“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,” writes Michelle McQuigge in The Canadian Press.

The latest protest to make headlines was an Ontario school’s “Crop Top Day”, organized by student Alexi Halket who was told her cropped shirt was unacceptable school attire. When I first read about this protest, I was glad it was making headlines because, as McQuigge writes, “…individual incidents become part of an ongoing, global conversation about complex issues such as freedom of expression, cultural identity, and sexual consent.”

The global conversation that has ensued has been enlightening, but not in an entirely positive way. Many people have commented on articles about the Crop Top Day, saying that young women need to have self respect in what they wear. A quick Google search tells me that self respect is “pride and confidence in oneself.”

Personally, I wouldn’t have been comfortable – or confident – wearing the outfit that sparked the protest. However, clearly Alexi felt confident and that’s why she chose to wear the outfit. By wearing a crop top to school she did not exhibit a lack of self respect; she did in fact demonstrate self respect, because she wore what she was comfortable wearing.

I don’t want to make an assumption that all of the negative comments were from older people because I’m sure some young people don’t support what happened and some older people do; I will say, though, that for the most part younger people have been fueling a positive discussion about dress codes and the larger issues in society that stem from them.

I’ve seen such conversations on social media and heard them in the halls at school. I believe that in order for change to occur, awareness is the first step. The global awareness that this instance has brought, and the conversations that have accompanied it, make me hopeful for the future of society.

The conversations that have ensued from this particular protest can be difficult, because this issue is incredibly tricky. Of course school attire should be appropriate; but what is appropriate? As the article I linked to above points out, the trouble with promoting business casual attire is that it suggests to students that business settings are the ‘ideal work setting’. There are a plethora of other career pathways, and by suggesting that business casual is the ideal it may be perpetuating that the business path is the ideal one.

There is also the trouble that “dress-coding” girls because their clothes are “distracting” sends the message that girls are distractions to boys and exist to make life easier for boys (by not distracting them).

In my opinion, the message that should be sent to girls is to wear what makes them confident, within what they think is reasonable. I think empowering girls to discover what they are comfortable wearing and what makes them feel like they are dressed for success is a much better cause to support than labeling girls as distractions who have no self respect. What are your thoughts on dress codes?