Talking About Dress Codes? Avoid ‘Pretty Woman’

By Jordan Moeny — October 03, 2014 1 min read
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A high school in North Dakota is getting bad press for comparing leggings-clad students to Julia Roberts in her role as a sex worker in the movie “Pretty Woman.”

According to Valley News Live, faculty at Devils Lake High School in Devils Lake, N.D., caused a stir by showing clips from the movie in an attempt to teach female students how their clothing choices affect how people treat them. The clips were part of an assembly for girls arranged by administrators and teachers to reinforce the school’s dress code, which bars students from wearing leggings, jeggings, and other tight pants.

Some teachers allegedly said that the school’s girls looked like prostitutes; the school’s assistant principal later commented that this was probably not the best choice of words.

Parents took to Facebook to protest both the rules and the way in which they were explained. From there, the story spread well outside the small community, with national blogs calling the school out for “slut-shaming.”

Educators at the school defended their approach. “We just wanted a visual example of the way you dress is—how people perceive you,” English teacher Phyllis Kadrmas told the Devils Lake Journal.

The effectiveness of this tactic is open to interpretation. The clips used (seen below) seem to portray the shopkeepers, rather than Roberts, in a negative light.

According to the Valley News story, the school’s assistant principal suggested that enforcement of the dress code was needed to keep boys from getting distracted in class.

Some parents, in turn, speculated as to whether the school’s restrictions should be aimed not at girls’ attire but at boys’ imaginations. “A lot of the parents ... were talking about how they think the boys should be able to control themselves and the girls should be able to wear the leggings and the jeggings,” parent Candace Olsen told Valley News Live.

Perhaps an alternative movie to show would be “Easy A,” a 2010 comedy starring Emma Stone. The movie—which is loosely inspired by reading list regular The Scarlet Letter—makes a point about toxic attitudes toward girls who are perceived as “slutty” and the double standards applied to men and women.

In any case, “Pretty Woman” is older than any student at DLHS. Maybe it’s time to update the references a little.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.