Don't Ban Schoolgirl Skirts — and Don't Blame the Boys, Either

If there’s an article of clothing that could match the hoodie in controversy it’s the schoolgirl skirt.

Here in America, we’re lucky no one is allowed to dictate what we can and cannot wear in daily life. Sure, parents have some control over their offspring’s wardrobe, but they can’t have their daughter arrested for shaming the family with short shorts. The schoolgirl skirt, however, is the stuff of private school, where administrators are allowed to enforce a particular dress code. As the most skin-revealing option in some school uniforms, the skirt becomes a lightning rod for discussion about modesty in young women. It also represents an opportunity to guide or control that modesty, from establishing a number of inches above the knee after which a skirt becomes “inappropriate,” to the growing number of schools in Britain sparking debate with their decision to ban skirts entirely.      

Beverly Turner takes the recent skirt-banning trend to task in the Telegraph, essentially calling it ridiculous, and I agree. Banning skirts from school doesn’t make sense whether you believe that teenage boys are irrepressible horndogs (they’ll be distracted no matter what girls wear) or that young men are smart and sensitive and with the proper guidance, can actually learn to see women as humans, not sex objects (skirts not a factor in that outcome either). 

Turner wisely suggests that rather than fixate on the effect skirts have on young men, schools should engage young women in a discussion about their oft-ignored sexuality, and “what and who is making them roll their skirts.” The problem is, Turner assumes she already knows the answer: “Today’s Bambi-ish creatures… equate revealing skin with showing maturity and letting the boys know they are ‘up for it.’”

Growing up, I attended a Catholic, all-girls school, and let me tell you, we hiked our skirts with nary a pair of XY chromosomes to “please.” Furthermore, when finally faced with the opportunity to interact with the opposite sex, absolutely no girl would be caught dead in her uniform. Looking back on it, I can honestly say I rolled my skirt with no real regard for the spell it would cast on men. I did it because our uniform was ugly, and shortening my skirt made it slightly more stylish. I also learned on my first day as a transfer student (the last day I wore my skirt at regulation length) that a long hemline made you an oddball. Sporting a short skirt was a way to blend, to avoid the mockery of my fellow classmates.

Undoubtedly the false confidence gained from male approval factors in to the short skirt equation for some girls. But it’s not the entire story, and if you treat it like it is — first, it's condescending, and second, the “discussion” isn’t really a discussion. It’s a lecture. And we all know teenagers love lectures. There are a lot of lessons to be gleaned from a dialogue about skirt length that don’t have anything to do with guys; for example, the pressure of group mentality, or why it's detrimental to judge others by their clothing rather than their personality. Additionally, telling young women what inner confidence looks like in hem length — aren’t we just teaching them to alter their appearances for a different group of people? 

By all means, warn girls that their skirt lengths won’t be considered appropriate or professional once they hit the job market. At the same time, school is school, it’s not yet the real world. They've got time to experiment. I figured out professional dress just fine as I moved through college. Then again, my job allows me to write in cereal-covered sweat pants and a greasy ponytail, so the leap from catholic school "hussy" to creative slob was admittedly, a short one. 

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