By Lara Sokoloff
Sophomores on the water polo team strutted through the quad during Activities Fair on Monday, Sept. 19, wearing only their Speedos and leaving little up to the imagination.
“If I knew it was going to happen, I would have shut it down,” Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra said. “It was cute and harmless, but it was important to take advantage of [the moment] and let the coach talk to the kids. It definitely was a real teaching moment.”
Catherine Haber ’12 said she has noticed a change between how people dress this year from how they have dressed in the past.
“Style has changed,” she said. “Crop tops, lace and sheer clothing have definitely become more popular, and there has become less of a difference from what people wear on the weekends and what people wear to school.”
The school’s dress code aims to “create an environment in which all students, teachers and staff feel comfortable,” the Parent-Student Handbook reads. Students are expected to dress in a way that does not distract peers or teachers.
“We view this as their place to get work done, so it’s a work place, a school place,” Salamandra said. “If anybody is wearing anything that is distracting to others in the classroom, then it’s not appropriate.”
“Teachers dress casually, but they also know what’s professional and what’s not,” Luba Bek, counselor and humanities teacher, said. “How would students feel if teachers came dressed [unprofessionally]? Students have to think of school as a professional environment where you come to learn, and not to show your body parts.”
Due to the lenient nature of the dress code, the responsibility to dress appropriately falls on the students.
“We try to keep the rules to a minimum because we feel that it’s important for each individual to start to establish what is appropriate and what is inappropriate,” Salamandra said. “It’s important for students to start formulating their own set of guidelines to live by.”
Students are encouraged to use their own judgment in most aspects of their school lives, having strict dress guidelines would contradict that, school psychologist Sheila Siegel said.
Some students are not familiar with the specifics outlined in the handbook.
“I know there was [a dress code] at the Middle School that was pretty strict, but I’m not familiar with the one at the Upper School,” Hallie Brookman ’12 said.
Haber also said she was “not at all familiar” with the upper school dress code.
However, upper school dean Jon Wimbish said all upper school students who attended sophomore orientation and their first all-grade class meeting should know the dress code rules.
Salamandra said he had not noticed any change.
“I don’t personally feel that it’s been tremendously more of a problem than it has been in the past, but maybe time will tell,” he said.
Because the dress code does not delineate specific rules, it is more difficult for teachers to enforce it, Bek said.
“The faculty who are comfortable [enforcing the dress code] become the bad guys in the school, which isn’t right because people who are enforcing the rules are just doing their job,” Bek said.
Siegel said some teachers may not feel comfortable addressing a student directly about his or her outfit.
“You might have found a teacher that may not say anything, but they will certainly change their opinion of you,” she said. “Sometimes the choices you make have consequences that you don’t intend.”
Wimbish said he often does not feel comfortable approaching girls about dress code violations.
“As a male teacher or authority figure, if I’m saying to a girl that her cleavage or her tight pants makes me uncomfortable, there’s a kind of defacto sexual connotation in that,” he said. “I’m not comfortable saying that it makes me uncomfortable because it will embarass the girl. It’s going to embarass me. Does that mean I was looking at her in an inappropriate way?
There are all kind of weird feelings mixed up in there.”
Haber said students who dress inappropriately should be spoken to and asked to change.
“It’s definitely an awkward situation, but it should be done, if not by a male teacher then by a friend,” she said. “Someone should be comfortable enough to say, ‘Hey, maybe you shouldn’t wear that next time.’”
Faculty occasionally discuss student dress, Bek said.
“It’s hard not to talk if you see guys with their entire butt hanging out, or girls with extremely low cut tops and nonexistent shorts,” she said. “But a lot of teachers are not comfortable pointing it out to students. We teach, we don’t monitor the fashion.”
Bek said that by not correcting these violations, the faculty is inadvertently condoning the inappropriate dress.
“For years we’ve been enforcing the lack of decent attire while still saying we want respect,” she said. “That, in my opinion, is just demoralizing.”
Salamandra said the school chose not to outline a clear, strict dress code 21 years ago when Harvard and Westlake schools first merged because administrators did not want to waste teachers’ time by asking them to enforce trivial rules.
“We don’t want to be walking around with a ruler measuring skirts,” Bek said. “I like rules only when people follow them. Otherwise it’s an exerise in futility.”
Despite a lack of enforcement and insufficient advertisement of the dress code, Salamandra said “99 percent of the kids do the right thing.”