Twill pants to tank tops: The decade-long evolution of the dress code

Understanding the roots of the dress code controversy

We+have+now+been+back+on+campus+for+almost+a+month%2C+after+a+year+and+a+half+apart.+As+we+have+transitioned+back+into+a+fully+in-person+environment+filled+with+interaction+beyond+faces+on+a+laptop+screen%2C+we+have+also+tackled+the+return+to+in-person+attire.+

Emily Tan

We have now been back on campus for almost a month, after a year and a half apart. As we have transitioned back into a fully in-person environment filled with interaction beyond faces on a laptop screen, we have also tackled the return to in-person attire.

We have now been back on campus for almost a month, after a year and a half apart. As we have transitioned back into a fully in-person environment filled with interaction beyond faces on a laptop screen, we have also tackled the return to in-person attire. 

When we returned to hybrid learning last spring, our safe return was prioritized above adhering to a dress code. Half of our campus had never experienced an entire year abiding by the guidelines for dress. Still facing the aftermath of quarantine, we needed time to readjust to the rigors of a normal school year while maintaining our physical and mental health, before concerning ourselves with the issue of appropriate clothing.

Discourse about dress code at Harker is not new, and the current community guidelines are the latest in a long series of iterations that go back through the decades. The dress code from the 1999-2000 school year required collared shirts, banned blue jeans and limited logo sizes to pocket-sized. The guidelines became increasingly detailed, and the 2009-2010 code narrowed down clothing to categories such as “twill pants.” In 2012-2013, it spanned over four pages and “patterned shirts which fall at least two inches below the top of the pant.” 

The most recent major revisions to the dress code occurred in 2016, when student advocacy resulted in a shift from a structured dress code to a 282-word list of community expectations that utilized broader terms to dictate that dress should be “clean” and not “too casual.” 

It was the updated 2016 community expectations that we returned to after life in a pandemic setting. 

But it was the vigorous and immediate enforcement of dress guidelines following the announcement of the school’s policy that generated controversy among students over the next three weeks. Students expressed viewpoints from the difficulty of shopping for girls’ clothing and gender bias to ire over Williamson’s statement in an email sent to all upper school families that dress defines “respect for the many ethnicities and religious backgrounds that are a part of our rich and culturally diverse community, our teachers in the classrooms, as well as the many visitors that we host on campus each day.” 

It was the updated 2016 community expectations that we returned to after life in a pandemic setting. But it was the vigorous and immediate enforcement of dress guidelines following the announcement of the school’s policy that generated controversy among students over the next three weeks.”

Resolving this debate starts with communication. From a student’s perspective, in the rush to get to school, deliberating over the dress code adds unnecessary stress to time that should be utilized to prepare for a full day of learning.

If we stand straighter, then our shorts will be closer to fingertip length. But, what if we are off by half an inch? 

If we pull the hems of our shirts down, they cover our midriffs. But, what if our shirts lift up slightly when raising our hands? 

If we wear athletic shorts, we’ll definitely be dress coded. But, what if we wear athletic pants?

If we pull the hems of our shirts down, they cover our midriffs. But, what if our shirts lift up slightly when raising our hands?”

On Sept. 1, juniors met with Williamson to present a petition for proposed changes, including specifying current guidelines. Last Wednesday, ASB and the SDC organized a schoolwide town hall to offer the microphone for discourse regarding student dress. 

Moving forward, members of ASB, Honor Council, SDC, Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), and FEM club will represent student interests in an effort to continue conversations with the administration regarding dress code, with the group’s first meeting set for Monday during morning office hours. 

These initiatives represent organized forms of advocacy that emphasize open communication between students and the administration. Committing to both sides of this conversation means advocacy through listening to each other and seeking out reason before jumping to conclusions. This is the path we must follow if we want to create meaningful and lasting change.

I suggest that students and administration coordinate to clear up the vagaries surrounding what exactly counts as casual, one of the main sentiments expressed at the town hall. Clarify what can or cannot be worn, and share the results of the dress code discussions among various student organizations with the entire student body. By establishing a uniform policy for faculty to enforce the dress code, we truly create an environment for respect.