School Changes The Dress Code After A Mom Wrote A Letter Demanding The Principal Take Her Daughter Clothes Shopping

The mom's letter shows not only a parent's frustration, but the lengths to which institutions will go to police girls' bodies.

mom comforting teen daughter fast-stock / Shutterstock

When parents send their kids back to school each year, they make sure they have the essentials: ample school supplies, a fresh backpack, and, of course, new clothes for the year ahead. But sometimes, the clothing parents spend money on can cause disputes among school staff.

That's exactly what happened to one mother back in 2017. However, her predicament is common among students, especially young girls.


A mom wrote a letter to the principal of her daughter's school, hitting back at the unfair dress code.

In 2017, Catherine Pearlman, a licensed therapist, family coach, author, and mom, had enough of the restrictive dress code in her daughter's school and had a creative approach that led to some much-needed change.

The self-described "Sick of the Dress Code Mom" demanded that the middle school principal, who flagged her daughter for a dress code violation, take her daughter clothes shopping. She did so by penning an open letter to the “principal who flagged my daughter’s dress code violation” after her daughter was sent home for the second day in a row for being “dressed inappropriately for school.”


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Pearlman’s daughter was forced to change into “large mesh shorts that have been worn by only god knows who and potentially never washed.”

After her daughter was sent home for the second time, Pearlman's letter told the principal “to reward you for treating my daughter with such concern, I am cordially inviting you to take my daughter shopping.” She said that her daughter was “5’7” and 13 years old. Built more like her father, she has exceptionally long legs and arms,” giving the principal instructions on how to shop for her teenager.


"She doesn’t like anything pink or purple or frilly. She won’t wear pants because she gets overheated easily. She absolutely will not wear a dress either. No item of clothing can have a logo visible because to her that’s not cool," she explained. Pearlman also noted that her daughter “has very long fingers which seems to make finding shorts that won’t get her sent to the principal’s office impossible (On the bright side the piano teacher says those fingers are an asset).”

In instructing the principal on how to manage the proposed shopping trip, Pearlman advised, “don’t forget that you will have to find something in the stores that also meets with your dress code requirements.”

Pearlman ended her letter with a post-script, stating, “I forgot to thank you for making it clear to my daughter that her body is somehow a distraction, either to herself or to the boys... I thought she might have missed the message earlier in the year when the gym teacher told her she couldn’t wear yoga pants because the boys aren’t able to control themselves. I appreciate how hard you are working to drive the point home.”

School Changes Dress Code After Mom Writes Letter Demanding The Principal Take Her Daughter Clothes ShoppingPhoto: cottonbro studio / Pexels


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Her letter eventually went viral, with Pearlman posting on Instagram to offer an update on the dress code situation.

Due to her letter, Pearlman said that the school district, which contained 50,000 students, changed the dress code so it was no longer acceptable to say girls were a distraction to boys based on what they were wearing. The dress code "is also more flexible in what can be worn."

The pendulum for school dress codes has swung far in a conservative direction, one that works to control how girls present in the world.

While it's normal and usually expected that schools will have their own set of dress codes for students, there's no denying that the focus is usually on the bodies of young girls, not boys. School dress codes also unnecessarily punish Black girls and girls of color, as well as LGBTQ+ students who don't adhere to gender binary norms.


The success of Pearlman’s advocacy in standing up for her daughter — and for all students — shows how biased these school dress code violations really are, as they are often directed at young girls whose attire is "distracting" to the young boys.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), school dress codes may "reflect the sexist and harmful view that girls’ bodies are inherently vulgar or inappropriate, that boys will be 'distracted' by girls’ bodies, and that girls’ dress and appearance require more regulation than that of boys."

This has certainly been the case on more than one occasion, with girls being dress coded for "showing three centimeters of skin" and wearing a shirt that showed shoulders, sometimes being forced to apply duct tape to their skin as a result.



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Of course, rules are meant to be enforced, and schools are entitled to create dress codes, as long as they aren't explicitly discriminatory.

However, by shifting the focus to what girls are wearing, educators and administrators are telling girls there is something 'wrong' with their bodies.

So, not only does this teach girls to be self-conscious about their bodies, but by policing the clothing they wear, they can miss out on the most important part of school: learning.

By being taken out of class or sent home — usually in front of their peers, which is humiliating in itself — the lesson being instilled in their minds is that their bodies are a distraction, and they don't deserve to sit in the same classroom or be awarded the same level of education, all because someone may not like what they are wearing.

To take it a step further, along with affecting their self-esteem and showing girls that their education is secondary to that of their male classmates, dress coding girls for "showing too much skin" or wearing a "too short" skirt places the blame on them.


Educators and administrators are essentially saying, "Girls’ bodies are dangerous and harassment is inevitable."

School Changes Dress Code After Mom Writes Letter Demanding The Principal Take Her Daughter Clothes ShoppingPhoto: Rosie Ann / Pexels

For Pearlman, her letter had such an incredible impact. The fact that the school district changed the dress code is a testament to the power of people in creating grassroots change, a change that was well-warranted.


But in order for other schools to adjust or remove their own dress codes that unfairly target girls, it's essential to treat all students equally. Additionally, administrations can take time to become aware of potential bias from a culture that "reinforces disparate treatment of the genders" that "may have subconsciously affected" how people are treated.

Until then, here's hoping that mothers like Pearlman continue to stand up against injustice.

RELATED: High School Student Challenges Her School's Dress Code During An Assembly — 'Our Bodies Aren't Distracting, You're Disgusting'

Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers social issues, celebrities and pop culture, relationships and self-help, along with parenting and career.