By Ava Motes

Youth and Government delegates are enthused by their opportunity to promote justice and affect change across various categories, but some feel as though their right to do so has been impeded by the strict tone of our dress code.

“I think it is totally unfair that we have dress codes that do not allow the students to express the freedom they enjoy under the first amendment of our constitution,” Michael Cunningham, an advisor for the Del Valley Delegation, said.

The YG dress code not only mandated business professional attire; it specified restrictions upon physical factors aside from clothing, such as hairstyles. This raised concerns among participants who felt that the dress code went beyond encouraging event-appropriate attire to limiting personal expression.

“I noticed a point in the dress code that was saying ‘no crazy hair’. It just seemed excessive that they wanted to control our hairstyles, as though something like hair dye or dreads determine how respectable you are,” Luka Verheul, a sophomore delegate from LASA high school, said. This perspective exposes an underlying reality: the dress codes that we author and abide by have the ability to standardize what we deem professional or appropriate. The tone and content of such rules has an impact on our takeaway, and more concerningly, the formation of our opinions and portrayal of identity.

“Why is it that the men’s section of the dress code is just encouraging that we wear dress shoes or a tie while the women’s section has all of these body-oriented restrictions? There are all of these rules for them about cleavage or midriff, and there is no equivalent for the men,” Verheul said, concerned with the implications of such phrasing.

“It blatantly promotes the censorship of women’s bodies, and it comes off as condescending,” Verheul said. Many high school students share similar grievances, as campus dress codes tend to focus more on the length of girls’ shorts or the plunge of their necklines than the attire of males.

One of the contributing factors to this disparity is the fact that women tend to receive affirmations for wearing revealing clothing. According to Christelle Chatellain of the LASA delegation, it is difficult to navigate the conflicting standards of what women “should” wear.

“We get more attention and likes on Instagram when we’re showing more of our bodies, but at the same time, we’re also shamed for dressing that way,” Chatellain said. “It’s a problem in Texas, because it gets so hot here. It’s nice that shorts are available to me because they’re more comfortable, but you have to risk being objectified or judged, which is unfair.”

The shift in women’s fashion standards to accept and promote less traditional clothing allows for greater self-expression and body positivity but presents a dilemma when dressing for stricter settings. “I had to buy all new clothes to fit the dress code, which was frustrating. They’re also really uncomfortable,” Emma Castro from Del Valley High School said, “It took forever to find something I could wear, and a lot of that stuff is more expensive.”

According to Cunningham, the primary objective of clothing companies and department stores is to make money. “They care more about it being fashionable than suiting a dress code. The problem is that the rulebook doesn’t account for this,” he said.

Cunningham believes that is important to dress nicely to uphold the professional nature of this setting, but one’s demeanor and actions are a greater determinant of their right to be here. “Ultimately, it should be more about what is in your head than what is on your body. That’s what I would prefer to see students focus on,” he said.

As youth exercising civil liberties and engaging in a dialogue about societal issues, we have the ability to challenge longstanding definitions of professionalism. “Western business attire was originally a phenomenon that was used to segregate the lower class from political situations,” Verheul said, “I believe that while we need to take measures to sustain a professional environment, we should not perpetuate this rolling stone of exclusion in decision-making.”

Each generation is distinct from those that have come before, and our standards are consistently evolving. 2019 has been called “The Year of the Women”, and with that we have seen record-breaking statistics in female representation. We are in the midst of government diversification, and as we are gradually progressing, we should also strive to abandon dated standards.

The clothes we wear serve a dual purpose of function and a display of identity, and we should not have to sacrifice one of these things for the other. As we push towards making positive changes during this year’s conference, we should remain conscientious of our opinions regarding the systems in place around us.

“I’ve seen a lot of people protest the dress code in quick, expressive ways, which I really appreciate. Small things like wearing fun socks or keeping their dyed hair. I think it shows a rebellious and socially conscious spirit that will prove important in the decades to come. Things are always changing, and so should our opinions about what is acceptable,” Verheul said.