Dress Code and Appearance

By Aya Zein

Cover picture taken from THECOOLIST

The Idea

            The basic way to describe clothing is the means by which people cover their bodies, so as not be naked, whether it be to insulate in the cold or cool down in the heat. Clothing is more often than not reduced to practicality, functionality and decency, Occam’s Razor. They are simply clothes, right? 

Clothing History

            Although, the previous question is evidently rhetorical and, also, sarcastic, the answer will be answered. No, they are not simply clothes. Clothes were created for functionality at a time where functionality was necessary, for survival. Scientists are yet to agree on when humans began wearing clothes, with their estimates ranging from 40,000 to 3,000,000 years ago (Reed et al.). However, it is an obvious implication that the creation of clothing was to fulfill necessities for life. The earliest fabrics of clothing were fur, leather, leaves, or grass, and they were often draped and pinned on the body. The people of the past inherently needed to be covered, one way or another, to adapt to and survive their surroundings.

            However, over time, that changed. Life eventually became easier to live, hence, the way people dressed became a matter of preference, culture, and wealth. Clothing shifted from being for convenience entirely, to being for comfort. The précis of which is tactile comfort, the texture and friction of fabric on skin, thermal comfort, the extent to which one can be warmed or cooled by the attire, pressure comfort, the effect of the fabric on the body’s pressure receptors, and, finally, aesthetic comfort, the social and psychological comfort by “visual sensation, which is influenced by color, style, garment fitting, fashion compatibility, fabric construction and finish” (Au Advances in knitting technology).

Dress Codes

            Dress codes have been a topic of debate in schools and workplaces for decades. While they are often implemented with the intention of promoting a professional or appropriate appearance, they can also have negative effects on individuals and their rights.


            One of the main benefits of dress codes is that they promote professionalism in the workplace. Dress codes that require individuals to dress in a certain way, such as business attire, can create a more professional and serious atmosphere. This can help to establish a sense of respect and authority and can lead to increased productivity and better work performance.

            Another benefit of dress codes is that they can create a sense of unity and belonging. Dress codes that require individuals to dress in a certain way can help to create a sense of belonging and camaraderie among employees or students. This can lead to increased teamwork and collaboration and can promote a positive and supportive work or learning environment.


            One of the main downsides of dress codes is that they can perpetuate gender stereotypes and discrimination. For example, many dress codes have different guidelines for men and women, with stricter rules for women’s clothing. This can perpetuate the idea that women’s bodies are inherently distracting and in need of policing, while men’s bodies are not. Additionally, dress codes can discriminate against people who do not conform to traditional gender norms, such as transgender or gender non-conforming individuals. Another danger of dress codes is that they can create a culture of body shaming and self-consciousness. Dress codes that prohibit certain types of clothing, such as tank tops or short shorts, can send the message that certain bodies are not acceptable or appropriate. This can lead to individuals feeling ashamed of their bodies and self-conscious about their appearance.

            Another danger of dress codes is that they can create a culture of policing and surveillance in schools and workplaces. Dress codes often require individuals to conform to certain standards of appearance, and those who do not comply can face disciplinary action. This can create a climate where individuals are constantly being watched and judged for their appearance, rather than being focused on their work or education. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness and can even cause students to miss school or employees to miss work. It is often argued that a student must be decent and simple for school, so, as not to distract themselves or others with appearance. However, this does the opposite, causing stress around fitting one’s style or what they like to wear into the dress code.

            Additionally, dress codes can also be a form of cultural appropriation. Many dress codes prohibit certain types of clothing or hairstyles that are associated with certain cultures, such as dreadlocks or hijabs. This can be seen as a form of cultural oppression and can be hurtful to individuals from those cultures. It’s important for dress codes to be inclusive and respectful of different cultures and backgrounds. For example, for many women in India, nose piercings represent their coming-of-age and many institutions deem nose piercings inappropriate or informal. The nose piercing is as much a part of tradition as bangles, as a mangalsutra or a bindi. 

            Dress codes can also be a form of economic discrimination. Many dress codes require expensive clothing items, such as suits or dress shoes, which can be financially out of reach for some individuals. This can create a barrier to entry for certain jobs or educational opportunities, and disproportionately affect low-income individuals and families.

            In addition to the above dangers, dress codes can also limit individual expression and creativity. Clothing is a form of self-expression and personal identity, and dress codes can restrict individuals from being able to express themselves fully. This can be especially detrimental for young people, who are still discovering their identities and learning how to express themselves. Dress codes can also be a form of censorship. Clothing can be used as a form of political or social expression, and dress codes can restrict individuals from expressing their views or beliefs. For example, students who wear clothing with political slogans or symbols can be disciplined under dress code policies. This can be seen as a violation of free speech and can be detrimental to democratic values.

            In conclusion, while dress codes may be implemented with good intentions, they can have negative effects on individuals and their rights. They can perpetuate gender stereotypes and discrimination, create a culture of body shaming, and limit individual expression. It’s important for schools and workplaces to evaluate their dress code policies and consider the potential negative effects they may have on individuals. There are better ways to instill a sense of professionalism and unity.

Works Cited:

Au, K. F. Advances in Knitting Technology. Woodhead, 2016. Jamal, Butool. “Small Treasures: The History and Legacy of Indian Nose Piercings.” Only Natural Diamonds, 11 Jan. 2023, https://www.naturaldiamonds.com/epic-diamonds/history/natural-diamonds-nose-pin-history-legacy/#:~:text=For%20many%20women%2C%20especially%20in,a%20mangalsutra%20or%20a%20bindi.

Parenthood, Planned. “School Dress Codes Perpetuate Sexism, Racism, and Transphobia.” Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/planned-parenthood-new-hampshire-action-fund/blog/school-dress-codes-perpetuate-sexism-racism-and-transphobia#:~:text=The%20dress%20code%20gives%20room,of%20extreme%20importance%20to%20her.

“Pro and Con: Dress Codes.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/story/pro-and-con-dress-codes#:~:text=Dress%20codes%20enforce%20decorum%20and,can%20distract%20from%20common%20goals.

Reed, David L et al. “Genetic analysis of lice supports direct contact between modern and       archaic           humans.” PLoS biology vol. 2,11 (2004): e340.      doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020340“What Are the Benefits of the School Dress Code?” Bonneville Academy, 23 Sept. 2022, https://bonnevilleacademy.org/what-are-the-benefits-of-the-school-dress-code/

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