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 did a lot of self-discovery and self-esteem building in high school. Art was always my scene so I spent most of my time around the art room painting and in the music room singing in choir.

I’m an artist now. I do performances and create wearable art. The roots of this work, and of how I plan to earn my living, are in the things I put together to wear in high school. I wore various outfits: bright, dark, strange, simple. It was very important for me to experiment with personas and see what worked for me. I expressed what I felt about myself and the surrounding world through what I wore. I remember one time in art class very early on we were doing realistic self portraits and I decided to draw myself with fairy ears. My teacher made me erase them. The next day I showed up wearing ears I had crafted. That’s how I felt, so I wanted everybody else to see me that way.

I first dealt with a dress code in middle school, in grade six. I wore a tank top with spaghetti straps. My French teacher yelled at me in the hallway, in front of all the people from my class: “Put on some clothes!” It was very embarrassing. Later that day I approached her and said that I wore tank tops because it was embarrassing to get sweat marks on my shirts. She didn’t think that was a good reason. She said she needed the boys in my class to be focused.

In high school I also got coded for wearing tank tops. Once a hall monitor told me to put something on that covered my shoulders and to come back to her for approval. She said if I didn’t I would go to the office and be sent home. I didn’t have anything else with me except a coat, which was also against the dress code — we weren’t allowed to wear coats inside. So I had to pull my friend out of his class, and he gave me a long sleeved shirt. At that point it almost seemed degrading. It was causing unnecessary fear and anxiety. Why be so angry and condescending towards me over a tank top? My parents at least had a reason to be this way when I would forget to wash the dishes.

Some teachers would review the dress code with students, especially when the weather would get warmer towards the summer. They would mostly single out girls and say that they shouldn’t wear shorts that were above the fingers when you put the palm of the hand on the thigh, and that the straps on a top should be three fingers wide or more, and that undergarments should not be visible. To the boys it was mainly said to not go topless (which I never saw anyone in school ever do) and to not show undergarments as well. Teachers would sometimes make awkward jokes about how “girls who show less are more interesting to guys anyway,” or something else along those lines. I would always dread the summertime and the awkward jokes and comments during the review, plus knowing that if I really were to follow the dress code I would be sweating and uncomfortable.

Explanations for the code were not really given. But if someone asked, teachers would mainly talk about “attracting the wrong attention” or “being professional.” I did have unpleasant interactions with a few boys at my school, but not during the days I broke dress code. In fact, the worst time that I received such attention from a peer, I was in a jean jacket with every bit of my body covered except my face and hands. And as a performance artist, I now wear a lot of similar things as I did in high school. So I really was preparing to dress professionally in my own way, for what I do today.

Today I feel very liberated knowing that I can pick from my closet what I am comfortable in, and my confidence skyrocketed when I stopped having the little worried voice in the back of my head going “am I gonna get in trouble for this today?” Shopping for summer has also been fun knowing that I don’t have to bring a handy ruler with me and I will actually get to be happy in whatever clothes I bring home.

Luna is a performance artist attending OCAD University. Her goal is to merge reality and fantasy through creating sacred objects and by impersonating a fairy.

Homework: The Enhancing Equity Task Force

The TDSB’s Enhancing Equity Task Force was initiated more than a year ago. Facilitated by Liz Rykert, its mandate is to explore which of the Board’s equity strategies have worked and to identify where challenges remain. The Task Force released its draft report on October 24. Interested parties are invited to comment on this draft by November 20.

The End Dress Codes collective met with Liz Rykert in mid-October, after the draft report had been written. We told her about the destructive impact that school dress codes have on the Board’s equity goals, and about our hope that dress codes will be explicitly discussed in the final version of the report. Now, we want you to comment on the draft report and reinforce our message.

One of the barriers to equity the Task Force identifies is racism: “Racism was frequently raised as a concern by a wide variety of stakeholders.” Tell the TDSB about how school dress codes sustain racism.

Another is biased teachers and staff: stakeholders “stressed that it is the duty of the Board to ensure that staff do not perpetuate…prejudices.” Tell the TDSB that staff perpetuate sexism, homophobia, and transphobia when they enforce school dress codes.

Another is divisions between schools: “Wherever there were divisions between schools, traditionally marginalized students” lost out. Tell the TDSB about the divisions between schools’ dress codes, and how the harshest codes seem to be reserved for traditionally marginalized students.

The Task Force stresses the need for more student voice: “Students…stressed their desire to participate in the discourse on such important issues as equity.” Tell the TDSB what you’ve been trying to say about dress codes, or what you’ve heard students say about codes.

Tell the TDSB what you want them to know by November 20 — and tell us, too!


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 was pretty outgoing in high school. I was really involved in extracurriculars, and I feel like I was fairly well-known both because I was social and because I was one of the few openly queer students when I came to the school in grade nine. And I ran Rainbow, our queer/straight alliance, for most of the time I was there.

I was also a pretty weird dresser. In grade ten, my go-to outfit was a pair of highwaisted shorts, usually denim, or a pair of men’s trousers that I had cut into shorts. I would wear tights or stockings beneath them, usually brightly coloured ones or ones with a fun pattern. Sometimes fishnets, or sometimes the tights would be ripped. And then I would wear some kind of tank top or t-shirt tucked into my shorts, with an oversized men’s button-up unbuttoned over top. This was around the time I got in the most trouble with the dress code, which is kind of funny because I was actually wearing so much clothing. It always felt like so many layers.

It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly how this look came together. I was really into thrift and vintage shopping and I bought a lot of my wardrobe from places like Value Village and stores in Kensington Market. So I had a lot of weird pieces. I think mainly I had anxiety about presenting too femininely and not being read as queer and this was my way of presenting as queer.

In grade nine I mostly got in trouble for wearing tops and dresses that revealed too much cleavage. Once in the middle of a grade nine English class my teacher asked me to pull up the front of my dress. I don’t remember if she used words or just gestured, but I was annoyed by the fact that she was addressing it in the middle of a class. It was probably late May, it was hot, and I was wearing a very normal crew-neck dress that anyone else could have gotten away with wearing. I felt like I was being targeted because of the kind of body I have — fat, curvy, hypersexualized, etc. I felt like if my breasts weren’t the size they were it wouldn’t be an issue.

I remember arriving to a dance at the school in the middle of winter. I arrived with my jacket zipped up and the teacher who was ushering in students at the front door, who I didn’t really know and had never been taught by, stopped me and spoke to me in this accusatory tone and wanted to know what I was wearing under my jacket. Nothing came of it, I was let into the dance, but I felt like I was being policed.

I started to feel like I was being harassed by staff at the school. In grade ten I remember I would devise different routes to getting to my classes without having to pass through the main doors where the principal and vice principals stood. But eventually I was pulled out of class one day and had to meet with the whole admin team, and my mom was called. I was told I was attracting the wrong kind of attention and I had all this potential that I was squandering with my choice of outfits. On that day they took issue with the fact that I was wearing a beige tank top that was too similar to the colour of my skin. And they took issue with the fact that I’d been wearing lacy tank tops and camisoles that to them looked like lingerie even though they’d be layered on top of another tank top or t-shirt. And they took issue with the length of my shorts, even though I was wearing tights underneath.

I was really angry. I thought it was all a bit absurd. I remember sitting in the meeting with them and absolutely fuming. I was also nervous and a bit shaky because I was experiencing this feeling of being in trouble. But I was very confrontational. I remember being pretty blunt and saying to them that I knew we wouldn’t be having the conversation we were having if I had smaller breasts, if I had a different body. And I brought up that I didn’t understand why my shorts were an issue when my skin wasn’t even visible. Things like that. They didn’t really address these things. The principal just kept reiterating that they had my best interests in mind and that I was attracting negative attention to myself.

I definitely know that my anger came from knowing that the dress code was disproportionately enforced upon girls. (One of my friends who was a dude would always come to school in muscle tops, or in this shirt with guns all over it, and no one ever said anything to him.) And that there was this victim-blaming, violent logic behind it that suggested girls were responsible for how their male peers and other men in the school treated them. But I don’t know how much of this I was actually able to articulate. I was just really frustrated and disheartened. I felt like I was this good student doing good things in our school, and all of that was being derailed by this panic over what I was wearing.

I think after this happened I felt like I had no choice but to change the way I was dressing. It didn’t seem like this would stop happening and I found it all a bit exhausting. I started wearing leggings and button-ups and oversized sweaters mostly. When it was warmer out I still wore the shorts I always had and I’m sure I was still showing cleavage fairly often. There were a few times when teachers called me out for cleavage or said something about my bra straps. I remember once a teacher who came to Rainbow meetings actually tucked my bra strap into my shirt for me, which I thought was really inappropriate. But my mom, who is very much an “I’d like to speak to the manager” kind of woman, had spoken to the principal very sternly. I think she said something along the lines of “I won’t tolerate my daughter being targeted and intimidated.” That probably helped, because the administration knew dealing with me in the same way again would be a bit of a headache for them.

The dress code felt like such a big deal to me at the time. It truly felt like this awful oppressive force in my life and I think some of my experiences of being coded were kind of traumatic for me. Both because the focus on my body and clothing felt invasive, and because it genuinely unsettled me that these adults with a bunch of power over young people didn’t recognize how inappropriate some of the ways they were enforcing the dress code were. I graduated five years ago, but I’m still bitter that the dress code and the drama that surrounded it ate up a bunch of my time and energy, and that it lies at the center of a handful of shitty memories from that time.

I still care about this issue because I still recognize it to be this really unfair way that young women and queer students and students of colour have their bodies and choices policed. I think the enforcement of a dress code just distracts from students’ growth and success. There needs to be less of an unhealthy obsession with how young people choose to adorn their bodies. I still think my anger was justified and I actually think I did a really great job not internalizing the oppressive, body shamey, victim blamey things that were said to me. I dress very differently now but I still have a lot of empathy for my fifteen-year-old self. I still remember being her very clearly, which I guess is why I’m just as anti-dress code as ever.

Katelyn is studying English Literature and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto. She is passionate about public libraries, selfies, and holding babies.

#EndDressCodes Friday Jam: Sad13

Sadie Dupuis is Sad13. In Dupuis’ words, Sad13’s debut, Slugger, is an album of “Songs that put affirmative consent at the heart of the subject matter and emphasize friendship among women and try to deescalate the toxic jealousy and ownership that are often centered in romantic pop songs.” In Lindy West’s words, these are “Songs for women that actually champion women’s autonomy, reflect women’s desires, listen to women when they talk, and let women be funny and normal and cool.” In our words, ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥.

We especially  the closing track, “Coming Into Powers.” This is precisely what we want for students looking in the mirror in the morning, trying to decide what to wear:

Look at me
Looking back at me
Loving everything I see
. . .
I build the me I want

Dupuis’ band, Speedy Ortiz, plays in Toronto tomorrow night!

“These are lessons in the dynamics of power”

We felt something like relief when we saw that Soraya Chemaly had done the work of connecting the dots between the headlines about Harvey Weinstein and the enforcement of school dress codes. Chemaly has written about dress codes many times before, too: check out “How Schools Skirt Around Sexism and Homophobia,” “The Funny-Not-Funny Video You Have To See,” and “Every Reason Your School’s Gendered Dress Code Is Probably A Sexist Mess.”

Dress code enforcement easily reproduces exactly the types of behaviors that adults are seeking to prevent. They involve a pattern of silence, shame and obedience in situations where someone bigger and more powerful tells a girl what to do with her body. These are lessons in the dynamics of power, control and silence in abusive situations. They are also lessons in male sexual entitlement. That bigger and more powerful person might be an athlete, an employer, a trusted coach or religious leader, people who know they are more likely to enjoy the benefit of the doubt.


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.

#EndDressCodes Friday Jam: Weaves feat. Tanya Tagaq

Like last week’s Friday Jammer, Weaves performed at Toronto’s Venus Fest, a music festival “in the spirit of feminism.” In a profile leading up to the performance, Jasmyn Burke talked about the power of hair.

After performing with her band Weaves in New York last year, lead singer Jasmyn Burke found herself surrounded by a cluster of fans resembling mini versions of herself.

“I had all these girls with ’fros coming up to me and saying, ‘You look like me and [now] I feel like I can make music,’’ Burke says. “That’s where I felt a switch. I’m not just making music for myself any more.”

She also discussed the thinking behind “Scream.”

Scream, which Burke wrote during the American presidential election, is about how as a Black woman, she’s trying to make sense of the world as it unhinges.

“I was thinking about being a woman of colour and how people might perceive me without knowing me,” she says. “Sometimes in your head you’re like, ‘I’m just like everyone else’ and then through your life, you have people say dumb things and you realize, oh, some people might hate me because I’m Black, and that’s bullshit.”

Burke’s joined on the song by the incomparable Tanya Tagaq, whose earth-shattering throat singing helps propel the song into a feminist anthem as Burke sings, “My thighs are too big, my head isn’t small, my brain is on fire, I’m feeling this fall.”


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.

“Feminism in all its wonderfully dope forms!”

MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes was thinking of the TDSB student who was removed from class because of her black hair when she spoke to the House of Commons about body shaming.

It is about women; particularly women of colour, Indigenous women, women with disabilities, and various genders. We need to speak up and understand that vulnerable women have challenges in school, in the workplace, and in society as a whole. So I braided my hair and wrote the speech before returning to Ottawa from Whitby. This is an important conversation to have, and I am glad that the message has been shared throughout Canada and around the world.