Webb’s dress code needs a makeover

Jolina+Zhao+%28%E2%80%9823%29+gazes+into+her+mirror+in+South+Hutch+holding+a+green+crop+top.+Every+morning%2C+boarders+must+choose+an+outfit+from+their+clothing+options+located+in+a+closet+with+limited+space.+Though+students+bring+items+of+their+liking+to+their+dorms%2C+choosing+an+outfit+that+fits+Webb%E2%80%99s+dress+code+can+limit+the+self-expression+for+some+students+who%2C+some+days%2C+want+to+be+comfortable+or+wear+a+specific+item.+%E2%80%9CSometimes%2C+I+just+wear+a+long+shirt+to+cover+my+sweat+shorts+because+I+want+to+stay+comfortable%2C%E2%80%9D+Jolina+said.

Emily Li

Jolina Zhao (‘23) gazes into her mirror in South Hutch holding a green crop top. Every morning, boarders must choose an outfit from their clothing options located in a closet with limited space. Though students bring items of their liking to their dorms, choosing an outfit that fits Webb’s dress code can limit the self-expression for some students who, some days, want to be comfortable or wear a specific item. “Sometimes, I just wear a long shirt to cover my sweat shorts because I want to stay comfortable,” Jolina said.

Webb encourages us to think boldly, express ourselves, and explore our identities, yet the restrictions in our dress code interfere with this freedom of expression. Throughout Webb’s history, the dress code has evolved to adapt to fashion trends, but are these changes truly listening to students’ voices? 

Page 65 of the Webb Student Handbook outlines the guidelines for how students should dress properly during school hours. Creating its rules to both “support individual identities and foster a community of respect of context, of oneself, and of others,” the handbook proceeds to list items of clothing deemed inappropriate for the academic day.  

The extensive dress code prohibits clothing depicting violence, profanity, drugs, and alcohol in words or images, non-close-toed shoes, athletic wear, pajamas, ripped jeans, crop tops, and more. While we understand the need for students to dress appropriately under different contexts, we also hope that Webb’s administration can listen to student suggestions and expand toleration in its dress code guidelines to address our needs for individual expression.  

At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, a group of students led meetings with various faculty and the deans to reword and adjust aspects of the dress code’s language. Students who took part in this meeting, like Marina Saeger (‘23), were happy to see revisions as a result of their efforts. 

“Some of the inappropriate language was definitely changed,” Marina said. “The use of the word ‘appropriate’ isn’t in there anymore, which I think is a big difference because we shouldn’t have to focus on ‘what’s appropriate.’” 

While the language that describes the dress code has changed, none of the contentions about the rules of the dress code have been absorbed, resulting in no substantial guideline alterations. Moving a step backward, the 2022-2023 school year began with an announcement of stricter rules for dress and weekly reminders to follow them. 

The current dress code aims to teach students life skills in hopes that they will understand the occasion they are dressing for. The presence of certain restrictions forces students to maintain an image that indicates they are ready to learn, instead of looking as if they just rolled out of bed. Considering that there are different interpretations of what is appropriate for certain events, the current dress code strives to achieve a balance of the differing perspectives on how one should dress. 

“The work that we’ve tried to do over the years with the dress code is to listen to student voices and try to make sure that our academic day dress guidelines are inclusive and equitable,” said Sarah Lantz, Dean of Vivian Webb School. “It’s hard to do because everyone has a different interpretation of appropriateness or how they would dress for certain occasions.” 

To further improve the current dress code to reflect a balance of personal preference and suitable circumstance, we believe that limitations on specific aspects of clothing items, instead of their full prohibition, would give students more freedom to express themselves while respecting the classroom environment. For instance, items such as crop tops should have a permissible range of length rather than being banned entirely. 

Many students also view the prohibition of sweatpants and distressed jeans as restrictions limiting their wardrobe. Although we understand the necessity of certain rules to maintain a respectable image of the school and its students, many sweatpants can easily avoid their stereotypical “just-rolled-out-of-bed” impression when they are intentionally styled. On the other hand, distressed jeans are a part of punk or vintage fashion that adds an intentional aesthetic to an outfit. 

“We want to look respectable, but it doesn’t have to be so strict. I don’t think [crop tops and ripped jeans] should be fully restricted. There has to be a limit,” Camile Casper (‘24) said. 

The dress code is also known to target VWS and female-identifying students more than WSC students. While both schools may be limited by sweatpants, VWS students feel impelled to worry about other restrictions as well. To some, it may feel that VWS has its own dress code. 

“I don’t feel like the dress code is much of a problem for me, but I can definitely feel how it can intrude on people’s personal expression,” Isaac Nicolosi (‘25) said. “Sometimes I just want to be comfortable, but I don’t really know much about VWS’s side of the dress code.” 

Stifling wardrobe restraints for VWS also leads to infractions of the guidelines.  

“People break the dress code not knowing they are breaking the dress code, or they break it knowing they can get away with it,” Marina said. “People may also break the dress code out of spite because they want to be seen, and they want to talk about it.” 

However, violation of the dress code also creates miscommunication between students and faculty, which sends a mixed signal to teachers of either rebellion or disregard of school rules.  

“It is not that I am offended by a belly button; it is not that way at all,” said Ken Rosenfeld, Dean of Students and Campus Life. “It is more along the lines of, ‘Hey, we are not supposed to wear those,’ and somebody is choosing to wear them. So, is that a statement that they do not agree with the rule, and therefore this is their act of rebellion to show that they disagree with it? Or is it that they just don’t care enough to follow the rules, ‘I am going to do whatever I want to do’?” 

Students defy the dress code every day and most go consequence-free, showing that most of the time, both students and those responsible for enforcing the rules are divided over if a student’s daily academic appearance is truly a problem. So why not change these restrictions? 

Revising the dress code would not only enable more options in what students choose to wear or what is convenient to wear, but it would also indicate Webb’s proactivity in listening to student opinions and encouraging self-expression.  

Changing the rules that fuel a well-known controversy on campus would demonstrate that Webb is mindful of the unbounded philosophies of thinking courageously and creatively.