The End Dress Codes Collective is looking for stories about dress code discipline in the Toronto District School Board. Browse our archive of anecdotes, and get in touch if you can add to it. Anonymous contributions are welcome, and we won’t post your story to the site if you don’t want us to.
I began high school in 2011. I was just starting to come out of my shell. I ended up displaying myself as sort of a class clown. I was very concerned about how people saw me. Very self-conscious yet very sociable.
I became partially aware of the school dress code during grade nine orientation. I developed a better understanding through peer and personal experiences. For example, a friend was singled out during a class activity and brought outside of the classroom to be lectured because her bra was partially exposed. As for myself, I was instructed by my grade nine geography teacher to remove my hair pick. I wasn’t aware at the time that picks were prohibited by our dress code. My teacher told me it was a possible weapon.
This exchange led me to understand the absurdity and clear racial favoritism within my school’s dress code. I was so shocked that my comb was considered dangerous while there was no mention of any other type of grooming product in the code.
I shared my thoughts with a couple friends of mine. One of them was not shocked because she had known the stigma against hair picks through her middle school’s dress code. I never expressed my concerns and frustrations to any staff members. I figured that since those were the rules, I was in no position to fight back. Academically my school was excellent, and many on staff made an effort to emphasize the school’s high status. They didn’t always make students feel like they had a voice, though.
Over the next couple years, I got to hear more and more about how my friends experienced the dress code. I came to understand that there was an overwhelming distaste for the code and how it was enforced. I wanted so badly to speak on the matter, I just needed a platform to do so. In my grade twelve English class, my opportunity finally came when we got an assignment to create a media presentation on a social issue of our choosing.
I decided I would open up a dialogue about the dress code in the form of a podcast. I recorded a lengthy conversation between myself and one of the school’s vice principals. When we discussed the prohibition of hair picks, he asked me what a hair pick was. After I told him, he argued that we shouldn’t bring hygiene products to school. He spoke about how he wouldn’t put a toothbrush in his breast pocket. But he failed to acknowledge that under the dress code he was completely within his rights to do so — hair picks were the only hygiene products prohibited. When I pressed him to explain why they were singled out, he finally admitted that he had no idea. When I suggested that this prohibition singled out black students, he accused me of “fishing.”
This conversation taught me that my school’s administration either was unaware of or did not care about the issues regarding the dress code. Still, I realized I actually had a voice, and the many other students targeted by the code had voices as well, and we needed to continue to use our voices to make a difference. While the vice principal and I disagreed heavily throughout our conversation, we both concluded that there was a need to open more dialogue between students and staff.
Clayton is currently studying law at York University. An ambitious young man, he hopes to one day be able to do a backflip.