We all understand why dress codes exist: lack of distraction, safety, sometimes even to discourage conspicuous economic disparities. To show that school is serious business. Some schools ban gender-bending dress as a means of discouraging harrassment, which however suspect it may seem, at least is rooted in tragedy. (As the Times reminds us, "safety is a critical concern. In February 2008, Lawrence King, an eighth-grader from Oxnard, Calif., who occasionally wore high-heeled boots and makeup, was shot to death in class by another student.")
And then there's what happened at Morehouse last month. As Fox explains,
Recently Morehouse College, an all-male black private university in Atlanta, released its "Appropriate Attire Policy" that banned do-rags, caps, hoods and sunglasses in class and "decorative orthodontic appliances." But it also specified the following — "No wearing of clothing associated with women's garb (dresses, tops, tunics, purses, pumps, etc.) on the Morehouse campus or at college-sponsored events."..."The image of a strong black man needs to be upheld," Cameron Thomas-Shah, student government co-chief of staff, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution . "And if anyone sees this policy as something that is restrictive then maybe Morehouse is not the place for you."
Dicta like this - and, to an extent, the highly-publicized Ceara Sturgis Tuxedogate - are obviously somewhat arbitrary. As long as the clothing is neither dangerous nor out of bounds (ie, the same length and neckline rules would, one suppo, nor one the ACLU is disinclined to pursue. Should a boy dress like a drag queen for class? Well, neither should a girl - that does qualify as "distracting." An administration might argue that cross-dressing was, by its nature, distracting. I'd say, maybe for the first week. But then you get used to it. High school may be rigid, but young people are also flexible and, as we have read time and again, far more liberal-minded about issues of sexual identity than any prior generation. However insubordinate kids might be, they still ultimately take their cues from an administration - and can tell when something's arbitrary or unfair. Lawrence King, after all, was not shot because of the way he dressed, but because of the ignorance, fear and hatred of his attackers. (And, by the way, we're guessing Chinos wouldn't have guaranteed a blissful school existence.) It may be harder for a school to address this than the clothes - but surely it's also a crucial part of an education.