Outside of the school day, Deerfield students have freedom regarding what they wear and where they wear it. Girls wear crop tops to dances and bikinis on Spring Day, and guys also have freedom to wear—or not wear—whatever they want at these times. During school activities, however—including during sports practice, for instance—girls are denied the right to expose their bodies. In the last few weeks, a controversy regarding proper exercise apparel for girls on campus arose, and it brought with it a reminder of Deerfield’s clash between maintaining tradition and embracing progress.
As the spring unfolded and sports teams began to battle the rising temperatures, a group of girls led by Ally Bazarian ’18 asked for permission to take off their shirts while exercising, a privilege most boys teams have without recognizing it as a privilege at all. In her petition Bazarian wrote, “By allowing women to wear sports bras in a workout setting, we are showing that female athletes are equal to male athletes.” Bazarian argues that by creating a standard that would apply to everyone regardless of gender, everyone would be treated equally. This issue also calls attention to the larger issue of gender equality on campus, particularly in the realm of what we are expected to wear.
The dress code has split Deerfield students along gender lines, with two separate dress codes that strive to create an equal caliber of professionalism but actually fall short of achieving that aim despite constant readjustments of the rules. Ask anyone on campus what constitutes boys’ class dress, and the vast majority of the time you will get a complete answer, which takes into account even the special cases of turtlenecks and sweaters in the winter term.
Ask about the girls’ dress code, however, and you will be met with a blank stare, an incomplete list of what is acceptable and unacceptable apparel, or–and this is most likely–the answer that “girls don’t have a dress code.” This last statement is a partial truth. The relatively complex nature of the girls’ dress code makes it hard to enforce. I’ll admit that on rainy days I’ve been known to wear leggings, and once on a particularly hot and sticky spring day I left my cardigan at home and exposed my sensual shoulders to the world. (Sorry, Mom.) Nonetheless, I’ve still felt the dress code constrains me from dressing how I want to, and at times I have wished for something as clear and simple as the expectations for boys’ class dress.
There is dissatisfaction from both boys and girls about the dress code, and that is without considering the effect this binary dress code has on those who don’t see themselves at either extreme of the gender spectrum. So maybe it’s time to think about Ally Bazarian’s words in a larger sense; by setting the same standard of dress for everyone on campus, we could create an atmosphere where students feel that the school values us all at the same level.
I suggest a modification to Deerfield’s current dress code that makes it accessible to anyone, regardless of their gender identity. Deerfield prides itself in its sharp looking student body; my proposed change would not take away that aspect of Deerfield culture, but would enhance it by ensuring students have the freedom to look sharp while being their authentic selves. I propose we allow all students to wear a single layer (consisting of a dress shirt, blouse, sweater or cardigan), along with pants, shorts, or a skirt or dress that meets current requirements of formality. By instituting this dress code, the school would not illegalize any of the current dress code requirements. Instead it would allow all students to be their comfortable, genuine selves.
As written in our mission statement, Deerfield works to prepare its students for a “rapidly changing world.” By leveling the playing field through a set of dress expectations that apply to everyone regardless of gender identity, we could move away from gender separation and instead announce that we are all people first, that our bodies are our bodies, and that’s not only okay but actually a pretty amazing thing. We have made a great accomplishment as a school by addressing the issue of gender equality on the field and in the gym, but the conversation shouldn’t end there.
As a community, it is in the best interest of everyone to continue the fight to all be treated equally. I believe the next step on this ladder of success will be to reform our dress code.