Your 11 Weirdest Dress Code Rules

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

One reason school dress codes are such a lighting rod is that they often have no basis in real-world sartorial standards. Though some rules are common sense, people seem most irked by prohibitions on clothing that wouldn’t be out of place in a business meeting—yet is unacceptable by middle-school standards.

Recently we asked what the strangest dress code was at your school. Dozens of you wrote in, and here are the 11 we deemed most odd:

  1. No holes in jeans, but duct tape is fine:

“This was at a public high school in West Virginia in the mid-2000s—the time just before leggings and yoga pants, which was a dress-code battle after I graduated. The fad at the time was holes in the jeans. The rule shifted every year, from no holes at all to only ones allowed below the knee. The kicker was if you were caught with in appropriate rips or tears in your $50 Hollister jeans, you had to put duct tape over them. Our principal carried a roll of tape with her just in case.

The strangest part was the rule was established because it “looked bad.” But then we were forced to wear duct tape, which makes you look even worse. And of course, this rule completely targeted girls because few boys wore holes in their jeans. The duct tape also ruined the tears, created even bigger holes once the tape was removed. It was bizarre and embarrassing.”

-- Taylor Stuck

  1. No little old Russian grandmas:

“I attended a public high school in rural Ohio from 1998 to 2002. It was the only high school in the entire county, and despite the lack of any real problems (save the occasional student caught with a joint), the teachers and leadership felt it necessary to institute an oppressive dress code. At least once a week, the principal would announce via intercom a new standard. Below are some of my favorites:

NO babushkas (meaning headscarves). As far as I know, we did not have any older Russian ladies attending my high school. To reiterate, the principal announced over the intercom that “babushkas” (not scarves, not hijabs) were banned from the high school.

NO clothes making fun of the president. At the time, George W. Bush was in office. I actually contacted the ACLU on this one, who immediately sent my high school a cease-and-desist letter. They re-instituted the ban the year after I graduated.

NO face paint. Admittedly not very weird, but I got called into the principal's office, where he accused me of wearing white face paint. I am incredibly pale and had to show him my ivory-colored Maybelline foundation as proof.”

-- Anonymous

  1. No cornrows, except in February:

“I went to Loyola High School in Los Angeles, graduating 2005. Since we were in Southern California, the dress code wasn’t really as strict as you might expect at a traditional all-boys prep school, but there were definitely rules.The strangest one was that cornrows were banned EXCEPT during Black History Month.” (Update: A reader who says he went to Loyola disputes this. The high school’s current official dress code doesn’t mention cornrows. Update: Another former student stands behind the claim:

-- Nick Francomano

  1. No shorts on certain dates:

“I attended public high school in a suburb of Harrisburg, PA, in the early to mid 1990s. Our school had a rule that you could not wear shorts after September 15 or before May 15.

Our school also did not have air conditioning. Harrisburg could be oppressively hot and humid well into September and May was often pretty warm too. The rules allowed girls to wear skirts over the knees and culottes whenever they wanted. This led to the yearly tradition of some boys, protesting the rule, wearing skirts to school on the first day over 80 degrees in May and being sent home to change.”

-- Andy Szekely

  1. No mismatched shoes:

“A school in Kentucky where I used to work as a teacher (within the past few years) had many of the standard dress code rules. The one that always stood out, and got the most questions from students when we reviewed the dress code, was that you were required to wear shoes that were of the same style and color. I don’t recall it ever being an issue, but it was never revised or taken out.”

-- Ryan Bringhurst

  1. Sweatshirts were fine, but no hoodies, unless you’re a monk:

“At my Catholic high school in rural Illinois in the early 2000s (long before they had taken on any racial-political connotation), hoodies were banned. The monks, when pressed to answer why the addition of a hood to a sweatshirt caused it to fall outside of the dress code, the students were informed that we could easily hide contraband in the hood. (An idea I hadn’t even though of, so thanks for the tip.) The most infuriating part about this rule is that every single monk wore a habit with a hood.”

-- Anonymous

  1. Dangerous liaisons:

“Girls could not wear the combination of red and black because the girls counselor thought it was too sexy.”

-- Anonymous

  1. No hair clips:

“I went to Catholic school during the ‘80s. Eighth-grade girls were not allowed to wear pantyhose, even for warmth under their knee socks in a Massachusetts winter. But in ninth grade, girls had to wear pantyhose and were not allowed to wear socks, though little ankle socks were very much in style.

Also in style were banana clips—long, curved hair clips that we were forbidden to wear. After the girls repeatedly pressed for an answer as to why these were verboten, we were told that banana clips simulated Mohawks and were therefore insulting to Native Americans.”

-- Kathleen Weldon

  1. Na, na, ya grill:

“I went to a public high school in Midland, Texas. In 2006, my school banned ‘grills,’ the mouth pieces popularized by the Nelly ft. Paul Wall classic, ‘Grillz.’”

-- Brianna Losoya

  1. The third toe leads to lost productivity:

“A job, recently, where open-toed shoes could not expose more than two toes.”

-- Anonymous

  1. Loosely defined Satan:

“In a large public school in the city: ‘No Satanic t-shirts.’ Just that. No explanation, just ‘No Satanic t-shirts.’”

-- Anonymous