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 entered high school a little bit guarded, a little reluctant to socialize, a little antisocial. But I came out of it.

At the beginning of high school I tried to dress as generic as possible. And then over time I found my own style, what I felt most comfortable in, what represented me the best.

I don’t come from a very progressive household. At school I was looking for the progressive home that I didn’t have. Going to school and not wearing a bra was a liberty that I wanted to try taking. But how I viewed school changed, regressed, because of the dress code.  

More than once, the principal disciplined me for not wearing a bra. It was such a battle. She would call me to the office and we would enter this debate. She would ask what I wanted to do for a career. She said if I wanted to work in a law firm, I couldn’t dress that way.

But our dress code didn’t even say you had to wear a bra. I was uninformed and didn’t even realize that. I just believed what she said about what the dress code said. So I was targeted for an infraction that didn’t even exist. She was making up a policy that only existed in her mind.

I remember once, a day after she coded me for not wearing a bra, I walked past her, and I still wasn’t wearing a bra. I kind of whispered to my friend “She dress coded me yesterday. I wonder if she’ll do it again.” She called me over, but instead of coding me she asked if I had told my friend about being dress coded. I got the impression she didn’t want me to tattle on her — like she didn’t want the school’s progressive reputation tarnished.

Another time I was called out by a teacher. This affected me much more negatively. We were paying a class game. Everyone was included, everyone was having a good time. I think the teacher wanted to connect with the students. But then she called me out of the classroom, and coded me because my bra straps were visible. This time really upset me. It seemed like the whole class was on the same page, there had been a flow, everyone was involved. And then she sort of put me in my place and used her power.

I remember telling my friends that it was funny how they wanted me to wear a bra but didn’t want to know that I was wearing a bra.

I feel like the generation I’m growing up in is very body positive. My cohort was very supportive of one another. I heard nothing but positive remarks from my peers.

But amongst my friends I was the only one that got dress coded. That was a source of insecurity. By the end of high school we’re all becoming ourselves, and I’m the only one constantly being criticized. It kind of made me feel like I grew into the wrong self.

I remember being at home before school began for the day and needing to get dressed and thinking “What am I not going to hate myself in? What am I going to be super-comfortable in?” And then worrying about teachers and administration dress coding me. It started to affect how I felt in class. I worried about how my teachers viewed me. At first just teachers who I knew would code. But eventually paranoia kicked in and I thought “Everyone’s got their eyes on me!”

The dress code taught me that school wasn’t what I thought it was, or what I hoped it would be. And having that hope shut down was heartbreaking.

Dani did paralegal studies at Humber College and is currently pursuing a career in teaching. A self-described foodie, her favourite dish is seven cookies at once.

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