Over the last twenty years, a substantial and increasing percentage of public school students have been required to wear school uniforms or adhere to strict dress codes. They have done so in a cultural and legal landscape that assumes such restrictions pose few—if any—constitutional problems. As this Article argues, however, this landscape is relatively new; as recently as forty years ago, the legal and cultural assumptions about student dress codes were completely reversed, with the majority of educators and commentators assuming that our constitutional commitments to equality, autonomy, and free expression preclude strict student dress restrictions. This Article explores the history of this evolution as a case study in the messy process through which constitutional law interacts with politics and culture, at times developing without significant judicial reflection or, indeed, participation. Major cultural developments in parenting, schooling, policing, gender, and race relations interacted with shifting political dynamics and economic factors to change our frames and alter public and judicial perception of the scope of underlying constitutional rights. In this Article, we explain these previously obscured changes in constitutional law and culture, explore their implications for constitutional theory, and argue for their reversal. While the underlying constitutional case law is sufficiently indeterminate to support either era’s approach, the approach we reconstruct in this Article better serves our children and our constitutional values.
Deborah Ahrens and Andrew Siegel,
Of Dress and Redress: Student Dress Restrictions in Constitutional Law and Culture, 54 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 49