When Does a Dress Code Go Too Far?

A poster on a bathroom door at Santa Ana's Segerstrom High School protesting the school's dress code. (All photos by Julie Leopo for Voice of OC)

Ask any school official and they’ll likely agree with the notion that the main point of a high school dress code is to make sure a student’s attire doesn’t serve to degrade the learning environment.

But what if — as Eilleen Gonzalez, an 17-year-old student at Santa Ana’s Segerstrom High School asserts — it’s the dress code itself that is degrading?

“We have a dress code that is sexist, and makes us women feel uncomfortable,” Gonzalez says as she tapes a poster reading: “Change the Segerstrom dress code” on a wall at the school.

Gonzalez and other female Segerstrom students have no problem with a dress code that prohibits certain types of clothing that promote prejudices against any race, religion or ethnicity, and/or clothing that promotes a substance abuse lifestyle.

But they say Segerstrom’s code goes much farther than that and has created an avenue for administration to police and punish them for their clothing, which includes being pulled out of class for at times up to 45 minutes and put through the humiliation of being forced to change into their gym clothes.

Girls also say they’ve been sent to the office for wearing bandeaus (which resemble the texture of a sports bra) or thong underwear. This despite the fact that “thongs or bandeaus” are not listed in the dress code. Students see such policing of undergarments as an example of unnecessary sexualization of women.

School officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this issue.

In light of all of this, Eilleen and others have decided to advocate for a new dress code, creating posters, holding meetings, and circulating a petition that now has over 200 signatures.

Her ultimate goal “is to invite the [Santa Ana Unified School District] to change and modernize the dress code and ask students for input in the process.”

Below are photographs of the students wearing clothing that the school does not allow them to wear, along with quotes from their interviews.



Princessa, age 17, senior.
Violation: bare shoulders.

“I was given a dress code (violation) because I was showing too much
of my shoulders, and (according to school officials) my bra strap was very distracting, causing every single boy in the classroom to only stare at my
shoulders. I was humiliated not only because I was called
“too voluptuous” by a staff member, but also because I was being degraded as a girl to enrich the education of a boy.”


Eileen, age 17, senior.
Violations: Midrift exposed, see-through mesh top on shoulders, improper length of skirt.

“One time I was late to class and I was wearing a black skirt. My teacher asked me: ‘Are you late because of what you’re wearing? You need to get your act together.’ [This] didn’t make sense because I am doing well in the class”


Dante, age 16, junior.
Violation: Improper length of shorts.

“I honestly do believe the dress code is unfair. I believe it is focused more on making sure male students are not distracted during class.We go to school to learn but there isn’t a lot of learning going on since female students are constantly getting pulled out of class because of the dress code.”


Nat, age 17, senior.
Violation: Bare shoulders.

“If you do not abide by the dress code you are forced to change into p.e. shorts, which are a dress code (violation) according to the student handbook.”

Julie Leopo is a Santa Ana-based freelance photographer. She can be reached at julieleopo@yahoo.com

  • Mars

    Then, I don’t think you understand how makeup work.

  • Princesa

    These girls were humiliated in front of other students to show an example of what not to wear to school. Two weeks later the dress code epidemic ceased and now the girls that really deserve a dress code aren’t being tried for their wrongs. It’s not that we are fighting for a “NO Dress Code Policy” but we are explaining how the policies integrated now are not only humiliating but also unjustified

    • Jacki Livingston

      I understand that the teen years are hard, and being singled out from their peers can be tough. However, let’s not turn this into some reality show. The fact is, that when these young women get out into the real world, they will have dress codes. Employers, some colleges…life is about being appropriate. I cannot tell you how many young women who work for the County showed up to work looking like they were on the Walk of Shame from a club, the night before, instead of as a professional woman worthy or respect. Like it or not, we have thirty seconds to make a first impression, and to tell the truth, some of those young women looked like they were working Harbor Boulevard, not being serious about their studies. We are all being judged by our appearance, and maybe the school handled it badly, but they do need to know that when you present yourself to the world, you need to think long and hard about what your clothing is saying about you. You can dress classy, and youthful, on any budget. They need to stop trying to be a Kardashian, and try being a lady.

  • MissSea

    Frustrated that the article fails to mention this school is a FUNDAMENTAL school. Kids are on contracts (tardies, dress code and homework), and they are given MANY warnings before expulsion is discussed. Warnings that are required to include the parents. Not only that, the school is on a lottery system. Kids sign up for the opportunity to attend this public high school. And believe me, you don’t want to attend the others.

  • marleneiskawaii

    I’m a senior at Middle College High School and I notice that in my school the dress code isn’t enforced too strongly yet our school out preforms all the other schools in SAUSD. I typically follow the school dress code and do believe that in academic setting students should dress appropriately because it is important in order to have the respect of your teachers, professors, staff, and peers. However, I disagree with the argument that if we dress a certain way, we will be distracting other students. On college campuses and universities there really is no dress code and that doesn’t get in the way of students learning. In no way whatsoever is a male student going to fail a class because he saw a girl wearing a midriff. As teenagers moving on into adulthood, there will be tons of distractions whether or not there is girls wearing short skirts or showing their shoulders. At college or university no one is going to care about what you wear. Piercings and plugs don’t mean that you can’t be a successful student and my school is a prime example of that. I don’t see how any of the girls in the pictures above look demeaning. I don’t think that they are less worthy of respect or that they are less likely to be successful because of what they are wearing. I still believe it is important to follow school dress codes whether it be at work or school, I just don’t agree with the lack of respect for girls who dress this way. I don’t agree with them being taken out of class, that our bodies are “distractions.”

  • Libcrusher

    Kids these days are so whiny “MUH BODY SHAMING” “MUH SOGINY ” “IM SOOO OFFENDED” *breathes heavily while mashing on a keyboard* I dont see the problem with stricter uniforms. It keeps everyone safe and in line, no indecency or degeneracy. I think the real issue here is these kids thinking people care about their opinions, theyre kids they cant decide anything for themselves, they can barely decide what to eat for lunch. In the real world you always need to play by someone elses rules else your gettin put on the chopping block and on the streets, stay cucked liberals

    • Jacki Livingston

      Yeah, I mean, oh my god, they might grow up and have no education or understanding of the world. They might not even know how to spell or use punctuation properly. We can’t have that!

      • Libcrusher


        • Jacki Livingston

          I suspected that would be all you would read.

  • Arianna Castillo

    I am a senior at Godinez Fundamental High School, another school in the Santa Ana Unified School District. For the most part, I agree with the school’s dress code. School is a place to learn, but at the same time, high school is a time in a teenager’s life when they want to express their individuality. I believe that the district supports this as well because otherwise we would be wearing uniforms like the elementary schools and middle schools. A girl can express her style without wearing a tight, short skirt or showing her midriff. And this is not to prevent from distracting boys, but to ease into the professional dress code of the working world. Students should know that there is an appropriate dress code for everything. Crop tops and high waisted shorts are for the weekend, not for school, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wear a cute dress. The one thing I find truly outrageous about the dress code is the shoulder rule. I get the spaghetti straps or strapless shirts, but I don’t understand why it’s inappropriate to wear a top with thick straps or a sleeveless shirt. This is California! It gets hot here! Being overheated can distract a student much more than having bare shoulders.

  • Nunya Biznizz

    Fact is today we live in an oversexed society and we need more of a dress code! Schools have loosened up policies way to much. You can thank fashion trends and pop culture for that as these industries are no longer scrutinized as there were even a generation ago. What I see kids wear today (especially young girls) is ridiculous! It’s school, NOT the night club which all of these girls are to young to even think about anyway!

    What’s even more saddening is these girls have parents who actually let their daughters leave the house looking that; bra straps showing, thongs showing out of low rise pants, butt cheeks hanging out of daisy duke shorts, etc…

    In addition, look at the student-teacher sexual relationship scandals. YES, the way some of these girls dress are attributing that. You dress like you are going to the club (to attract attention and men) what the heck you think is going to happen at school, THE SAME THING!

  • Liberalcrusher

    , When these kids graduate theyre gonna learn the hard way that creative expression doesnt fly anywhere else but inside the home and off the clock , theyre gonna see how little crying MUH CREATIVE EXPRESSION gets them in the real world. Inb4 MUH-SOGINY

    • Jacki Livingston

      Unless, of course, they go into a creative field. But…don’t bend your right wing non-sensical ideology for anything like…I dunno…logic? But then, I sense you hate women, so, yeah, whatever.

  • Neva Andrews

    Ahhh yes. I remember having to change during high school a few times because of my shoulders showing. Very petty but I understand the institution wants students to become obeyers. It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized all the crap they told us in high school was a lie. They wanted you to obey and be afraid. Now that I have graduated and currently pursuing a teaching credential, I’ll be damned if I make anyone change how they express themselves, especially tastefully. The examples above should NOT be made to change into gym clothes.

    • LFOldTimer

      Yeah, Neva. And when they leave school and get their first jobs they can tell the boss to shove it when he instructs them that halter tops and short-shorts are not permitted on the work site. They can tell him that Neva said self-expression was a personal right. See how that goes over. ha. Even Jack-in-the-Box requires a certain set of attire. I caution that a permissive attitude will not get your future students very far in life. The rules in life just don’t work that way. I wish they did. I wish I could’ve worn my underwear and robe to work on certain days. But that would have won me a trip to the corner office then out the back door. I am a big believer in self-expression. Trust me. I’m as creative as they come. But it only works off the clock. Otherwise self-expression will get you hammered. I’ve learned the hard way more than once. I’m just trying to be honest and helpful.

  • LFOldTimer

    “If a student cannot focus because someone else is wearing an article that is distracting then maybe it’s the student who has a problem”
    That’s where you’re wrong, IMO. I have no idea about your plugs. I don’t even know what you’re referring to. But if I had school-aged kids I want them to learn while in school. I don’t want them subjected to a Victoria Secret fashion show. Do that on your own time. Keep it out of the classroom. Schools are institutions for learning. Not community efforts to individually coddle every child through his or her puberic dysfunctions. And learning must be maximized if we are to stay a civilized and productive nation.

    • Anonymous

      Oh you old timer you! Primitive.

      • LFOldTimer

        Yeah, I know. Discipline, order, decency and civilization are all old fashioned traits. Stuff that you probably haven’t been taught. Do they include those in the new “Common Core” curriculum? I’m sure you have all the answers though. Good luck with your life.

        • Liberalcrusher

          Liberal anon BTFO you tell em old timer

  • Bob Brock

    Put everyone in school uniforms and make the students accountable to wearing them. Then no one will care about fashion, midriffs, bare shoulders or anything else.

    • LFOldTimer


    • Liberalcrusher

      Preach it!

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    In my view, I am happy that these young adults ARE IN SCHOOL, I can be pretty liberal with hair, clothing etc. as long as they are IN SCHOOL. I don’t support dramatic distruptive behavior, but if a student has neon green hair and an exposed shoulder & they are making good grades and on a productive and constructive path….I could care less. I think schools should focus on academics and ensure that students have all the resources and support they need to position them for success. I hope that most teachers can control a classroom regardless of hair color and length of skirt. As for serious students, nothing will distract them from their goals – they are self starters and I bet hardly pay any attention to exposed tummies. High School kids need to learn to cope with the real world. What are we protecting them from? They walk off campus to see the same stuff – I’m sure they can deal with it. And I bet school staff have better things to spend their time on – like making sure these kids can read and do basic math.

    • LFOldTimer

      If you’ve noticed, the quality of education in the California public schools has declined sharply over the past 30 years. Last I looked we were ranked 47th out of 50 in the nation. The last thing kids need in California schools are distractions, particulary with their raging hormones. Speaking as a man, it would have been very hard for me to concentrate on math forumlas on the blackboard while the girl sitting next to me had her skirt hiked up to her hipbone. No teacher in the world could have controlled my wandering mind as a 16 year old male. Sorry. And I was a normal boy in that regard. High school kids need to learn. That’s the purpose of school. Order needs to be restored in the California schools. That’s one reason for the scholastic decline. Disorder. What the parents allow their kids to do off campus is their business. In the schools? That’s the business of the school administration so kids who come to school to actually learn can give their full concentration to academics without undue distraction. And I am not speaking of hairstyles or colors. I am referring to lots of open skin and behavior. High school should not be a Victoria Secret fashion show. At my HS we didn’t have those distractions. That’s one reason 90% of us went on to college and graduated.

      • Kathleen Tahilramani

        We agree – Lot’s of skin showing ( boy or girl) and behavior that is disruptive is not acceptable.

    • RyanCantor

      I would suggest that part of being in school, along with reading and conducting basic math, includes following the rules.

      I’m sure there’s plenty to both sides of the issue here, but I don’t see complaints of arbitrary enforcement of vague rules. I see pictures of blatant violations of clear policy guidelines.

      But hey, if these students think the rules cause more harm than they solve, good for them for taking a stand.

      • LFOldTimer

        Agreed, Ryan. I think it’s healthy for kids to resist and to question authority. We should promote that. But at the end of the day the kids also need to know who’s in charge and agree to follow reasonable rules for the greater good. This is the real world. They will be told what to do, how to act and what to wear by whoever employs them after they leave school. That’s just life. Might as well learn that reality at a young age.

  • LFOldTimer

    In general I support the school here. A school is a place to learn. Behavior, dress, devices, attitudes, etc…that distract from education have a detrimental effect on those serious students who truly want to get an education. It can thwart their progress. That’s not fair. I don’t want to get into a debate whether a bare shoulder is ‘distracting’. It’s probably fair to say that the photos with this blog did not include the over-the-top provocative attire that kids wear to school and the reason the dress code exists. The grade and high schools I went to had strict dress codes. In grade school I wore a standard issued set of clothing. In high school there were strictly imposed limits (no jeans or shorts. no tennis shoes. no tank tops, etc…). We were allowed to wear our hair long, which was popular back in those days. And the rules were enforced. Looking back, I think it made for a better learning atmosphere. If we didn’t like the rules we could empty our desks and go elsewhere. About 90% of us went on to college and graduated. Kids want disciplinary limits whether they tell you or not. They want someone to direct them. While kids are naturally rebellious – they seek order in this chaotic world. That’s the truth. There will always be generational gaps – but schools are supposed to be run by adults and those adults are supposed to ensure that the kids who want to learn have every opportunity to do so without more distractions than what naturally exist. Children should not make policy. That’s always a bad practice. Teach them to be creative – but wearing a skirt up to the pelvic bone is not a sign of creativity. I’m sorry.