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The Voice

Free Dress Challenge

Emma Komar, Opinions Editor

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Imagine someone coming into school with the comfiest free dress outfit you’ve ever seen. They have the fuzziest sweats, the softest sweatshirt, and even their messy bun is on point. But what if they weren’t supposed to be in free dress?

And what if no one said anything?

Here at the Voice, we ran an experiment: In two weeks, one to two newspaper staffers a day had to arrive at school sporting a UV–the first week in full free dress, and the second week in an obvious dress code violation.

The craziest part? Not even 1 of the 10 people in full free dress was caught.

Obviously, this was pretty surprising since Pres is known for our strict uniform code, but even more so in light of our recent uniform crackdown. Oddly enough, punishing students for skirt lengths didn’t include noticing whether or not we were even wearing one.

As for the partial-uniform UVs, there was a similar response: silence. Only one of our staffers was caught wearing a bright purple college sweatshirt. The others–who sported a variety of violations including colorful socks and sweats under their skirts–barely got a glance.

The classmates and friends of the experimenters hardly questioned us either. Senior Alison White says, “The most I got was a questioning look from a teammate, but nothing more.”

As for myself, two of my best friends asked me why I was out of uniform, but most of my classmates complimented my purple shirt rather than ask me why I was wearing it.

Not knowing that the experiment would be met with such a nonresponse from teachers, some of our staffers were very nervous about showing up to school out of uniform. Senior Dusty Hill commented, “Marching into Mr. Buell’s classroom in my yoga pants and slippers was singlehandedly the most terrifying moment of my life to date.”

Part of the reason we were so scared was because of the constant reminders of the uniform’s importance. Obviously, this led us to question why a school with such strict uniform policies is so resistant to react to UVs.

The sheer amount of days that free dress is offered is definitely a contributing factor. It’s impossible to keep up with every club, event, or sports game that offers a free-dress pass. In fact, during our free-dress week experiment, juniors were allowed free dress because of the retreat, and another group of auction workers received the same privilege.

It’s no wonder that teachers can’t keep up.

Social studies teacher Siobhan O’Byrne agrees, saying that it is “very difficult” to keep track of the Pres events that award free dress. All of our clubs do some really unique and amazing things that definitely warrant the occasional rewards, but it adds difficulty to the jobs of our already over-busy faculty.

O’Byrne’s concerns with free dress are something felt by many of the faculty and staff since the burden of UV distribution lies with them.

And trying to keep track of events is just part of the problem. No teacher enjoys handing out detention slips, and it can be distracting for them to do so. Religion teacher Melissa Ursin says, “I notice [UVs], but I don’t want to stop teaching to address it. I try to wait until we have a break in the lesson for a few minutes to go write it up, but sometimes I forget.”

Teachers are human and running a classroom takes a lot of work–communicating information while simultaneously watching the clock, looking for signs of boredom or misbehavior, planning how to transition to the next activity–it’s a lot to remember. It makes sense that a student’s outfit could be put on the back burner.

Likeability also makes it difficult for teachers to hand out UVs. While no teacher is trying to be friends with his or her class, most teachers here have established a collegial rapport with their students. So when they have to punish a student for a UV, the dynamic of the class shifts and makes the teacher look like less of an ally. This would clearly dissuade teachers from punishing students for their clothes. As science teacher Megan Twiddy quips, “I want to be Sherlock, not Chief Wiggum.”

A good chunk of our Pres teachers are alumnae themselves, which makes the situation even more difficult. O’Byrne remembers what it was like being a student at Pres, which helps her empathize with us because “I remember bending the rules myself.” Solidarity with students means that a lot of our teachers will either issue warnings instead of actual detention–which several teachers we interviewed said they prefer to do–or simply look the other way.

Teachers are clearly hesitant to punish students for understandable reasons, so it makes sense that our newspaper staffers faced little to no consequences for our dress code violations. This obviously isn’t to say we should all abandon the uniform and hope to go unnoticed, but it brings up the question of the uniform’s purpose. Maybe it’s time to start a discussion about whether it’s still even necessary.

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Free Dress Challenge