Students Lead Reformation of Winsor Dress Code

By, Lydia B. and Talia W.

Winsor’s dress code has been an object of schoolwide discussion since the fall. Students and teachers complained that the dress code’s restrictions seemed abstract: why is it necessary for students to wear “no pajamas, tube tops or revealing clothing” in order to “help maintain an environment conducive to learning and respect for the community”? Members of the Winsor community also complained that it was often not enforced, so when it was, students felt, in the words of Avantika K., “cornered” or “singled out.” Alumna Karina S. said, “I also found that body types of certain individuals affected whether or not they would be asked to change . . . This definitely affected the self-esteem of girls.”

In light of such complaints, a group of students and faculty members formed a committee in the fall to revise Winsor’s dress code. The Dress Code Committee used anonymous feedback from surveys sent to students and faculty to draft a philosophy of dress. The philosophy of dress seeks to fill these gaps between reasoning and regulation by explicitly detailing the philosophy on which the more specific code will be founded. If students are prohibited from wearing pajamas or tube tops, they will understand why and be able to trace that rule to one of the eight points in the philosophy of dress.

The philosophy of dress also contains specific protections against issues detailed in survey responses. For example, to resolve the issues with lenient and subjective enforcement, the philosophy of dress states that any and all enforcement must not “disproportionately affect any group based on age, race/ethnicity, gender/gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, household income, cultural observance, or body type/size/maturity.”

Karina S. said, “It is important that institutions with dress codes continue to assess their dress codes contextually and identify whether they could be conflicting with the freedom of individuality that schools like Winsor take pride in cultivating.” Another important aspect of the committee and its work is that it “has been entirely student-driven and student-led.” Ms. R also said, “Being part of this committee made me feel that student voices should be a part of our decision-making processes at Winsor more broadly.”

The survey responses also revealed gaps in understanding that exist regarding the dress code. These stem in part from a disparity in health education: although students have had the opportunity to go through Winsor’s health curriculum, many faculty and staff members have not. One major theme in the responses to the anonymous survey was a lack of understanding about how the dress code reinforced prejudices about the female body and its purpose. While most students have had the opportunity to participate in discussions of issues like the shaming of women for their sexuality and rape culture in health classes and consequently are conscious of the intersections between these issues and the dress code, many adults in the community expressed confusion about the links between dress codes and body shaming and saw the dress code rather as a standard of professionalism and modesty.

Another misconception is that the demand for a revision of the dress code is a demand for the abolishment of the dress code. In fact, in looking at the responses to the surveys, Ms. R said that “what surprised [her] most was the range of responses from the students . . . While the majority of students seem to feel the dress code should be revised, there was a wide variation of response in terms of what that revision should look like and why it should happen.” Within discussions, the dress code committee has spoken about the logic of a dress code and its purpose. In creating the philosophy of dress, the committee hopes to share that logic with the larger community.

As the committee moves forward, they hope to write a new dress code with a foundation in the philosophy of dress based on feedback from the Winsor community, effectively adapting changes to work for and be understood by all.

They also hope to provide some form of community-wide health education—including the adults in the community—so that everyone can be on the same page and share a common understanding and vocabulary regarding the complex issues that surround dress codes.