For Chicago Public Schools students, what is appropriate clothing is a huge issue. While about 80% of CPS schools have a dress code or uniform policy, students themselves usually have very little say in decisions about what clothing is considered appropriate at school.
In CPS, school rules about clothes range from simple guidelines like white tops, navy bottoms, to detailed regulations specifying skirt length, acceptable shoes and what not to wear. These rules mirror the variety of dress code and uniform policies in school districts across the country. Yet research does not support the idea that the presence or absence of school uniforms has any effect on student achievement. Mostly, school uniforms are about policing students.
Across the country, girls of color and LGBTQ students find themselves cited in schools for not meeting societal expectations of appropriate dress. “The main issue is that there is a certain kind of femininity that is seen as ‘normal’ and ‘correct,’” researcher Shauna Pomerantz told Racked. “But if you dig deep you find that this kind of femininity correlates to a white, middle-class, and straight ‘good girl’ look. Schools need to get over the idea that there is a right way to look and act like a girl.”
Given these realities, Mayor Lightfoot’s deliberate choice to ignore public commentary about her “quirky, Annie Hall fashion sense,” as Chicago Magazine put it, offers Chicago’s teachers and students a powerful lesson in feminism and anti-racism. Let’s be clear: Mayor Lightfoot is signaling that everyone, including Black people, women, and Chicago youth, should be judged on their actions instead of their clothes. As a mother of two Black girls, my heart bursts with pride when I see Mayor Lightfoot wearing her comfortable, oversized clothing, giving zero cares about the opinions of anyone.
Just like our new mayor, many Chicago students are automatically judged negatively for wearing baggy clothes. But when it happens to Mayor Lightfoot, it’s a funny laugh on the Internet. When it happens to Chicago youth, they can be kicked out of stores, suspended from school, profiled as criminals and discriminated against in hiring.
The discrimination that happens to Chicago youth based solely on their clothes is real, as is the pressure to “fix them” by changing their “bad clothes” to pre-approved fashion choices decided by the ruling elite. Maybe, thanks to Mayor Lightfoot, we are coming closer to a day when people won’t automatically think Chicago youth in oversized clothes are thugs or up to no good. Maybe we are coming closer to the day when Chicagoans see young people in oversized clothes and can see them as intelligent leaders who might become the next mayor of Chicago.
Now, I still laugh at some of Mayor Lightfoot’s outfits. It is funny to me to see her at ballgames, looking like the kids I grew up with in Uptown and the kids I see riding the Green Line every day. I also laugh because some of the memes about her outfits are funny!
But I am a sheep, meaning I blindly follow what society tells me is the right thing to wear, as a woman, as a Black person, and as a professional. I am especially a sheep when it comes to the rules of what it means to dress as a Black woman professional.
But I don’t want these racist, sexist rules to be passed on to my children, or to students in CPS! I’m so glad that Mayor Lightfoot is not a sheep and instead follows the African proverb: “the lion does bother itself with what the sheep say.” I want my girls, and all Chicago kids, to be like Mayor Lightfoot, who is free to wear what she wants and still be the powerful, competent leader of Chicago.
I pray that Mayor Lightfoot will continue to ignore us, the sheep, the ones totally conditioned by media and sexism to wear certain clothes. I pray that Mayor Lightfoot realizes her choice to wear what she wants and ignore the nay-sayers is truly liberating for the generations following her. I am grateful that my young girls, and the young people of Chicago, see a powerful woman in our new Mayor, one who refuses to be a sheep to fashion mandates, and decides boldly and confidently to wear what she wants.
Thanks again, Mayor Lightfoot, for being a feminist and a racial revolutionary by being yourself. I thank you, as a parent of Black girls, and as a Black woman. Mayor Lightfoot, I encourage to keep wearing what you want or as the youth of Chicago say, “Do you, boo-boo. Do you, Mayor Lightfoot.”