Skirting the Issue

Stop policing girls’ clothing choices


Lily Gover

The Bishop’s Land’s End skirts “should be no shorter than four inches above the top of the knee,” according to the Uniform Policy. However, most students do not follow this rule and most teachers do not enforce it.

On May 21st, 2019, students with signs filled the sidewalk in front of Cathedral Catholic High School. “My body, my choice,” “I’m sorry, did my knees distract you from reading this poster?,” and “I’m confident with what I wear but my school doesn’t want me to be!” were just three of the many messages of outrage on the signs directed towards the school. 

Many other schools, especially private schools, have been called out by their students on issues with the dress code—specifically rules regarding girls’ skirt length. At Bishop’s, our skirt lengths are regulated by a four-inches-above-the-knee policy. The quantity of short skirt violations becomes evident just by walking around campus. This is not a problem with the students, but with the policy itself.

The rule in the Bishop’s 2021-2022 Uniform Policy states that “Skorts/skirts should be no shorter than four inches above the top of the knee.” Assistant to the Dean of Students Ms. Melissa Kirchberg has sent out a few emails in response to the violations, such as the one sent on August 24, 2021 that restated this rule after sharing that she “was asked to send out a few uniform reminders.” She explained, “The skirts are too short…Seeing someone’s underwear while walking upstairs is uncomfortable.” If the short length of skirts makes people so uncomfortable, why do students continue to shorten skirts?

I personally feel uncomfortable wearing my skirt longer; the length and fit of longer skirts feel as if I’m wearing a paper bag. I think I speak for most people when I say that I wear my skirt shorter than four inches above the knee because I feel more confident walking around campus in a skirt that fits me how I want it to fit me, not how someone else thinks it should. I am not wearing a shorter skirt for anyone but myself. 

I am not claiming that we should be able to walk around naked, but we shouldn’t have to be restricted to options that we cannot feel confident in. It is understandable to dress code someone if it appears that they aren’t wearing anything, but the general standards of modern society seem to be that if your clothes cover your private parts, they are acceptable. 

This becomes clear if you simply walk around San Diego; you will see many girls in short denim shorts and cropped tank tops. We have to move on from the idea that a woman’s upper thigh is inappropriate and must be covered up. Our legs should not be distracting. 

Bela Gowda (‘24) acknowledged that “In the world that we live in today, no girl wants to wear their skirt to their knees.”

She was called out for the length of her skirt by a teacher during the service fair as she sat on the terrace along with many other students. She recounted that the teacher told her, “Your skirt is way too short. Several teachers have brought this to my attention. It’s embarrassing for you and frankly it’s embarrassing for me too.” The incident left her upset and humiliated.

Joy Udinsky (‘24) had a similar experience a few weeks later. She was pulled aside from a conversation with her friends by a teacher who informed her that a male administrator had brought the short length of Joy’s skirt to their attention. The male administrator had felt too uncomfortable to approach Joy himself. She remembered, “It made me feel like I was doing something wrong, and it made me feel really uncomfortable, especially since there are many other girls wearing the same thing that I am.” 

This suggests a major flaw in the rule if the students and the enforcers feel uncomfortable in these conversations.

The Bishop’s website writes in their vision statement that “Our vision is the pursuit of the question: How do our students learn and grow best? Everything we do must return to this fundamental question.” Everything, including students’ uniform, should support a productive learning environment for all students. An environment in which girls feeling humiliated and insecure does not support this vision. 

Overall, Bishop’s is not one of the worst schools for dress code. We aren’t given a uniform violation every time we wear a skirt that is shorter than four inches above the knee; we aren’t UVd every time we wear a shirt that is slightly cropped on free dress day, but the presence of the skirt rule evidently presents an issue. 

I understand that it is hard to find the balance between wearing what is inappropriate and wearing what you want to wear. However, something is clearly wrong with a policy if it is not followed or enforced. We are taught to have pride and self-esteem all the time, but that means nothing if actions don’t support it. If my friend wants to wear her favorite tank top on free dress day and feels confident in it, let her wear it. What is wrong with showing her shoulders? 

Sometimes, telling a girl that she is revealing too much can come across as body shaming. Feeling confident with yourself and what you are wearing, then having someone tell you it’s inappropriate or embarrassing can be really degrading. 

Fashion icon and pop star Billie Eilish has been vocal about this subject since she has received attention—including much backlash—towards her clothing choices. In the June 2021 issue of British Vogue, Eilish shocked fans with a transformation from her regular loose-fitting clothes to being printed on the cover of the magazine in lingerie. This was a moment of power for Eilish and her fans, but not all who saw the cover were left in awe. 

The Daily Mail published an article on the Vogue cover with the headline, “‘Proof that money can make you change your values and ‘sell out’: Billie Eilish shocks fans by swapping baggy clothes for lingerie in Vogue — despite years of vowing to ‘hide her body.’” 

In response, Eilish told Vogue that “Showing your body and showing your skin—or not—should not take any respect away from you.” This double standard was brought to light in the athletic world as well: during the beach handball Euro 2021 tournament. While at Bishop’s our skirts cannot be more than four inches above our knees, women’s handball players must wear bikini bottoms that cannot exceed more than four inches of side width. 

The Norwegian women’s team wore thigh-length elastic shorts during the bronze medal match against Spain to protest the bikini-bottom regulation, according to the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). The team was fined 1500 euros.

In contrast, the Qatar Volleyball Association attempted to ban players from wearing bikinis at their international beach volleyball tournament. Women’s clothing choices have been regulated to the point that we do not have any options left that will not spark criticism or discipline.

Bishop’s, please understand that being a teenage girl is hard enough, and creating more insecurities by telling girls they are embarrassing themselves and distracting others when they feel confident does not create the positive environment that our vision statement promised. I am tired of seeing my friends being called out for wearing what they want to wear, and I am tired of girls being slut-shamed for wearing clothes that make them feel confident and express who they are.