By Skylar Smith
As of February, relationship advice from the Peer Counselors and leftover Green Cup challenge promotions aren’t the only “toilet-talks” and flyers posted around school—detailed explanations of the Upper School’s new dress code, dubbed the “Six B’s,” are also now taped up in bathrooms, on office doors, and around high-traffic school areas. The idea for the new policy, which outlines items of clothing and body areas that must remain covered at school, was formed by Dean of Students Rory Morton ’81 and English Teacher Alda Farlow when they noticed an increase in revealing clothing last spring. After organizing a committee this fall to discuss possible amendments to the dress code, Ms. Farlow and other teachers implemented the change on Thursday, February 14.
“The dress code constitutes what we like to call the Six B’s— no bras, no boxers, no breasts, no backs, no bellies, and no butts,” Ms. Farlow said. “As a community member, I was shocked at some of the outfits people were wearing last spring, and I just felt like it was a simple fix. Why not [change the dress code]?”
Mr. Morton made similar observations: “I began to notice more and more students pushing the boundaries of what most faculty members considered appropriate for a learning environment like school, so I came to Ms. Farlow and asked her to put together a group of teachers that could address the situation and propose a new dress code.”
In September, Ms. Farlow, along with History Teacher Kathryn Marino, Science Teacher Melissa King, and Science Teacher Melissa Courtemanche, met to establish new rules regarding appropriate school attire. In advance of the dress code’s announcement, the committee submitted their draft of the new policy to a group of female students chosen for their appropriate dress and willingness to express their opinions on the subject. In a conversation facilitated by the committee, the students shared their input on how to present the changes without alienating or placing blame on certain groups.
“From what I’ve heard so far and the emails we’ve gotten and the faculty reaction, most of the faculty was very happy that we came up with a solution that seemed reasonable,” said Ms. Farlow.
According to English Teacher Eric Hudson, the new dress code serves as another beneficial form of education.
“I think that the purpose of a dress code is to help kids understand the correct way to conduct themselves when they are at school. In a way, school is your professional obligation, and since we’re preparing you for college, jobs, and the world outside BB&N, we should try to help guide students towards professional and sophisticated self presentation.”
To the surprise of many members of the community, the Upper School technically had a dress code before the new “six B” policy. According to the Upper School Policies section in the BB&N online Student Handbook, “Students are expected to be neat, clean, and well groomed [and] may not wear clothes that refer to drugs, alcohol, or other inappropriate or illegal activities. It is expected that clothing will be appropriate for the tasks at hand.”
“I honestly didn’t know that we had something written down—I thought it [was] just kind of assumed that we had a dress code, [meaning] you can’t wear stuff with inappropriate references, but I didn’t know anything other than that,” said Ms. Farlow.
“The Upper School has always had a dress code; it’s the failure to enforce the dress code that got us here,” said Mr. Morton. “If you look online, if you look in the handbook, there are some pretty clear expectations of what can be worn at school, but no one was addressing those. Students felt like they could wear whatever they wanted to school, except for things that had guns or alcohol or drug references, which most kids don’t wear anyway.”
While the new dress code seems like a big change from the vague guidelines provided in the Handbook, for Upper School students who attended the Middle School, these new expectations are actually lenient. Unlike the Upper School, the Middle School uses a “slip” disciplinary system to enforce several dress code rules that regulate the length of shorts and skirts (which must be no shorter than two inches above the knee) and the height of pants.
“I was surprised when I came to the Upper School and found that there were almost no guidelines regarding dress code,” said Mr. Hudson, who came to the Upper School four years ago after teaching at the Middle School for three years. “I wasn’t surprised that the guidelines were less clear, as I think that high school students can be trusted to interpret things a little bit more clearly than Middle School students, but I was surprised that there were so few rules.”
According to Genna Nemirovsky ’16, the transition from the dress code at the Middle School to that at the Upper School was a significant adjustment.
“I thought that it was kind of strange to go from a really strict dress code policy at the Middle School to almost no code here. I didn’t necessarily agree with the policy at the Middle School, but there was definitely a big difference,” she said.
According to Mr. Hudson, although there should be more guidelines regarding dress at the Upper School, it makes sense that there would be a difference in the severity levels of the dress codes at the Upper and Middle Schools.
“I think that the policies—discipline, dress code, et cetera—at the Upper School are historically just a little bit more broadly defined than those at the Middle School because we have an older age group and can therefore trust the students to be a little bit more independent and able to understand the intent of messages in a more sophisticated way,” said Mr. Hudson.
According to Julia Vance ’14, the “Six B’s” policy is a reasonable and necessary replacement of an outdated dress code.
“The dress code isn’t really about the clothes for me, [but] rather the motives behind the choices,” she said. “Perhaps with the enforcement of the new dress code—that honestly isn’t new and instead more defined— students will realize they need not attract attention solely on the basis of appearance.”
Despite positive reactions from most of the faculty and the students from whom the committee requested advice, some students do not agree that the changes are beneficial.
“I can see why they made [them], but I don’t think that [they’re] necessary because I think that by high school, people should be able to choose what they wear, and I don’t think the school needs to,” said Genna. “Also, I think that the part about the bra straps [showing] is kind of pointless because [everyone knows] people wear bras.”
Alex Ugorji ’13 also dissaproves of the new dress code. “I think that the dress code contributes to the sexualization of the human body by telling students that showing their backs, shoulders, bellies, breasts, butts, and other body parts [is] sexual and inappropriate regardless of their intentions,” he said. “I strongly believe that students should be able to wear whatever they want that helps them learn best.”
Additionally, some students did not appreciate the presentation of the new dress code, because after the initial announcement of the new policy at each grade’s respective class meeting, male students were asked to leave the room.
“Initially, we had just wanted to speak to the girls about the dress code because it seemed as though the girls were the ones who were in violation of the dress code most of the time,” said Ms. Farlow. “We also wanted the opportunity to explain [that] in order for all faculty members to feel comfortable addressing this issue, the female students needed to know that if a male teacher told a girl she was out of dress code, he was not sexually harassing her but instead simply enforcing a rule.”
Alex, however, thought that the decision to exclude male students was insensitive.
“People of all genders get harassed. Thus, all students should have received the sexual harassment talk, not just the females,” he said.
According to Mr. Morton, although some students are bound to react negatively to the change, many students will recognize that the policy is fair.
“If I look across the Independent School League, which I have, and I look at all of the dress codes that schools have, ours is very lenient, and I think students will appreciate that—one reason I like our school is I think our students are really reasonable,” he said.
Mr. Hudson agreed: “The administration wants to make sure that they are not setting themselves up for inappropriate behavior, and I think that if kids really thought about what their peers and adults have to look at sometimes, they would agree that [the new dress code] is a good idea that creates self-awareness.”