Last month, middle-school girls in Evanston, Ill., rebelled against their school dress code by showing up to class wearing leggings en mass. Administrators at Haven Middle School say that girls in leggings are “distracting to boys”; girls counter that they simply want to attend class in the comfort that leggings provide and don't deserve to be penalized for how boys respond. I talked to Sophie Hasty, 13, one of the leaders of the protest, about the agony of getting “dress-coded” at school, the political power of Instagram, and the benefits of leggings.
Slate: When did you start to notice that the dress code was a problem?
Sophie Hasty: Last year, I never really paid attention to the dress code. But this year, teachers started to get stricter about it and giving stupid reasons for it. The reason was basically: “boys.” It’s a lot like saying that if guys do something to harass us, it’s our fault for that. We’re the ones being punished for what guys do. My friends and I got mad about it, and we would talk about it often earlier in the year, but we didn’t think we could really do anything about it.
Slate: How did the campaign start?
Hasty: First, my friends and I just talked about everyone wearing leggings on a day of school—everyone in the [seventh] grade wearing leggings—but we didn’t know if it was actually going to work. Then, we saw people a grade above us starting to post all of these Instagram things and Facebook things about starting a campaign, so we joined on, and other people in the school got on board. All of a sudden there were posters and a petition sent around.
Slate: What does it feel like to be dress-coded?
Hasty: Some teachers are laid back about it and just say, “Go put on your shorts.” Other teachers will make a big deal about it. If I’m ever wearing leggings around them—and I admit I do break dress code, because I don’t find it to be a big deal—and I’m about to pass them, I have to hide behind my friends. It’s kind of scary because the real strict ones will give you this paper that you have to bring home for your parents to sign, and if you get that a certain amount of times, you get suspended now.
Slate: What are the shorts?
Hasty: Our gym shorts. We have to put them over our leggings.
Slate: That seems embarrassing.
Hasty: It is. It’s humiliating to walk around the hallways wearing bright blue shorts. Boys yell “dress code!” when they see you. They act more inappropriate when you’re walking around in blue shorts when you’ve gotten dress-coded than when you’re just wearing leggings. I asked a teacher to tell us about an incident where a girl was wearing leggings and a guy was getting distracted. There hasn’t been one.
Slate: It sounds like following the dress code can be distracting for girls as well.
Hasty: Oh, yeah, definitely. I’ve caught myself pulling down my shirt when I’m walking past teachers so they will notice the leggings a little less. But now I’ve caught myself in public doing that, too, and that’s making me annoyed. I don’t want to be in public and worry about people seeing me in leggings. It’s not a big deal to me, and the school is trying to make me feel bad about it.
Slate: How did your teachers respond to the protest?
Hasty: Our principal was mad. The stricter dress-coding teachers were mad. Other teachers we talked to about it that day just kind of thought it wasn’t going to do anything, that it wasn’t going to be big, and nothing was going to change. They thought it was just funny. But I guess we did something because all of these articles are coming out and reporters are trying to talk to us.
Slate: What do boys at school think about the campaign?
Hasty: The boys were definitely into it. They think the dress code is against them, too, because they don’t like having it blamed on them by teachers, being told that the dress code is their fault. They don’t think it’s fair to them or us.
Slate: Do boys get dress-coded, too?
Hasty: Sometimes, but not in the way we do. When they get dress-coded, it’s not like they’re wearing leggings. They’re sagging. All a teacher needs to tell them to do is pull up their pants or take off their hood or take off their hat. They don’t need to wear these blue shorts all day. So the focus is mainly on the girls at the moment.
Slate: What’s the status of the campaign?
Hasty: The school had a meeting recently where they said that yoga pants were off the dress code, but some teachers will still dress-code for yoga pants. Leggings are still a violation, but we haven’t fully given up on that, either. There’s another meeting this month for the district to talk about the issue. Things have been changing a little bit, but I don’t know how much. We’ll see.
Slate: Has any teacher given you a good reason why you shouldn’t wear leggings to school?
Hasty: One of them said, “If your leggings look like you got black paint and painted your legs with it, it’s not appropriate.” And I can understand that. But they haven’t given us a reason as to why we can’t actually wear leggings in general—or a good reason, at least.
Slate: Why do you like wearing leggings?
Hasty: They are the most comfortable thing, other than sweatpants. But you can kind of get away with leggings easier than sweatpants, because sweatpants make you look a lot lazier. Teachers don’t understand that wearing jeans almost every day of the school year can get uncomfortable. I just love the feeling of leggings.
Slate: I think it can be much simpler for men to find comfortable pants that fit than it is for women.
Hasty: Oh, yeah. It’s way easier for them.