Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

August 18, 2013

Fashion out of touch with school rules

— Between the sight of school buses and messages on marquees welcoming the return of students, it is easy to see that school is back in session in the two Virginias.

Of course, even if I didn’t have giant yellow vehicles and signs letting me know about the start of the school year the number of back-to-school mailers I have received in my mailbox, email inbox and seen posted on local stores might offer a clue. Back-to-school shopping has overtaken many local stores and despite the need for pens, paper and notebooks, it seems clothing is the larger focus of these ads.

As a student, I always felt the dress code was a little unfair toward girls. Boys never got in trouble for the width of their sleeves, wearing shorts that came above their middle fingers or any number of infractions I had seen my female classmates sent home for.

The one rule that only really seemed enforced for guys was not wearing saggy pants. I had an assistant principal who even kept several hot pink lengths of rope and suspenders she would use to keep the pants of dress-code offenders firmly at the waistline as punishment for their infractions. Sure, hats were supposed to be taboo in class but even then I had teachers who were pretty lenient with that rule.

I do understand somewhat the necessity of a dress code. Dressing a certain way shows respect for teachers and the institution of education as a whole. I still think it’s silly when administrators whip out measuring sticks to see the length of a skirt or shorts, especially when there are much bigger issues like bullying they could be facing. However, my main problem with the dress code doesn’t lie with school administrators.

I have noticed since I was in school that there seems to be very little communication between the people who set these school dress codes and the fashion industry. I have found myself facing racks and racks of back-to-school clothing I wouldn’t be allowed to wear on school grounds. It would be agony to find something I thought was cute or fit me well only to realize there was no way I could wear it to class.

Layering became my weapon of choice when I was in school. However, layering your clothing to meet the dress code is more of a hindrance than a help on those days when it is particularly warm outside. Where I grew up, it was likely to be 90 degrees well into October and then starting up again in April, so you had to find something that would fit you appropriately and yet not make you swoon and pass out like some damsel from “Gone with the Wind.”

My sister — who is still in high school — is still complaining of this same fact a decade later. In addition to finding clothing that is inappropriate for school, my sister has let me know about T-shirts that advocate girls are “too pretty to do homework” and or that her “best subjects” should be “boys” and “shopping.” I, too, at that age had problems with girls wearing pants that read “sexy” across the back or the ever-popular and slightly suggestive “Blow Pop” shirt a girl in one of my classes got sent home for.

My mother has complained to me not only about the stress of shopping with a teenage girl but the stress of trying to find clothes that she doesn’t find “skanky” for my sister to wear. Obviously, no one has communicated to the mavens of the fashion world that spaghetti straps, short shorts and mini skirts will get you sent home from school.

In fact, in the dozens of back-to-school mailers I have received I can pick out one — usually female — model in the group who is wearing clothing that would have gotten her sent home from my high school. From what I have been told by younger siblings and cousins, dress codes have only gotten stricter since I left school, yet the clothing on sale in back-to-school catalogues hasn’t changed that much.

I sometimes wonder if the fashion industry is taking its cue from television and movies rather than the real world. Watching movies and television shows aimed at teenagers it seems Hollywood has no idea what kids are and aren’t allowed to wear to school today. The only character I can confidently say I never saw wearing something violating the dress code to school was Rory Gilmore of “Gilmore Girls,” and that’s because Rory had a school uniform she wore daily.

I know the conformity of uniforms are highly unpopular among the teenage set and I’m not suggesting them as means to an end for the fashion world versus school reality debate. I have known kids who were teased for “wearing their uniform wrong,” such as not rolling their socks up the right way.

I think what needs to be done is for parents and students to alert clothing manufacturers that certain styles just aren’t acceptable for school and that they might make a little more money if they manufactured clothing children could actually wear back to school.

Kate Coil is a reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com.

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