“Skirt or shorts?” “Long- or short-sleeved shirt?” That’s it. That’s the extent of the conversations I have with my daughters most mornings about what they’re wearing to school.
I’ve read the heated comments and passionate letters about changes that were proposed to Clovis Unified’s dress code. My family lives in a different district, and our girls attend a school with rigid clothing standards. White shirts and navy shorts for every student. On Fridays, boys wear dark trousers and the girls dress in plaid skirts.
Back-to-school shopping in August is cheap and easy. After hunting for the best deals, I bypass racks of trendy clothes to purchase simple polos for $6 and plain shorts for $9.
Our school expects everyone to know the dress code. That’s a responsibility shared by parents and students, so my girls help me find the items that adhere to it. I don’t have to get them a new wardrobe when the weather changes: in the winter, we add blue sweaters, and thick, dark tights. In the summer, they wear short-sleeved shirts and ankle socks.
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My daughters know they cannot wear nail polish, makeup, or jewelry to school so there are no arguments about buying those extras.
In a sea of dark navy shorts and crisp white polos, my girls are not distracted by what they and other children are wearing, and the focus is on their education. Far from stifling their individuality, which was a common theme in the concerns about Clovis Unified, the tight parameters of our school’s dress code have given them the freedom to learn, develop and express themselves in ways that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
I am alarmed by the growing focus for my 7- and 10-year-old little girls about how they look. And what they wear. There is so much pressure on parents to spend money on the latest styles so that their children will fit in. Kids and families deserve better than that.
The strict dress code at my daughters’ school reinforces to every child that they are special and important because of their character and choices, and not how they dress.
It removes any opportunity for someone to set themselves apart because they have the nicest clothes, or be judged for wearing outfits that are out of fashion. The dress code sends a clear message that the kids are all equal, and they are all there to learn.
It helps create an educational environment where each student has the opportunity to excel because of their ideas, the talents they develop, and how they act. The simple, plain clothes they wear to school are a blank canvas on which they learn to draw the best version of themselves.
On weekends, my kids enjoy dressing how they want. One of my girls has a closet of sweats and soft T-shirts. She feels cozy when she reads and comfortable when playing the sports she enjoys so much. My 7-year-old loves glittery cowboy boots and bright colors, which fit her bold personality.
Despite the concerns that restrictive dress codes don’t allow children to develop their own style, my girls definitely know what they want to wear when they are at home. But on Mondays when I ask them, “Skirts or shorts? Long- or short-sleeved shirt?” they know what they need to wear, and why.
Along with their similarly dressed classmates, my daughters are learning how to express themselves in the ways that really matter. The dress code reinforces to them that they are important for who they are, not their appearance. Every child stands out for what makes them special and unique. Not how they look.
Far from stifling them in any way, a strict school dress code has freed my girls up by reinforcing that their value lies in what’s in their hearts and minds. As they grow up and the pressure to look a certain way gets stronger, I am grateful they know that who they are isn’t defined by what they wear.
An educational environment that minimizes the distractions of clothing provides every student an opportunity to show what’s really important: their character, talent and personality. It sends a clear message that what they look like on the inside is what really matters.
Kids deserve a chance to learn that. And it’s a lesson that will never go out of style.
Dawn Golik lives in Fresno with her husband and two young daughters. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.