … nothing changes. Nothing at all. That your concerns will be (perhaps) listened to, and then ultimately dismissed.

If that happens, what then? Then, Snarklings, you take it to the internet. Start a website, create a blog, and let people know. If you’re up for it, contact your local news channels, and tell them about what you’re doing, and why you believe the dress code is vague and unfair. Keep in mind that none of this may make a bit of difference. But there is a chance, a small chance, that having the spotlight of public scrutiny highlighting the ridiculousness of the school dress code will cause some changes for the better. Just keep in mind that the more you publicize what you are doing, the more you will need to maintain a “public face”: as calm as possible, with none of the histronics and drama-mongering that tend to be a hallmark of teenage concerns. You want to be able to make your points with as little chance of the whole thing being dismissed as overblown teen angst.

Also, what if you discover that the vague rules about “unnatural hair color” and nothing “freakish, odd, or out of the ordinary” are supposed to apply to pink streaks, feather extensions, or black nail polish worn by wannabe pop-princesses, or to piercings sported by non-gothy types? If that happens, then make the effort to inform the other students, and band together. The school board may change their opinion if more than just the “weird kids” are the ones pointing out the inconsistencies and injustices going on.

So there you go, Snarklings: A detailed plan to begin discussing and, hopefully, counteracting your school’s vague, yet repressive, dress code. Is it surefire and foolproof? Good heavens, of course not; very little in this world is. But the Lady of the Manners does believe that it might work, and is worth trying.

Be sure to check back at Gothic Charm School, where upcoming posts include a review of the fabulous clothes from Spin Doctor clothing, a tutorial on how to turn a plain pair of shoes into a vision of spiky gorgeousness, and a visit to the Nocturnal House to talk about more vampire books. In the meantime, browse through the Archives, and if you have a question, please write!

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