Is Forcing Female Students To Wear Skirts At Graduation Illegal Or Just Sexist?

Samantha Armistead is a senior-level student who just graduated from Mary G. Montgomery High School in Semmes, Alabama. Even though she’s a good student, her school forbade her from walking across the stage because she refused to wear a skirt to the graduation ceremony. You see, Armistead hasn’t worn dresses since age eight—she prefers jeans or slacks—and even offered to wear nice dress pants matching the boys’s apparel, but no go. Now graduation’s over now, and the question still remains—did she have any legal right to dress as she pleased? In short, no.

Keep in mind that a young woman wearing pants isn’t cross-dressing or even lesbian behavior. Her mother Debra has it right when she simply calls the school’s policy “sexist.” After all, the graduation gown typically covers up most student apparel and a covered pair of lady’s legs isn’t likely to draw tons of attention from an otherwise ho-hum event.

But despite Samantha’s claim to freedom of expression, commenters on the local FOX news website said that Samantha should have just followed her school’s graduation dress code seeing as she’ll probably have to conform to an unpleasant company dress code when she enters the work world. Of course, lots of companies don’t force their female employees to wear dresses and Armistead probably wouldn’t want to work at such a company if they did. But does that mean she had any legal right to dress as she pleased?

Since the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of dress codes, most lawsuits over dress codes as free speech typically get handled by state or district courts. Alabama courts have not yet issued a ruling on the matter, leaving Samantha at the will of her school unless she decides to gets a lawyer to help establish a law.

In regards to employer dress codes, one human resources expert says that employee dress codes don’t violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as they’re applied uniformly and do not impose a greater burden on women.

Strangely Armistead’s case sounds like the gender opposite of what happened to nineteen-year-old Canadian student Hamish Jacobs when he got told that he couldn’t wear his family kilt to his graduation.

It’s sad that Samantha’s high school education should end with this final lesson—young women should only get to complete their education and enter the adult world in pretty pretty dresses.

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #alabama #civilrights #dresscodes stories and more


  • Conrad

    I threatened my high school with a law suit by the ACLU b/c they didn’t have a gender inclusive graduation dress code. Apparently it violates a woman’s right to privacy to make her wear a dress and expose her legs.

  • Luke Presley

    Just wanted to add in that, i am from there. I go to school there. They did let her walk in the clothes she wanted. without a lawsuit or anything. Just felt it was important for people to know that.

  • fuzzy

    I had the same problem at my graduation, but I gave into the rules for my mother’s sake, because that was going to be the only time she got to see me walk across that stage. I already knew that during my college graduation, I would be elsewhere (turned out to be 1500 miles away). If not for her, I would have refused to walk – the ceremony meant nothing to me. Requiring people to dress a certain way based on gender is discriminatory, and infringes on the supposedly sacred American right to freedom of expression.

  • the crustybastard

    That HR expert is an idiot.

    A dress code that requires all women to expose their legs when no man is required to make an analogous display isn’t a dress code that’s applied uniformly. It just applies the burden of exposure entirely upon all women.

    If a woman is uncomfortable exposing her bare legs, and that discomfort causes her shame or anxiety, a dress code that requires such exposure does indeed impose a greater burden on women.

    Better question: What benefit does the institution derive by causing some women this stress and discomfort?

  • Red Meat

    …and why do men have to wear pants?! I want to see them sexy hairy legs if you have them!:(

  • Emma

    I’m lucky, in that When I asked, even though the form said that we ‘had’ to wear dresses or skirts, I eventually got the answer that pants are fine. Took a while though.

  • Matt Smith

    Why do we have to wear anything? I was born a nudest. Stop the oppression!

  • jason

    I don’t mind schools insisting on a level of modesty so long as it’s applied to both men and women. However, I do take exception to a school telling a student what exactly it is they must wear. It’s a form of Naziism. Nazis are alive and well in Alabama.

  • disco lives

    In a state where brave young black people fought 50 years ago for the simple right to even attend decent schools along side their white fellow reisdents, I think this is an extremely frivolous battle to take on.

    The school is obviously at fault as well…are they going to tell Hillary Rodham Clinton that she must wear a skirt to accept an honorary degree?

  • the crustybastard

    @Red Meat:

    Pay close attention, dipshit:

    Not everyone wants to be sexually ogled. People do not exist for your — or anyone else’s — leering evaluation.

    It is a few lackwits like you who do tremendous harm to the entire gay community by thinking it’s somehow clever and hifuckinglarious to loudly play down to the worst stereotypes.

    Grow up.

  • Mike in Asheville

    Most of my friends, boys and girls, wore shorts under our high school grad gowns, didn’t ask, just did — and that was in 1978.


    But to the question asked in the headline, its definitely sexist and hopefully illegal.

    I am old enough to remember well that in the 1960’s ALL girls and women were required to wear hair caps for swimming in public pools. Then young men started emulating the Beatles and wearing long hair but were not required to wear hair caps while swimming. Of course, instead of requiring men to follow the same ridiculous rules required of women, the requirement for women to wear hair caps was ended.

    As for skirts/dresses vs pants, don’t these school administrators have important things to do, such improving the quality of education?

  • Fountouki

    I’m from Germany. At my former school, there wasn’t and probably still isn’t any graduation dress code. One guy even came in jeans. Most girls in my grade (including me) wore a suit during the graduation ceremony and party. The few girls who wore a dress, dressed up as if they wanted to attend a wedding. I find suits way more appropriate for graduation, because they are associated with education.
    However, I think people should be allowed to wear whatever they want, because how other people dress doesn’t affect me in any way. And since women can wear trousers, it would only be fair if men could wear dresses or skirts without getting stared at.

    P.S. I really DON’T appreciate these Nazi comparisons that a lot of US Americans like to draw whenever something happens they are even remotely displeased with. Imagine others would constantly say stuff like, “Oh, that’s totes like slavery!”

  • Jeffree

    Heres what they can do next year: Flip a coin. Heads = everyone wears pants, Tails = everyone wears a kilt or skirt. Problem solved! No discrimination.

    In all seriousness, forcing all graduating women to wear a skirt seems like a rule from 1960 or before. Plenty of women I know (str8 & lesbian / bi) don’t own a skirt and shouldn’t be forced to buy one for a one-time walk in a gown that covers clothing anyway.

    @the crustybastard (10). Well put. ¡Gracias!

  • Sparky

    Hey Samantha – You’re amazing. Stay strong and don’t take their bull. You did the right thing, we proud of you and we have your back. (PS you’re style is totally cute)

Comments are closed.