A Dressing Down For The Dress Code!

The idea to implement a dress code for mums has caused quite a buzz. In fact this is nothing new- mothers of children attending national schools have been doing so for many years - many working mums have complained that it is impractical to expect them to change into  sarees when entering school.  But now, some private schools have gone further by placing boards in front of schools that depict what is considered “appropriate” for mums. So is it the dress code that is causing the buzz? Or simply the use of a board that mothers are finding offensive? 

Several state and private schools in Sri Lanka have been known to turn away parents because of their outfits. It started after a poster outside one elite private school, which dictated what women should wear when picking up their children. The notice said that saris and loose dresses were allowed - but NOT shorts or short skirts, or strappy or sleeveless tops etc. Dress code for women entering boy’s schools is common in government-run schools. They can wear only saris - the imposition of one in private schools like St. Peter's and St Joseph's is a recent phenomenon, which has now led to an uproar. While the method of telling parents what to wear is questionable some find the dress code a necessity for young mothers. 

Life Online spoke to Image consultant and icon Nayana Karunaratne to get her thoughts on this matter and a guideline to what mother’s should and should not wear to schools. "It is purely a matter of decency and safety. All these rules are being imposed to stop the child from getting embarrassed from hurtful remarks made by his/her schoolmates. It is all to protect the child from any harm. I agree that there should be a dress code however the method of informing the parents could have been different, a board put up in front of the school gate is not right." 

"It can also work the other way around. There are mums who change from wearing a sari to maybe a skirt and blouse to look younger because their children have been made fun saying their mum is old." 

Guidelines For Decent Dressing 

· Sari: The exposure should be of minimum. The midriff or waistline exposure should be less than 2 inches. The sari jacket should reveal minimum cleavage. The necklines of the jackets should also be decent. 

· Skirts and Pants: Both skirts and pants should not be too tight. Even if you have a good figure you must avoid wearing tight clothes that will showcase your figure.  A decent length for short skirts in Sri Lanka is considered to be knee length or a minimum of 1 or 1 ½ inches above the knee. 

· Tops and Blouses: When it comes to tops the most important thing is to avoid any kind of see through blouses. You should also avoid wearing any bright coloured bras that can be seen over the top. Any protruding or tight fitting tops should also be avoided. A sleeveless top can look decent on some and may not on other. 

"However young and pretty you are when you are going to pick or drop your child at their school you need to be in decent attire. Avoid going in your gym clothes that are either too tight or short. A mother dressing decently should not be limited to when she goes to her child’s school. She should be decently dressed at all times." 


Life Online spoke to several mothers to find out how they feel about this poster and the new dress code imposed on them. 

"We impose patriarchy into the minds of the kids" 

Imposing a dress code to moms who come to school is the best example for why we need feminism. By putting boards on with a criterion for moms, we impose patriarchy into the minds of the kids." - Kamaleswari Letchumanan 

"A mother dressed unpleasantly would only be looked down with insult." 

First of all a school is a learning environment! I say yes! A dress code should be given for mums. It is necessary. The reason behind is because as parents, a mother should be an example to her child. How she dresses and what she dresses is a priority to maintain her dignity as a mother. Most mums dress to look good or to impress someone. My daughter attends a leading international school and even though it is an international school, the school has restricted inappropriate clothing for parents when entering the premises (even when picking up and dropping off) to attend meetings. With all that, i am sad to state that a handful does not respect rules or obey. As Sri Lankans, personal dignity, is extremely important. Even though the society is socialized, Sri Lankan culture includes a lot of customs and rituals, we all should acknowledge it. A mother dressed unpleasantly would only be looked down with insult. Respect and Honor cannot be gained easily." - Shehana Bernard 

"Men come to schools in shorts and nobody says anything." 

It’s an archaic rule trying to stigmatize women. It’s difficult for a full time career woman to dress up in saree, churn out meals, get kids ready in the morning etc. Men come to schools in shorts and nobody says anything. Why single out women? Then again we are identified by what we wear. What about the lower income households where women can’t afford saree? A sensible mom will not come to a school in revealing or provocative clothes. Maybe educating them can done differently and informally and notthrough scandalizing boards." - A mom of two kids attending two private schools who wishes to remain anonymous 

"What is being insinuated to the boys who see this signage day-in, day-out?" 

It didn't bother me much initially. However the more I observed the pictorial icons on the signboard I realized what a ludicrous message it was conveying, especially to young boys. So the question arises, what is being insinuated to the boys who see this signage day-in, day-out? That they should only respect women who are modestly dressed? Absolutely not! As a mother, I would always encourage my daughter to dress to suit the occasion. But living in a tropical country such as Sri Lanka, comfort is of utmost importance. And 10 years down the line, should she decide to wear a pair of shorts and walk the streets of Colombo on a steaming hot day, will she be surrounded by a generation of young males who've grown up being exposed to such narrow minded thinking? I hope not! So while I would always encourage my daughter to dress appropriately, should I have a son someday, I would want him to respect women, irrespective of what they're clad in." - Primani Wijeyesekera 

"Revealing too much skin and body fitting clothes can lead a mum to face unnecessary problems." 

Yes I feel very strongly about dress codes for mums be it for a boys or girls school because a dress reveals a lot about a person. If a mum wants to be treated with respect she must earn it first by how she appears. For boys’ school especially where adolescent children face hormonal changes, an underdressed mum can be provoking. Revealing too much skin and body fitting clothes can lead a mum to face unnecessary problems. - Dilhani Thantirimudalige 

"Schools should not be dictating what parents should wear!" 

I feel schools should not be dictating what parents should wear but at the same time parents should realize their duty as a parent and dress appropriately. Being dressed modestly when you visit a respected place like a school definitely earns respect from other students, school staff and your own children too!" - Leila Morseth 

"I think it's wrong how only women are given dress codes and not men." 

I don't think it's right to have a dress code to enter a school especially a sari. I don't own one and have to borrow one when I go into government schools which is pathetic as I think we should be allowed to choose our own attire, to what we think is suitable or 'respectable' as they say. I think it's wrong how only women are given dress codes and not men. That is just out right wrong! I have seen some teachers who wear saris that are far more revealing than the skirt and blouse I would wear to go into a school. Today our schools in Sri Lanka are in a terrible state as is the education ministry. There are 101 other things that they should be looking into other than is the mother wearing a sari." - Sonja Gunawardhana 

"We need to dress in a way not to embarrass our children..." 

Well I think that as parents we need to know how to dress appropriately especially when we have to attend an event at the school. It could be our child's sport meet or  just a simple parent meeting it doesn't matter we need to dress in a way not to embarrass our children or give room for other children to say things that can make our child feel hurt or ashamed. I think if a parent knows how to dress the school wouldn't need to give dress codes! But I guess if a parent doesn't know how to dress then yes but it can be done differently. I don't like the fact that you would have to wear a Saree to enter into the school." - Alison Deepan 

"We should wear something presentable and it need not be a sari..." 

I strongly believe that nobody should be forced to wear something they are not comfortable wearing. However we should wear something presentable and it need not be a sari. Even my school has the view that parents should come in sari which I don't agree with." - Chryshanthi Mclelland (mother and teacher at a government school) 


Comments from Old Boys 

"Using a poster to inform the parents is not the way to go about it..." 

When we were in school my mother never wore sari to enter into my school. If the reason behind this is young boys in their adolescent age getting distracted it is not justified. Most pictures on the poster look decent enough. Ideally it should give instructions to both parents. It is not right for a father to enter into a school in shorts and a skinny either. And using a poster to inform the parents is not the way to go about it. If there are specific incidents then they need to be addressed by the school administration separately and confidentially. A housewife or a working mum who has a uniform wearing a sari just to drop the child off at school is absurd." - Old boy from a leading school in Colombo 

"This incident only highlights the need for focused gender education for students..." 

The schools were clear about what they considered to be appropriate attire for women. These signs were only directed at how women can "inappropriately" expose parts of their body. They took an arbitrary stance on a subjective topic and implemented it without really considering the sort of message it delivers to the parents and children. 

I have no problem with the implementation of dress codes, as most parents, teachers and students at these schools supported it. It just saddens me how out of touch with reality they are. They are inadvertently deeming certain parts of a woman's body inappropriate. While maybe adults should consider not wearing miniskirts to schools or appearing in their underwear to church, I feel the manner in which we demonise people for their choice of clothing is indicative of how averse we are to admitting to the larger problem. This incident only highlights the need for focused gender education for students. Children will definitely benefit from that far more than from some of what they are learning at the moment in terms of functioning healthily in a multi-cultural society." - Old boy of a Colombo school 

"The dress code board at school includes dos and donts for both men and women..." 

The school had to put a board dictating parents what to wear because it is they themselves who created the need for it. The dress code board at school includes dos and donts for both men and women. Before the board came up there have been several instances where parents have been informed. But there are some who will always find a loophole. I was a prefect in school and when I was on duty near the main gate I have seen many parents fight with the security. So after a board is put up they can no longer make it an issue. It is not only parents even old boys have to be dressed in either formal wear or in smart casual when entering school during school hours." - Old boy of St. Peters College. 


Life Online also spoke to a few known figures in various fields to listen to their views regarding the dress-code issue. 

"Dressing appropriately should be a key aspect since you are seen by children. The dress-code is a reflection of yourself as well as the child. Yet when defining the term ‘decent’ it varies from person to person. In that case parents as a whole should wear decent clothing and it shouldn’t only be confined to mothers." - Shanuki De Alwis, drama director, actress and social activist 

"When I used to take my children to school I always wore saree simply because it was a boys’ school. It wasn’t a rule but we also never wore T-shirts as well. We were mindful about what we were dressing because it was a boys’ school. But for events like the sports meet we didn’t wear the saree, yet it was always a decent outfit." - Nedra Wickramasinghe, etiquette trainer 

"I think it is impractical more than ridiculous because a saree exposes much more than a trouser kit or a shalwar or even a skirt and blouse. This dress-code is also impractical because say that your child met with an accident in school, but before going to pick the child, the mother has to first go home, get in to a saree and then rush to school. Isn’t it absurd?" - Anonymous parent of Visakha Vidyalaya and Royal College 

"There are two sides to this issue. Due to the actions of one or two people, the entire system was affected. On the other hand, people should always be mindful about what they are dressing. We have a culture to look at and our country is mostly based on religious beliefs. Therefore people should always dress appropriately. We will not wear the same attire we wear to a party at a temple. But it is ridiculous to bring in rules just because one or two people dressed inappropriately." - Ishan De Lanerolle, singer 

Dress code views compiled by Kamanthi Wickramasinghe

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jithendri Gomes

A Sociology student who loves to travel and enjoys good food. "I only need the beach, a good book and a bag full of mangosteens to be happy!"

19 Comments

  1. Sammy says:

    Requiring parents to dress modestly when visiting a school should not be made an issue and it is a good thing, as discipline should be not only for teachers and students when inside the school premises. However, this should be applied to both mothers and fathers. As to what is proper dress code is to be worked out by the school or the relevant Ministry.

  2. Tony Russell says:

    Agree with some of your commentators. A prominent board is not the way to go about it. That merely influences schoolboys to become petty mullas and hurl jibes at the way a woman may dress. At any rate, no mother turns up at any of the colleges mentioned in a bikini. Their dress manners fulfill the requirements of decency, unless one has a perverted mind and gets excited over an exposed arm or lower leg. Priests and nuns should not seek to impose Saudi Arabian laws in Sri Lanka. They should concern themselves with their own religious obligations and not embarrass the laity, as is happening in many parts of the world where child abuse is being investigated and priests figure prominently.

  3. Karen says:

    The whole concept is a lazy attempt to remedy something that isn't a problem. If any parent is not dressed appropriately then letters should be sent only to that parent, if schools say identifying parents is a problem they are not being truthful. Schools should be places of discipline, stop boys from making comments to anybody irrespective of gender, clothing etc., instead of giving them the idea that women need to be dictated to. I swear this country was more advanced 20 years ago.

    • LondonBuwa says:

      "I swear this country was more advanced 20 years ago." I tend to agree. 20 years ago there was a war that preoccupied us, I suppose. Nowadays our countrymen seem to be busy finding other nonsense to waste their energy on. There's a facebook page called "Bored Without War" that comes to mind.

  4. John V Iagra says:

    Parents can wear anything...the children must develop self control..Look away..!!

  5. Dilkie says:

    We as a nation have become 'godeyas'. Backwardness is what our leaders project. Sigiriya frescos will be the next to go. No bras!! Remember the bra incident???

  6. Jam says:

    If you got it, flash it. This is what make the world go around

  7. Belated says:

    I have been to many parent teacher meetings over the years. Dads are always decently dressed and they never come in shorts, tshirts or slippers. They come properly attired for the occassion. But a very few mums who want to be on the lime light forget they are in a sacred place..their child's school. These few mums show cleavage regardless of their dress. This has to be countered in a suttle way. Sometimes when the mums want to pursue coaches to select their sons or daughters for teams they dress to attract. Their has been incidents where mums have finally eloped with coaches in a few schools after getting too friendly with coaches. People who comment may not know these incidents. Majority of mums are well behaved, but that 1% who misbehave and try to attract coaches, senior students shud not hv their way. One mum in a leading Colombo 7 school was bragging to other mums on how she seduces senior boys. Some may not believe this, but this is the reality. Repeat, this is a small minority of mums.

  8. ALRIC HOLMES says:

    What happened to the "CLOTH AND JACKET" this was our national dress right?

  9. Rumaiz says:

    women are constantly faced with an unattainable standard of beauty, style by western world or marketing companies. Oh Women you are already beauty in character and quality irrespective of what idiotic Tv ads, mediaa define about your beauty. dont belittle yourselves by comaparing the standards set by others. if showing your body is the modern then animals are more modern than you. learn from it. just ignore this kind of cultures.

  10. Prem Sachi says:

    It is true that women (and men) should dress sensibly no matter where they go and it is more so when they enter a school, considering we as adults, must lead by example. However, allowing the schools to regulate this aspect is no necessarily the way forward. Parents, teachers 9for that matter all adults) should understand the lines that they should not cross when it comes to dressing, but it is very difficult to legislate to manage this. Schools can deal with extremely revealing dresses on a case by case basis. I think the school's inability to do this and sometimes the immaturity of the schools administration tends to lead them to impose rule that are ill conceived and eventually become a hindrance to many mothers who are in the workforce and cannot necessarily comply with the dress code expectations of schools. Imagine a mother working in some customer-facing environment where the employers expect them to wear smart and modern garments and sometimes tacitly encourage slightly revealing clothing. We are not trying to argue the toss about that here. However, a mother working in such environment should not be bared from entering the school to drop her kid off. This can amount to violation of fundamental rights. Moreover. we are living in an era where the world is shrinking by the day and fashion and styles spread all over the world instantly. Also kids have access to pictures and videos of scantily clad models (and even worse material) without much restriction. as a forward looking nation and one that needs to think globally and act locally, it is not a wise proposition to allow schools or even the government to interfere with people's right to dress the way they want, as long as they do not cross the line of decency (which is hard to legislate but can be interpreted by a court of law if the need arises).

  11. Roshan says:

    Before implementing dress code for Parents, the School Authority should look into the dress code for Female teachers, specially who teaches for Boy 's School.

  12. Larry Enas says:

    This step taken arbitarily by schools and more specifically principals (who are appointed) is a gross violation of their mandate. Turning out gentlemen should be the objective (boys schools). No school has the right to tell parents how to conduct themselves with regard to dress. Moreover, the steps taken during the war for protection have not been removed! Why? We never had any of this nonsense when we were in school! Teachers and parents were respected! Period! I do not know of any parent who would purposely "embarrass" their child in the manner described. It is time parents held the school and its educators and governors responsible for discipline and teaching kids more than how to pass exams! And when did the Kandyan saree become the only acceptable clothing choice? It is a fundamental violation of an individual's rights! A big thumbs down to this abysmal slide into fascism!

    • RLJ says:

      I agree completely with the above post - what kind of men and women are we shaping our children into if we fail to teach them how to react (or not react) to any person no matter how they are dressed? Students should learn that there are all kinds of dress and all kinds of body shapes, and that they all deserve respect based on who they are as people, not how they are dressed. We should not assume that our boys especially are helpless individuals controlled by how someone else is dressed and not accountable for their own behavior.

  13. Roshni W says:

    Boys should be taught to respect women no matter how they dress. Discipline any student that makes rude comments. The excuse rapists make is "she was asking for it, the way she was dressed. Respect for elders especially women must be taught in school.

  14. Faqi says:

    This is nonesense, people should have better things to do than try to advise parents how to dress. Get a life people.

  15. Mrs S. Fernando says:

    Indeed the School authorities have no right to implement a 'dress code' for the parents (mothers). They are meant to discipline the children as a part of their education. On the other hand, the Moms who take their children to school should know better to be decently dressed without being told.

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