hell no

Am I Overreacting About My 7-Year-Old's 'Spaghetti Strap' Dress Code?

If I were a cartoon character, there would have been smoke coming out of my ears.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock

Recently, I found myself pushing back against an archaic “spaghetti strap” dress code that my 7-year-old daughter’s teacher had implemented. It started the morning before school on one of our first hot days of the year. My daughter had hung a cute dress with a cardigan on a hook next to her mirror, just waiting to be worn, so I suggested she wear it to school that day. Then she told me: “I’m not allowed to wear that dress to school.”

I was thoroughly confused, because what could possibly be inappropriate about a Cat & Jack sundress? She explained: “Mrs. M. says we aren’t allowed to wear straps like that to school.” I immediately felt anger boiling inside me. If I were a cartoon character, there would have been smoke coming out of my ears.

This wasn’t my first run-in with the spaghetti strap dress code. I’ve been subjected to it more times than I can count. Currently, my family and I live in North Carolina, but I grew up in Indiana, so I’m no stranger to people who are a bit culturally conservative. In fact, I can still recall being shamed by a teacher at my eighth-grade graduation because I dared to wear a dress with spaghetti straps. There were plenty of things about my look that day that deserved being called out (like, perhaps, the blue glittery eyeshadow I had painted on all the up to my eyebrows), but my dress straps were not one of them. It’s a ridiculous line to draw — as if seeing a few extra inches of a person’s shoulders is so scandalous.

“It’s fine, I’ll wear something else,” she told me. I tried pushing back, clenching my teeth together while reasoning that she also had the cardigan hanging there, and it would keep the straps covered. My little rule-follower shook her head and said she wanted to wear something else. I wasn’t about to make her feel worse, so I let her pick out a different outfit and we went about our morning.

But I wasn’t done with the topic. As she continued getting ready for the day, I took to the messaging app to ask my daughter’s teacher what was going on, thinking surely this was a case of a first grader mishearing and that it was all just a misunderstanding. I quickly got a message back informing me that this was, in fact, the rule.

My anger only grew at this point. I am an avid believer that people should be able to wear whatever they like as a form of self-expression. Sure, there’s nuance to this based on the environment, and I’m also well aware that there are creeps out there. I don’t let my daughters wear super-short shorts, mini dresses or skirts, or crop tops — no matter how cute they may be. Still, not once have I looked at a piece of clothing and said no to it because it had spaghetti straps, because I truly don’t see a problem with them.

I rarely push back on my kids’ teachers because I believe they are the experts and I should trust them, but I just could not let this dress code go. I asked Mrs. M. if this was a school-wide rule (because my daughter definitely wore spaghetti strap dresses in her kindergarten classroom and we never heard about it). She told me it’s a district rule. Fortunately for me, my husband works for the district, so I had him pull up the dress code rules, none of which include spaghetti straps. So, I continued to push back, referencing specific language in the district dress code. At this point, the teacher relented (or just grew tired of me), and said yes, my daughter could, in fact, wear spaghetti straps in class.

Later, as we walked to school, I asked my daughter why she thought Mrs. M. didn’t like these kinds of straps. “I don’t know,” she said with a shrug. I asked if she thought there was anything wrong with the dress or those straps, and she said no. I let her know that I agreed, then I told her, “It’s important to follow rules, especially at school, but when they don’t make sense it’s OK to ask why they’re in place. And if the rule still doesn’t make sense, it’s OK to keep asking questions until you understand it, because sometimes grown-ups will realize a rule doesn’t make sense, and they’ll change it.”

Of course, she’s 7, so she had no idea why I was making such a big deal out of this situation. She gave me a hug and ran off to school like I had achieved nothing. Meanwhile, I felt like a million bucks. Like I had personally won a small battle for the kids in my daughter’s class. They would not be taught that shoulders were distracting or that it was wrong to expose them (especially on a hot day in the South).

As a mom of two girls, I don’t doubt that there will be more dress code battles in my future, whether I’m fighting against them or helping to enforce them. But for now, I will walk tall knowing that I did my teeny-tiny part in putting an end to the (let’s face it) stupid spaghetti strap rule.

Ashley Ziegler is a freelance writer living just outside of Raleigh, NC, with her two young daughters and husband. She’s written across a range of topics throughout her career but especially loves covering all things pregnancy, parenting, lifestyle, advocacy, and maternal health.