When a California teenager noticed that many female students at his high school were getting penalized for wearing what he thought were perfectly acceptable outfits, he crafted a clever plan in protest.
Phillip Rodriguez, 17, showed up to class one day in October wearing a white belly-baring shirt and low-slung jeans that revealed his underwear — a clear violation of the dress code.
“I wanted to see, well, if the girls are getting dress coded for that, what if I do it?” Rodriguez, a senior at Hueneme High School in Oxnard, California, told TODAY Style.
Rodriguez said he came up with the idea after a particularly brutal heat wave, when he witnessed several female students at his school get in trouble for their outfits. The Southern California city experienced record-breaking heat in late October, with temperatures above 100 degrees for days in a row.
“It was very hot,” Rodriguez said. “These girls, they don’t want to wear pants. They want to wear something comfortable … so they wore stuff that would reveal their shoulders, or a little stomach here and there. And shorts. But they would always get dress coded for it. I felt that wasn’t exactly right.”
He explained that being "dress coded" could include anything from being sent home to being told to change by authority figures in the school.
So Rodriguez cut up a white Hanes T-shirt and wore the makeshift crop top to school on Oct. 26. While teachers were amused, he didn’t get into any trouble for the outfit, he said.
“They were just surprised,” he said. “They didn’t say anything bad. They were just questioning me, like, that’s weird — why did you wear that?”
Rodriguez chronicled his protest on Twitter, and photos of his outfit have since gone viral. He told TODAY Style he was trying to prove a point that female students are unfairly targeted by school dress codes. He also wants to make it clear that he’s not distracted by their outfits, as distraction is often cited as a reason for enforcing dress code rules.
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“I’m not going to be staring at some girl’s shoulders for 30 minutes of a period,” he said. “It’s very odd to dress code someone because it’s distracting. I’m not distracted.”
But did administrators get the message? Rodriguez isn't so sure. The school has not yet responded to TODAY's request for comment.
The teen said he's surprised by all the attention his story has gotten, and now suspects that dress codes are a bigger issue than he realized.
"Maybe our school is not the only one that has a problem," Rodriguez said. "I obviously didn't expect this to happen."