Are dress codes and school uniforms old-fashioned?
Carl Bosch has put in 10,114 days as an educator, with 61 left to go.
Dress codes are modern little throwbacks to an era when modesty and demure clothing were automatic and generally popular. We struggle every day in middle school, especially as warm weather approaches, to keep things … how can I say it … covered.
Part of the dress code is easy. You can’t wear shirts that espouse beer, marijuana, or the used-to-be popular “coed naked” series. (Whether it was lacrosse, soccer or Frisbee, we didn’t care, “coed naked” was out.) Another simple part concerning boys was the admonition to “pull up your damn pants.” (Without the damn added in.) We simply don’t want to see any young man’s undershorts no matter how cool they are. Fortunately, this is hardly a fashion trend in my school so we barely have to deal with it.
But now we come to the girls. No spaghetti strap tops. (I really have no interest in the bra straps of 7th graders.) Nothing too low cut. “Please report to the principal or assistant principal.” (They both happen to be female and can handle those kinds of issues more directly.) No jeans with too many holes and rips, but who exactly determines how many rips is too many? And our biggest problem: short shorts and short skirts.
The rule of thumb, or better yet, fingertips, is that when a young lady puts her arms down at her sides, the shorts or skirt must reach the bottom of her fingertips. This is a somewhat arbitrary scale of measure. Some girls have arms like Michael Phelps and would have to be wearing Amish skirts to qualify. More shoulder raising and arm shortening goes into play when admonished to “put your arms down at your sides” then a poker player trying to hide a straight flush.
There’s also the problem of maturation rates for twelve, thirteen and fourteen year old girls. Some look like they’re still watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and some look like they’re trying out for the Rockettes. Let’s throw in that most men on the staff are loathe to mention anything about skirt length to any young lady for fear that they’ll be talked about on Facebook as being salacious. There’s even a fashion now in skirts that appears to be nothing more than a full body sock. It’s kind of stretchable. When the student is sent to the office they do a quick stretch job and the offending skirt meets the regulations. By the time they’re back in class the skirt has ridden back up to high noon. What’s a Math teacher to do?
These are the styles of the day that are pushed by our culture, advertised everywhere and meshed with the finely honed promotion of teenage sexuality. It’s difficult when the school is trying to hold to a higher standard than society at large and the home in particular. Clearly, there’s been erosion in the last few decades of formality in dress everywhere. Blue jeans used to be frowned on in schools years ago. People don’t dress for the theater, or church, or holidays. How can we blame our daughters, nieces, and girls everywhere when they simply don’t see the problem? They think we’re being old-fashioned, hyper conservative and downright stupid.
The fact is clothing can be distracting from the task at hand. Any task. Don’t try to tell me that a fourteen year old boy is not ogling the girl in the desk across from him. I know they are, because they’ve told me. I haven’t even mentioned the money factor that goes into clothing. Whoever can afford those UGG boots, the Abercrombie & Fitch top or anything from Juicy Couture takes on large significance, especially for those who can’t afford them. (Honestly, I’m really nitpicking here, but do I want my thirteen year old in anything called Juicy Couture?) And does what you wear play into social culture and groups? You bet it does.
Here’s my rule of thumb. Don’t buy anything for your children—especially daughters—that are truly designed for a 20 year old. Pay no attention to the ads on television, the print pressure, the mall window displays. Let’s leave it at that.
Or perhaps schools should have uniforms.
Photo credit: Flickr / KingTyrone