Behind the Seams: Archer’s Conversation on Skirt Lengths


Photo credit: Anika Bhavnani

Seniors show off their skirt lengths. Skirt length has been a topic of debate during the school year.

Too short. Too long. Just right. In the Archer community, there has been an ongoing conversation regarding the subject of students’ skirt lengths. This year, students have walked through the hallways donning skirts of various lengths — some above the knee, some below.

According to Archer’s Student/Parent Handbook for the 2016-17 school year, “Skirts are to be no shorter than 3 inches above the knee.” In recent weeks, members of the Archer community have expressed their concerns over the current policy.

On Wednesday, September 21, students, faculty and administration gathered in the dining hall to discuss a range of issues, with skirt length being the main topic of discussion. Moderated by the Honor Education Council [HEC], the panel of speakers included upper school students, faculty member Kristin Taylor and advancement fellow Rebecca Samuelson, who graduated from Archer in 2013.

Throughout the 30-minute meeting, some of the recurring concerns included how to take action in a respectful manner, the importance of upholding professionalism, different interpretations of feminism and the specific language surrounding the skirt policy.

“The phrasing surrounding the enforcing of this rule goes against the same feminism that we at Archer so eagerly embrace,” Gemma Brand-Wolf ’18, one of the panelists, stated at the meeting. She noted that the policy was analogous to judging women’s bodies based on their clothing.

Rose Shulman-Litwin ’18 introduced the topic of censoring artwork at Archer and how it connects to the skirt length debate. Art students have the opportunity to draw from live, nude models, and Shulman-Litwin discussed how none of the portraits have been allowed to be exhibited.

“This over-sexualization of the female body is what feminism fights against,” she said, in reference to both art and Archer’s dress code.

Dean of Students Travis Nesbitt believes the primary purpose behind establishing a skirt length policy is to prepare Archer students to be successful in professional environments. 

“It’s also intended to keep the attention focused on academics and not on appearance,” Nesbitt said in an interview. 

Later in the meeting, Shulman-Litwin stated, “We, as a student body, should not feel like we are doing something wrong based on the clothing that we wear. We should be taught that real professionalism comes from within– that it’s more important who we are on the inside than the outside.”

Although the town hall was limited to Upper School students, Middle School Director Karen Pavliscak voiced some of her concerns in a subsequent interview.

While Pavliscak echoed Nesbitt’s comments on upholding professionalism, she also said, “It is uncomfortable to hear a middle schooler who is confused as to why somebody who chose to be at Archer is breaking a rule that they agreed to uphold.”

Upper School Director Samantha Coyne Donnel mirrored Pavliscak’s remarks on maintaining community values.

“I expect students to take responsibility for adhering to all standards of conduct, including uniform expectations as expressed in the Handbook,” she said in an email interview.

Although the policy will remain as is, Coyne Donnel suggested in an email that if students want to challenge the skirt length protocol or any other policy that is currently in effect at Archer, “[she] encourage[s] them to channel their concerns through the student council in a constructive manner.”

While the skirt length policy has not changed in the 12 years that Gretchen Warner, Dean of Academic Affairs, has been at Archer, the uniform policy has changed as a whole.

Warner noted that when Archer switched from the previous uniform supplier to Lands End, the school took into account students’ desires to have more variety and comfort in their clothing options, which resulted in upper schoolers having the choice between several different skirts and tops.

“The point of the town hall was to let community members see into other peoples’ perspectives about skirt lengths because it’s very nice to hear what everyone thinks, and we definitely want to move forward with this issue as a community,” Cameron Thompson 18’, a member of the HEC, said in an interview.