Published Nov. 10, 2022
BY EMMA BROWN
Despite CHS’ code of conduct prohibiting strapless tops, clothing that exposes cleavage, bare midriff and andany articles that display profanity or sexually suggestive words or pictures, many students choose to dress as they please, often in manners that conflict with campus rules. Yet for years for years, Carmel High School’s dress code has rarely, if ever, been enforced.
CHS administrators cite an evolving political climate as the reason for the change in enforcement, noting that the enforcement of clothing requirements feels like a no-win situation for staff.
“Dress code doesn’t sit in isolation the way it used to,” says CHS assistant principal Debbi Puente, explaining that the #MeToo movement made staff members more cautious about enforcing rules regarding clothing. “Moving forward, there’s a lot of considerations.”
Per the code of conduct, students violating the dress code are meant to change clothes, either adding a layer or clothing or wearing a school-provided shirt, typically the P.E. uniform. After several violations, students may be suspended. Yet in recent years, consequences are rarely, if ever, given to students breaking dress code.
“I’ve been dress-coded a couple times, but I don’t usually change,” says senior Eva West. “There’s no repercussions right now.”
Though the enforcement of the rules has decreased, the regulations surrounding students’ clothing have not changed in over a decade, though various groups—including students and staff—are currently in favor of changing the dress code to make it more up-to-date with the current social climate, while cutting the rules down to provisions currently being enforced.
“Dress code should definitely be enforced, but I think we need to find a better way to do it,” says CHS freshman Kate Blakely. “A lot of kids feel ashamed when an adult comes up to them and says their clothes are ‘inappropriate’ or a ‘distraction.’ I also think that being punished for dress code isn’t really necessary. A reminder is enough.”
Proponents of changing the dress code have advocated for a new, gender-neutral set of regulations that removes potential subjectivity from enforcement. Critics of current rules note that the use of words such as “cleavage” in the dress code leave staff with an undue burden of deciding what constitutes a violation of dress code, potentially based on what the student’s body looks like.
“There’s absolutely no reason that dress code can’t be gender neutral and just saying clothing above the waist needs to look this way and clothing above below the waist needs to look this way,” says CHS librarian Phil Crawford, the club adviser for the Feminism and Be Yourself clubs. “If you have this gender-neutral dress code, you don’t have to call out women’s body parts. You could say, ‘Your top doesn’t meet the dress code.’ You don’t have to say, ‘You’re showing too much cleavage.’ You either are or you aren’t following it.”
An informal draft for a revised dress code has been created and shared among administrators, though CHS administrators are currently looking for student input on potential changes.
As consequences for breaking dress code have become rare, many CHS students express enthusiasm for the relaxation of clothing regulations on campus.
“I have felt a sense of freedom since the dress code has been heavily lifted,” says junior Tristen Harris. “I was dress-coded for ripped jeans a couple years ago, and since, I’ve felt restricted from my own self expression. I believe that high school is a time to figure out what you want to be as well as who you are. Clothing is a very important aspect of that discovery. I rarely see anyone get dress-coded, and honestly, most recently, I have not even thought of the dress code when picking out outfits.”
Despite some students’ appreciation for the lack of enforcement of dress code, others feel as though certain students have taken the leeway afforded by the relaxed rules too far.
“It’s a school not a pool party,” says senior Lillian Paul. “I’m all for bikinis, but let’s take it to the beach.”
Proponents of a relaxed dress code encourage discussion between students in order to get to the root of their opinions and behavior.
“I’m not responsible for making other people comfortable,” says West. “If people were to dress code me, I would just say, ‘Hey, worry about yourself. This isn’t a me problem, this is something going on with yourself that you care so deeply about.’”
Though students and staff have discussed potential changes to the dress code, amendments to the rules have yet to be implemented, and according to the CHS administration, there is no timeline for any changes to the code of conduct.