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.

 

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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.”

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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”

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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.”

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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