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 quick to join lots of clubs and sign up up for different events and opportunities. I was really engaged with the school newspaper. I was also super dedicated to our Gender-Sexuality Alliance. Early on in high school I sort of became my school’s poster child for queerness just by being vocally out, so I ran with it and genuinely enjoyed being as visible as I was. I was more interested in extracurriculars than academics, though I managed to do well pretty well in both aspects.

I think my leaning towards more politically charged extracurriculars started with my interest in LGBTQ+ politics. I remember reading about queer activism around the seventh grade and feeling like I couldn’t sit around and not do anything to help, but I also didn’t know how to take action. The summer before high school I visited Washington, D.C. with my mom, and one day while we were walking around the city I saw volunteers with clipboards asking for signatures regarding something related to same-sex marriage. I kept looking back at them, kept wanting to go and ask how I could help, but I didn’t. So when I entered high school, a newspaper seemed like the perfect place to at least voice my concerns, if nothing else. It felt like a good way to start helping out.

My wardrobe never broke my high school’s dress code, so I was never personally called out. However, by the second semester of my grade eleven year, almost all of my friends were being dress coded. The moment that tipped me over the edge was when I witnessed one female identified student being lectured by a few female teachers on her clothing choices. The slut-shaming was what I found most problematic — lots of talk of how the student wanted to be perceived by her male peers and the level of respect she had for herself. It was nauseating to me. That was when I first talked seriously with a friend about all the dress coding that was going on. There was a level of urgency to that conversation. My friend and I wanted to take the matter into our own hands.

Spring 2015 was truly one of my favourite semesters. After having that initial conversation of, “hey, this isn’t right, something’s got to be done,” we were on the lookout for stories of students getting dress-coded. We kind of added them all to our mental archives, while still trying to figure out what we were going to do about it. Then one day in mid-spring a friend of ours told us their account of being dress-coded that day, and I think we just wanted to do something right then, right there. We landed on the idea of putting up posters around the school with messages like, “My body, my choice,” and “A girl’s clothing choices do not dictate the amount of respect she deserves.” That afternoon my friend used up all his print credits in class to print out posters with those messages on them, I got duct tape from a couple different teachers, then we met up after school and waited until most people had gone home to start putting them up. All the posters were gone by the morning, but the next day we printed some more and quickly put them up again during lunch. Those were also taken down, but that was almost a good sign for us — there was pushback because there was clearly a problem.

At this point we wanted to do something on a bigger scale to make change. With the help of a staff ally, we started a committee dedicated to changing the dress code. The next school year, we added two more members to our committee, and the four of us wrote a short presentation on the problems we had with the dress code. After many, many edits, we finally sat down with our principal and made our case.

The presentation went smoothly, and a few weeks later we sat down with the principal again for a followup meeting. Our expectation was that the prohibition on hair picks, which we argued was racist, would be removed from the code immediately, and that the rest of the code would be revised over the following school year. To our surprise and dismay, the principal told us hair picks would remain prohibited. Suddenly we all went off script, making the same arguments we had made before, but this time with less patience. There was no reason for it to stay, and our rapid-fire arguments and urgent tones communicated that loud and clear. Eventually, we convinced the principal (again) to cut picks from the code. It was both a small victory, and an important one, because it was the first.

Afterwards I felt like a total badass, because it was kind of like a scene out of a movie. Somehow we all spoke incredibly articulately, in a very fast and well-choreographed way. We knew exactly what we wanted to leave that room hearing, and we made it pretty clear that we weren’t leaving without hearing it. That we were forces to be reckoned with, people worth taking seriously. I felt pretty invincible, to be honest.

In university I’m pretty focused on doing LGBTQ+ related work. I’m part of student groups like NewPRIDE and LGBTOUT, and I’m the co-chair of a leadership conference for LGBTQ+ students through U of T’s Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, where I also work as a weekly discussion group facilitator. The climate at U of T right now surrounding non-binary gender identities is tense. I’ve spoken to high school students who have voiced concern about attending U of T because they don’t know if they’ll be able to use gender neutral pronouns in class, or if they’ll even feel safe on campus around certain peers. The discourse around NB identities has meant that now more than ever, it’s important to have spaces where queer and trans* folks can voice concerns, decompress, access resources, get peer support, and simply know that we have their backs.

One reason I fought the dress code was to give back power to students by letting them wear what felt right to them. I feel like my activism work now is also motivated by the desire to give back power to queer and trans* folks who have been made to feel so belittled over the past year and a half (and historically, always). I don’t see why anyone should have the right to tell other people how to dress or what pronouns to use or who to be. We should be allowed to make our own choices.

Mahfam is studying neuroscience, psychology, and sexual diversity studies at the University of Toronto. On the weekends, she is busy being a global lesbian icon.

EDC VOICES: Mr. Wright

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’ve taught for twelve years in Toronto, and two before that overseas. It’s a cliché, but I’m firm but fair, I hope. My goal is to have my students learn. It shouldn’t be a party, it shouldn’t be tons of fun all the time, they have to do some serious learning. But I don’t lose my cool too often. It’s pretty great to be able to talk about things that I like all day, things that I really care about, and to try to make students like them too. Books, literature, politics, big ideas, big questions…

I don’t usually enforce the dress code. I have bigger things to worry about. I don’t think it affects their learning, so I don’t care about it.

The dress code prohibits hats so that we can identify intruders. The logic is that if someone is wearing a hat, they’re an intruder. I get the concern for safety. But I walk by hundreds of kids every day. I don’t know most of them. I can’t tell if they’re an intruder whether they’re wearing a hat or not. And if I see a student I don’t know wearing a hat, I don’t want to start our relationship on a bad note, by talking about this thing that I really don’t care about.

There’s one Vice Principal in particular who is really on about the hats. I’ve had a few encounters with him over the past couple years. It’s frustrating because the encounters have all happened in college-level classes. At my school the kids in those classes are often at-risk, they don’t necessarily like school, and they definitely like it less when they feel like they’re being picked on. I think they feel the same way I do, like it has nothing to do with their learning.

The first encounter was when a student left my class to go to the washroom, put on his hat once he was out the door, and was caught. The VP gave him a talking to, and then gave me a talking to. “We all have to be on the same page…”

Another time that year a student came to class late and sat at the back of the room with his hat on. I’m in the middle of a lesson, I’m engaging the other kids, and I’m not going to interrupt my class — I want everyone to stay focused on what we’re doing, and I’m so focused on what we’re doing that I’m not going to notice a small thing like that. And inside the classroom the student clearly is not a threat: I know him, he’s supposed to be there. So the VP opens the door and yells at the kid with the hat on. And what I’m doing gets destroyed, the whole moment gets destroyed — and clearly the VP’s relationship with that student is null and void.

The third encounter is the most vivid to me. It’s June, we’re in the computer lab. There’s this kid who is having a really difficult time at home, his parents have split, his mom has been away, he’s moving around, he hardly ever comes to class. There’s a couple minutes left in the period. I’m having a conversation at the back of the room, everyone else is just waiting to get out the door, and this kid puts his hat on. This is after doing some good work, trying to make up for what he’s missed, really trying to get the credit. The VP sees him through the window, bursts into the room, takes the hat off, gives the kid a scowl and says “You’re not getting it back,” gives me a scowl, and leaves.

That kid already has a very tough time. Why did it need to be made worse? It’s like the rule is valued over individuals, over acknowledging that students have stuff going on, and this thing that’s unnecessary is making their life worse. And when there’s a real safety issue, like violence or something, these students are not going to go to the administration, they’re not going to want to work with them, they won’t be on board.

The negative effect that the dress code has on school safety was really brought home to me by this student who was always breaking the code. She was really pleasant, she wasn’t a bad student, but she was always breaking the dress code, always getting hauled into the office. I taught her in grade twelve, and early in the semester she happened to mention that she’d been assigned a locker next to a guy who had assaulted her in the past. And she wasn’t going to do anything about it because she felt like the administration wouldn’t be on her side, because of her history of breaking the code. I ended up going down to the office with her, and making sure that the guy got moved to another locker.

If she’d been left alone, if she’d been allowed to wear what she wanted, she would have been more likely to feel like she could speak up about this herself. And her learning would have been better because she would have felt safer. We can’t control what she’s wearing. (What are you going to do, suspend her? That would be absurd. You’re going to take away her learning because of what she wears?) But we can control how safe she feels, and we have some control over how focused she is on her work. Why waste time on stuff that doesn’t affect her learning?

It was the same overseas. My students would adjust their uniforms for the weekly check, they’d be compliant for that day, and then they’d go back to doing what they wanted. It was just absurd. The administration would measure their fingernails, measure how high their dresses were, call them all into the gym… What a waste of time.

I guess I just don’t want to make anyone’s day any worse. I want to talk to them about their learning. Why get all riled up about something that is not going to affect their learning?

When he isn’t marking or prepping, Mr. Wright likes reading history books, watching (and yelling at) Blue Jays games on TV, and hanging out with his new baby.


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 just trying to fit in for the first two years of high school. But as grade eleven rolled around I started to become more comfortable with myself. I expanded my social circle, I became more outgoing.

I was never a crazy dresser. Part of me wanted to be; I was always really intrigued by fashion, style. But I never really stepped outside the norm. I wore a lot of black — I think it was partly me trying to seem as heterosexual as possible!

I was never dress coded. It never crossed my mind as something I had to think about. We learned about the dress code at the beginning of the year; I associated it with a boring lecture I had to sit through every September, along with fire drill procedures and how you couldn’t eat on the second floor. Retrospectively, I recognize that I was incredibly privileged to be able to not think about it.

My first “personal” encounter with the dress code was when I heard about a classmate I knew that had been told her tank top was distracting to boys. It was around the time I was trying to come out to people, and I still wasn’t completely comfortable with myself, so hearing this story was kind of unnerving but I wasn’t really in a place to reflect on why I felt unnerved. A while later, I did think about it when someone informed me about the rules on spaghetti straps. I thought to myself, “Okay so girls are clearly being targeted here.” I started to hear more and more dress coding stories and realized that, as a cisgender male, I literally never had to worry about the code, whereas girls were being called out over and over again, for the smallest, randomest infractions. I always had more friends who identified as girls than friends who identified as guys, so when I actually started paying attention, the sexism was really evident.

Some of my friends would resist the code through evasion. Trying to cover up when seeing a teacher in the hall, or hiding from particularly conservative staff, was common practice. The stories I was told made it clear that being dress coded was often an aggravating and emotional experience. The more I heard, the angrier I got.

The final straw was when my close friend told me she was dress coded by the principal seconds before walking into a particularly difficult bio test. She was pissed off and said she couldn’t think about anything else during the test. That’s when I thought, “This is absolutely one hundred per cent not okay.”

This was around grade eleven. By then I had kind of accepted myself, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the dress code was stopping other people from accepting themselves. And I realized that the code was homophobic — because it assumed all boys are heterosexual — and that hit close to home I guess. I think I’m now aware that it probably made the coming out process harder — even just coming out to myself. Anyway, I was just like, here’s an issue that’s blatantly wrong, let’s fix it!

I decided I’d write my grade eleven English speech about it. But I knew it might not be perceived as relevant to our school. I wanted quotes, I wanted evidence that would show how real the problem was. Also, I knew I couldn’t just do a speech on dress codes as a person privileged enough to never have been coded before. I wanted to include the voices and actions of people who were affected by the code daily.

So I conducted a social experiment. I asked some friends, mostly girls, but some boys, too, if they would be comfortable breaking the dress code in particularly apparent ways for one day. And I gave them a few questions they could ask the staff members who coded them. “What about my clothes is wrong?” “Why is the dress code important?”

So everyone showed up that day in clothes violating the code. They wore crop tops, bralettes, short shorts, low-cut dresses, low-cut tops, tank tops, et cetera. (To be honest, they actually all looked amazing.) And before lunchtime, I had almost every female-identifying participant running up to me in the hallways to relay what had happened. The stories were beyond my expectations. They were told their clothes were too sexual; boys will be distracted; everyone in the room is uncomfortable. It was honestly repulsive. One friend was on the verge of tears after being humiliated by a teacher who accused her of “valuing sex over education.” Most teachers got visibly angry when questioned about the reasoning behind the code. One friend was told to go to the office as soon as she started asking questions.

And none of the boys were even looked at twice. One of them very badly wanted someone to call him out on his tank top, he wanted the opportunity to ask his questions. So he went around looking for teachers and initiating conversations with them. He even had a short conversation with the principal and a vice principal. Alas, no one called him out. He was pretty disappointed.

I wrote about all of this in my speech. The response from my classmates was really great. It was like many people had been thinking about it for a while and had finally heard someone say it out loud. Of course, there were some who disagreed, but I think even they were shocked by the results of the experiment. The class had to vote on who got to present their speech at the grade-wide speech competition and I ended up getting the most votes, so I polished it up and presented it to a larger audience later that year. A lot of the students who saw it there came up to me saying they loved it. I think after that the word kind of spread, and me and my friends got a lot of people coming up to us to tell us when they got dress coded from then on.

I knew achieving real change would be a slow process considering the apathetic response from a lot of staff. But the response I got from students was really heartwarming. I found out about a lot of people who felt similarly about the dress code and it made me feel like we had numbers on our side. People were irritated, people were angry, people were fed up. People actually cared. The word was spreading.

Yasir writes for the McGill Daily. A reckless spender, you’ll find him purchasing anything mini-sized.


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.


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.


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.


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.