Down to the Undergarments

Jason Reed / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Most of the dress code rules that readers submitted after our callout related to a student’s external appearance. But some schools didn’t stop there. Here’s one reader over Twitter:

Now, you may be wondering how a teacher would, um, know what color underwear a student is wearing. This high schooler used that to her advantage in her quest for underwear justice:

As a high school journalist, I was determined to bring about great change to the world. In the end, I really only made a small change. The dress code at my public school in San Diego (between 2001-2003) had a rule that I thought was ridiculous: “Underwear must be worn, but not visible.” I understood the concept, but ... really? You were going to do panty checks to be sure that I was wearing underwear? I don’t think so!

I went to several teachers and employees and asked, “If I told you I wasn’t wearing any underwear, what would you say?” Most of them told me my question wasn’t appropriate. I ran my story in the school paper about the rule being inane and, the next year, it changed: “Underwear must not be visible”—a much better rule, in my humble opinion. And while no one ever said my article was the reason, I’d like to think I had something to do with it.

In case you’ve felt inclined to pull a Captain Underpants, this school had it covered:

I attended a small, private boarding and day school in Concord, Mass. from 1995 to 1999. Our dress code had one rule: “Underwear is not outerwear.”

But enough about undies—what about brassieres? Fear the bra strap, if you attended this school:

The weirdest dress code rule was that you could wear tank tops, but not “spaghetti straps.” I think the logic behind this was that visible bra straps were inappropriate. This rule was kind of dumb because strapless bras do exist and even if your tank tops straps were thick enough, it was still quite possible that your bra straps could be visible.

This next reader shares a similar story, but is okay with the policy:

In my New York State public high school, I remember when the style quickly shifted from white baby t-shirts with the graphic prints to spaghetti-strap tank tops. All of a sudden, you could see 75 percent of the female student body’s bra straps on any given day. This predictably caused the school to ban tank tops, a comically ineffective “walk-out,” and a pile of controversy in the last few weeks of the school year. Although the “no tank tops” rule stayed on the books by the start of the next school year, the functional rule was “No visible bra straps or mid-drift,” which I still think is completely appropriate for a school setting.

Oh, and “undergarments” are in the eye of the beholder: One reader wrote in explaining that “plain white t-shirts weren’t ok” at her high school “because they ‘were underwear.’”