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Published: May 18, 2011

Dress code

Rules and regulations governing student, faculty and staff clothing, personal appearance and grooming, including makeup, hair length and facial hair. With the exception of military schools, most American colleges and universities abandoned dress codes in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Americans generally became more tolerant of nontraditional and informal dress and hair styles, and when the age of majority was lowered from 21 to 18. Many elementary and secondary schools, however, continue to dictate student and teacher dress and grooming styles on the grounds that nontraditional, attention-getting dress or hair styles can prove disruptive in school settings.
Because of their status as private institutions, private schools have had relatively little difficulty imposing dress codes, including dresses for girls and ties, slacks and jackets for boys, with hair trimmed above the collar line. Many schools often ban jeans and sneakers as well. Some public schools, however, have encountered legal opposition to dress codes from parents, who have challenged the right of a school to impose regulations that raise parental costs for nonschool purposes and infringe on various constitutional rights of children. The courts have been of little help in resolving such challenges. While courts in some states have ruled squarely in favor of school rights to set standards of dress and behavior, others have ruled in favor of students, contending that dress codes violate First Amendment rights of free expression; others have ruled that such codes violate Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection under the law. The U.S. Supreme Court has traditionally refused to review any cases relating to the dresscode issue.
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