Victories Come In All Sizes



Sept. 23 marked the first day of fall.

The mind generally drifts to cooler temperatures and the upcoming holidays in conjunction with the new season.

To me, fall means baseball's postseason and the return of football. It also reminds me of an experience I had in high school that was both uncharacteristic and highly satisfying for me.

My senior year represented the culmination of several years of school administrators toying with the idea of establishing and enforcing a dress code for quite some time.

As 17- and 18-year-old females already grasping for independence and self-expression, it was about as big a hit as anything we could've imagined.

In my opinion, the public school system is far too conforming, without limiting what children and teenagers can wear. We learn at an early age to raise our hands and to sit in our desks in neatly lined rows. We learn that being different or weird can make things hard for us. It is unpopular to have unique ideas or express ourselves in ways that waver from normalcy -- something that always seemed ludicrous to me.

High school for me was a time spent struggling to learn what I was all about. I was annoyed and offended at the concept of even more rules being placed over my head.

The first few months of my senior year were spent arguing with teachers about the new dress code rules and searching for any loopholes possible in the new outline of what was acceptable to wear. Fall, for me, represented a time when reality finally sank in -- I wasn't allowed to wear some of my favorite clothing anymore.

Violations of these arbitrary rules meant donning a neon yellow men's extra large T-shirt with the phrase, "I violated the dress code" pasted across the front of it. How that garment wasn't a bigger distraction than a spaghetti strap tank top, I'll never understand.

In any event, a group of my friends and I, who were all in the top tier of our class academically and represented some of the school's finest athletes, biggest volunteers and most well-mannered females, organized a protest.

We planned a day where we would all wear spaghetti strap tank tops, thinking that the school administration would certainly have to see how foolish the rules were, and be forced to reconsider. If all the "good girls" of the school broke the rules, they must be unfair!

Well, it didn't work. I was among a dozen or so friends who were sent to the front office for a neon tee, courtesy of school administration.

I was livid.

The dress code was limiting. It restricted our personal style. And above all, it unfairly affected female students. I don't think I had a single male friend who had to alter his wardrobe.

I decided that I would look over the rules of the dress code closely and find a way to demonstrate how silly it was.

One of the rules stated that tank top straps had to be at least two finger widths wide. Shirts could not bare midriffs. Perfect! I thought.

I went with my best friend to the mall that week and bought a tank top that fit the guidelines. Its straps were about four finger widths wide. It covered my dangerous and learning-prohibiting midriff and it contained no inappropriate symbols or language.

What the shirt did reveal, however, were, let's just say, my assets. It was a deep v-neck cut shirt and barely covered my bra. It didn't leave a lot to the imagination. It was, however, technically legal by dress code standards.

When I showed up to my first class, my female Spanish teacher smiled. I think on some small level, she understood what I was trying to do.

As the day progressed, I walked more boldly between classes. I smiled and made eye contact with the assistant principal at one point. I stuck out my chest, figuratively speaking, of course, in defiance to everything I felt was unjust in my high school world.

By my last period AP calculus class, most of my teachers had commented, but none had acted, because technically, I wasn't doing anything wrong.

I went home that day feeling like I'd won the lottery. I proved to teachers and administrators that spaghetti strap tank tops were really not that big of a deal, in the whole scheme of things. I imagine that every single teacher would've preferred the shoulder-baring shirts to what I showed up to school in.

Nothing really changed that day. The dress code is still in effect at my former high school, from what I hear.

Looking back on that episode of my life, I smile at how silly the whole thing was. On a ridiculous sort of scale, however, I'm still proud that I stood up for what I believed in and fought the system, even if it was only for a day and by way of an obnoxiously low-cut tank top.

The smiles from my fellow female classmates and the renewed battle against the dress code that tank top sparked, were victory enough for me.

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