Skip To Content

    An Adult Followed 8 High School Dress Codes And It Was Really Hard

    Why are we making being a teen girl harder than it already is?

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    Hi, I'm Kristin. Like many ladies, I've had the reasons for school dress codes drilled into me since I was a girl: that school is a place of business, that it's about preparing you to be an adult, and that to be taken seriously you have to ~dress a certain way~.

    Which, OK, sure...but then why is it that girls keep getting in trouble for wearing outfits that functional adult women (including myself) wear ALL THE TIME?

    Carey Burgess/Stacie Dunn/WBKO / Via /

    It made me wonder: Would my current adult human woman wardrobe even be dress code appropriate?

    Kristin Chirico / Via

    So I picked eight American public high schools and tried to follow their dress codes with the clothes I've worn to work in the last three months — and no repeating outfits.


    I aimed to follow the rules as literally as I could, and I told my co-workers that they were to call me out if they noticed any egregious violations.

    Also, eight schools obviously isn’t a comprehensive survey of all American high schools — this is just a taste. I selected these schools to get a variety of locations and types of rules.

    So, is most of my current wardrobe dress code appropriate, or am I actually a big, distracting lady? LET'S FIND OUT!

    View this video on YouTube
    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    For me, this was easy, because the dress code rules for this school are delightfully vague:

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    Major rules for this dress code:

    — No "unnecessarily" revealing tops (no cleavage or midriff showing).

    — No "excessively" short shorts or skirts.

    — No plaid shirts.

    — No tight/stretch pants.

    On the other hand, the last I checked, "excessively" and "unnecessarily" are more opinions than numerical guidelines, so I could see this turning into a hellacious guessing game very quickly for tall teenagers.

    For day 1, I basically got to dress like myself:

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    This school was probably the easiest to actually follow, because it was both pretty lenient and intensely specific:

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    Major rules for this dress code:

    — All tops must be held up by at least one strap, no midriffs exposed.

    — No cleavage below the armpits.

    — No visible bra straps.

    One half of the back must be covered.

    — No exposed "gluteus cheeks" (this didn't apply to me, but LOL).

    — Skirts and slits in skirts must be long enough to reach your fingertips against your sides.

    Again, I am maybe getting away with more because a) I am short (and have shorter arms) and b) I have comically wide-set boobs, and thusly cannot make cleavage happen unless I'm physically squeezing them together in order to catch a Cheeto or whatever.

    I had a little more trouble picking an outfit for day 2 than the previous day (does a lace overlay count as a strap? How does one measure half of a back?), but I still got to dress like myself:

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    This day is approximately when my troubles began:

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    Major rules for this dress code:

    — No tank tops or spaghetti straps, or exposed midriffs.

    Nothing backless.

    — No stretchy skirts.

    — Shorts and skirts fingertip length or longer.

    — Nothing transparent or see-through, or too low-cut.

    Man, I had NO IDEA what to do with the "nothing backless" rule. Did it mean nothing COMPLETELY backless? Nothing partially backless? What about adorable keyhole backs? I made the call that basically anything that exposed part of my back was out, and along with the "no tanks or spaghetti straps rule," this cut down my wardrobe choices so severely it made me really wish I'd done more laundry before this.

    Here's what I wore for day 3 (after almost leaving the house in something "inappropariate," like, twice):

    Kristin Chirico/BuzzFeed

    How easy was day 3? I was about 15 minutes late for work, but this is still a Kristin outfit. It turns out that I have become literally immune to all the clothes I own with lace overlays over the shoulders, or thinner straps, or keyhole backs. I realized how much I take for granted that my brain can just skim over all these details, like they aren't potentially the difference between a detention or not.

    Also, neither of the outfits I wore earlier in the week would have been OK today.

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    Today was the first day I had to bust out the tape measure:

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    Major rules for this dress code:

    — No shorts or skirts any higher than 4 inches above the knee.

    — No tank tops, spaghetti straps, or exposed midriffs.

    Back must be covered.

    Today I found out that my fingertips are 7 inches above my knee, and also that having to measure all your dresses and skirts with a tape measure is a terrible chore from Satan!

    Day 4 was a pretty hot day, so I was in absolutely no mood for pants:

    Kristin Chirico/BuzzFeed

    How hard was day 4? I got to dress like me, but the amount of measuring that went into figuring out if I was even allowed to do that was just. the. worst. Also, scrutinizing the things I was wearing caused me to be a lot more focused (and judgy) about what other people at work were wearing.

    I started feeling low-key resentful of all the dudes who, under this dress code, would be allowed to dress in ways that showed off their muscles, as if that would have been any less distracting to a teenage Kristin Harry Potter fan fiction–afflicted brain.

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    Day 5 was not a very good day for dress wearers like myself:

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    Major rules for this dress code:

    Skirts MUST reach the top of the knee, but shorts and skorts need only reach the fingertips.

    — No tank tops, spaghetti straps, crop tops, or cleavage, or anything "overly revealing."

    Fun fact! Under these rules, a skort I owned (that was several inches above the knee) was OK, but a dress a couple of inches above my knees was not. Neat!

    This school also has a rule about wearing shorts with skirts that I have read upwards of 25 times and still don't really understand:

    Black River Public School

    So, if you are playing along at home, if you wear shorts under your skirt:

    — You can follow the "fingertip" length rule for shorts,

    — EXCEPT that your shorts have to be the same length as your skirt, and your skirt must not reveal anything above the knee,

    — Which contradicts the part of the rule about following the "fingertip" length rule for shorts, because the shorts must be as long as your knees, by the transitive property of What The Hell Is Even Going On Here.

    Anyway, I hit a little snag dressing for day 5 when I got called out because the shirt I was wearing revealed a little bit of bra and had to put on a sweater halfway through the day:

    Kristin Chirico/BuzzFeed

    How easy was day 5? Not fun! On the one hand, on top of being VERY hot this day, I went into a pretty intense shame spiral: Can people see my bra straps a lot? Do they judge me? Am I a wandering jello fire?

    But on the other hand, why am I conditioned to feel this badly about a piece of clothing? Seriously, it wasn't THAT much bra (can you see it in the photo?). Also, sometimes bra straps slip down. Let's not get all self-righteous and pretend like this doesn't also happen in life, to nearly every adult woman, many of whom I assume have their lives in order.

    For day 6, I actually couldn't decide between two Kentucky schools (both with interesting dress codes rules in their own right), so I decided to split this day into two halves:

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    And welcome to the jungle, we've got fun and shame:

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    Major rules for this dress code:

    — Necklines must not be lower than the shortest length of a credit card.

    — Shorts and skirts can't be shorter than the shortest length of a credit card from the knee.

    — No exposed skin on the back or below the underarm.

    — Sleeveless tops permitted, but they must be as wide as the shortest length of a credit card.

    The best part is that this school got some attention earlier this school year for having an extremely strict dress code, and this is actually the revised, more lenient dress code they came up with afterwards. None of the outfits I have worn so far this week would be acceptable at this school. Please think about this.

    Day 6 was super hot, because of course it was, so I was not interested in wearing pants and instead settled for looking like an adult toddler.

    Kristin Chirico/BuzzFeed

    How easy was day 6, part 1? It was difficult AND demoralizing, my favorite two things! You know what I am glad I will never have to do again? Measure most of what I own against a credit card. Because unless you have arms that reach your knees, getting an accurate measurement with a credit card is a two-person job (or a one person, a tube of old lipstick, and 45 minutes of uninterrupted cursing job). This is all work that these teen girls have to do on top of being just, you know, normal teens.

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    This dress code was only slightly more permissive, and at a super irritating cost:

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    Major rules for this dress code:

    — Shorts and skirts must be no shorter than 6 inches off the ground while kneeling.

    — Dresses and tops must be 3 inches or greater at their narrowest point.

    — Tops cannot dip below a line formed between the left and right armpit.

    Hey, you know what's fun? You know what definitely makes you feel like you are in the mood to learn? Getting on the ground 20 or so times to figure out whether all your skirts are acceptable to wear in public.

    To simulate what I imagine is probably a very humiliating and power-imbalanced experience, I got on my knees so that my boss could measure day 6's outfit to make sure it was appropriate:

    Kristin Chirico/BuzzFeed

    This was terrible for everyone involved.

    Day 6's outfit turned out to be fine, but the soul was not.

    Kristin Chirico/BuzzFeed

    How easy was day 6, part 2? It is so desperately humiliating to have someone in a position of authority assess your clothes — even someone who respects you, and who you like and are friendly with. Of all the dress code rules I tried, this is the one that most needs to be shot out of a cannon and into the sun.

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    Huh, boy:

    Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed

    Major rules for this dress code:

    — Tops (without collars) must be a solid color (no designs/emblems/logos)

    — All skirts must reach the bend of the knee.

    No shorts or skorts after fourth grade.

    — All shirts must have sleeves that cover the shoulders.

    — Pants must be a substantial material.

    So, if you are keeping score at home: I can't actually follow this dress code with the clothes that I currently have. Ironically, I would need to go topless.

    So, here's day 7's outfit, complete with a shirt that I normally just wear while working out or sleeping or yelling at the TV:

    Kristin Chirico/BuzzFeed

    How easy was day 7? Actually impossible! I look like I'm cosplaying as a Crunch Berry. I think it's pretty easy to dismiss the feelings of teen girls when they say that dress codes make them feel limited, but this outfit really did. I felt like generic-brand Kristin, a shadow version of myself who likes hiding in giant teal caves and doesn't feel very good. Dressing this way really only compounded my natural aura of awkwardness — and it didn't make me more focused on work.

    And seriously, I have, like, a lifetime of experience making sure teen boys do not notice me. I don't need a dress code to keep that from happening.

    After a week of trying to follow the rules, I learned a lot about how much work dress codes really are:

    1. How easy it is for you to follow a dress code (as a girl) is based largely on luck: where you happen to go to school, how tall you are, how wide apart (and therefore, cleavage-prone) your boobs happen to be, how long your arms are, whether you have the money to buy clothes that will be acceptable. Why are we making things so unfair?

    2. A vague dress code is impossible to follow and so subjective — and therefore inconsistent.

    3. I get it: There are many reasonable guidelines for expected dressing in life, and school is here to teach you about life. But school ISN'T real life, it's a place where children need to learn, and if you're a 5'10'' teenager who lives in a hot state and is in tears because she can't find shorts that are long enough for her body — you're not helping her learn, you're wasting her time because YOU can't exert the effort to meet her halfway.

    4. If you still have a dress code that requires ANYONE to get on their knees in 2016, you're being lazy. Update that noise.

    For more Kristin, like her Facebook page!