Schools implement vastly different policies
Mary-Beth Tinker was 13 years old in 1965 when she rallied a group of students together and encouraged them to wear black arm bands to school in protest of the Vietnam War. The following day, the students were pulled aside, told to remove their armbands, and suspended. Mary’s family filed a First Amendment lawsuit and her case became the first dress code case to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled in her favor; a landmark decision in protecting the free speech of students in public schools.
In 2016, a charter school in North Carolina was taken to court for its school uniform policy that prohibited female students from wearing shorts or pants. In a 10-6 decision, the court found that the dress code violated Title IX and the Equal Protection clause “[b]y implementing the skirts requirement based on blatant gender stereotypes about the ‘proper place’ for girls and women in society.”
This year at Minnehaha, the start of the new school year brought a handful of new policies, including a revised dress code. The new dress code alters a few specific dress code rules and is accompanied by the administration’s promise to more consistently enforce the dress code. While these revisions may not be radical, they take their place in an overlooked and often fascinating social history of clothing and the struggle by authorities to control what certain people wear.
For decades, if not longer, schools across the United States have wrestled with dress codes, including their implications for students’ sense of self-expression and identity. A quick study of the dress codes of a handful of schools in the Twin Cities illustrates how different schools, with different value systems and approaches to student learning and identity, have chosen to frame and implement their dress code policies.
Minnehaha Academy Dress Code
According to the 2023-24 student manual, students at Minnehaha are forbidden to wear the following:
-Spaghetti strap tank tops or shirts, or shirts that reveal midriffs
-Short shorts or skirts, no “booty shorts”
-Clothing that shows genitals, nipples, buttocks
-Hats and hoods (can be worn outside, but not inside the school building)
-Clothing with tears, rips, or holes above the knee
-Clothing with printed slogans that advertise alcohol, tobacco, or drugs or are sexually suggestive -Pants with any words on the rear
-Anything that allows undergarments to show
-Pajamas (including pajama pants), other loungewear, blankets
-Tops that allow cleavage to show
“Personally, I follow the dress code, mostly because I don’t own [many clothes that don’t meet the guidelines,] but I think it’s annoying…the girls have so many rules and guys just can’t wear tank tops?” said Minnehaha junior Keara Elwood
“I haven’t seen [faculty] really enforce [the dress code] more this year, I get some of [the rules]…but blankets, I was sad about that rule, I’m always cold in school,” acknowledged Senior Katie Lehmann.
St. Paul Public Schools Dress Code
1. The principal or the principal’s designee shall mandate minimum standards of cleanliness and neatness.
2. Footwear is required.
3. There shall be no other restrictions, except as previously stated, on any student’s hair style or manner of dress unless the hair style or manner of dress presents a clear and present danger to the student’s health and safety, causes an interference with work or creates classroom or school disorder.
St. Paul Academy Dress Code
The following clothing items are required at all times under the dress code:
-Shirt or top with sleeve openings that extend no lower than the midway down the ribcage (i.e., fabric in the front, back, and on the sides under the arms)
-Shirts that extend below the waist, over the navel area
-Pants, dresses, skirts, or shorts that extend to at least mid-thigh
The following clothing items are not permitted under the dress code:
-Undergarments visible to others, except for over-the shoulder bra straps
-Clothing displaying sexual, drug/alcohol-related, disrespectful phrases or offensive words, graphics, or logos
-Sheer pants or shirts (unless another item of clothing is worn underneath)
“I wear tube tops, pajama pants, short shorts to school no problem. The only thing they’re strict about is hats and hate speech on shirts, the K-5 is enforced but 6-12 isn’t, I didn’t even know we had a dress code,” said SPA senior Kate Hanf
Mounds Park Academy Dress Code
Students Must Wear:
Students May Wear:
Students May Not Wear:
Students’ uniforms must be clean, neat, pressed and of appropriate length. Students who are in violation of the uniform regulations will be required to remedy the situation immediately or be sent home. This especially pertains to the uniform skirt length. Students will also be given a 45-minute detention for uniform violations.
Neither visible tattoos nor body piercing jewelry other than earrings are allowed anytime at school or school functions.
Out of uniform days exclude ripped or torn clothing, short shorts and cutoffs (any shorts must be at finger tip or below). Students’ shoulders and midriffs are to be covered. Students are to dress modestly and appropriately at all times.
“Personally, I thought having a school uniform was fine because it was so convenient to get ready in the morning. [The school] said the policy was an attempt not to define us by what we were wearing but their reasoning for the uniform felt really weird. They were really strict about random little things, like no holes in the elbows of your sweaters and obviously skirts had to be a certain length. I had an instance freshman year where my spanish teacher pulled up the hem of all of our skirts to cheek [the length of the skirts]”
-Solveig Fellows, VIS 2023 graduate