Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Experts Say Teens' Push against Dress Codes Could Be a Sign of Social Change

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Experts Say Teens' Push against Dress Codes Could Be a Sign of Social Change

Article excerpt

Teens' push against dress codes sparks conversations


TORONTO - Students may have been rebelling against school-imposed dress codes for decades, but observers say the fact that those protests are now making national headlines suggests a fundamental shift in social attitudes.

Social media has allowed students both to share their own experiences with a wider audience and read about similar occurrences from further afield.

The result, experts say, is that individual incidents become part of an ongoing, global conversation about complex issues such as freedom of expression, cultural identity and sexual consent.

All of these topics can be tied back to dress codes according to Rebecca Raby, a sociologist in Brock University's department of Child and Youth Studies.

According to her research, which specifically explored the impact of clothing rules in secondary schools, placing limits on people's attire sends subtle messages about what's acceptable in society.

"There's lots going on when you have a dress code," Raby said in a telephone interview. "Dress is very subjective, ...and when schools try to regulate it, they're trying to regulate dress of really diverse populations, including diverse ages, who have different kinds of norms. And they're trying to enforce one norm."

Two recent Canadian controversies around students' dress codes made social media waves that eventually washed over the off-line world.

Earlier this month, Lauren Wiggins made a splash on Facebook by posting a picture of a floor-length halter dress that got her briefly suspended from her Moncton, N.B., high school on grounds that it posed a "sexual distraction." Earlier this week, Alexi Halket made headlines by organizing a protest against perceived fashion rules at her Toronto-area arts school.

After being told the crop top she wore was too short and looked too much like a sports bra, Halket took to social media and mobilized dozens of fellow students to don similar garments the next day.

Halket's principal, Rob MacKinnon, acknowledged that dress codes can be a complex issue. Schools usually develop their own sartorial standards that reflect the community they serve, he said, adding that what might raise eyebrows in one region may elicit a shrug in another. …

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