Dressing Down

Enforcing dress codes at high schools isn't always a black-and-white issue.

At a meeting of parents, teachers and administrators at the high school that my son attends, the subject of dress code came up.

The parents in attendance were unanimous in the support of a stricter dress code (as you might expect of parents who care enough to show up for such a meeting). And while the teachers and administrators were in general accord with that philosophy, they claimed that implementing and then enforcing such a thing is not quite that simple in real life.

Some teachers said that it wasn't their job to be the fashion police, while others said they didn't want to go through the hassle of sending kids to the office and having them miss class time. One male administrator said he had become gun-shy after telling a girl that she was dressed inappropriately and having the kid snap back, "You're a grown man. Why are you looking there?"

To which the obvious response should have been, "If you dress like a hoochie, you don't get to choose who stares at you."

While the vast majority of kids dress within the bounds of decency, there are always several for whom Christina Aguilera is some sort of patron slut. They step onto the campus and immediately start tugging on things, hoping to cover enough skin to get past whichever administrators happen to be out front that day.

The kids getting off the bus are one thing, but I'll never understand the ones who get out of cars. How can parents drop their kids off at school knowing their daughters are dressed like Beyonce Knowles in one of those videos designed to keep the viewer from realizing that she can't sing or dance worth a lick?

I know; that's the style. But it's also ridiculous. First off, about 90 percent of all women and 99.997 percent of all men who bare their midriffs really shouldn't. They really, really shouldn't. You see women walk into stores with bare abdomens for which the only crunches have been of the Nestlé variety, and all of a sudden, you feel the need for Dramamine.

Here's a simple test: Put on a half-shirt or halter top. Then, put your hands under your armpits and move them down toward your hips. If, after running out of material, you run into something that feels like a fleshy O-ring, you probably shouldn't be wearing that particular item of clothing.

I speak at high schools all over town (generally about being a writer, after which I implore the young people to get real jobs). Most of the schools I've been to have problems with dress-code violators. Some are taking steps to deal with the situation.

A few years back, the administration at Sunnyside High School implemented a strict dress code. Among the rules (for boys and girls): no spaghetti straps, no cleavage showing, nothing sleeveless or see-through, and no bare midriffs. All shirts must be long enough that they could be tucked in if necessary. No small skirts and no short shorts. T-shirts can be worn, but they can't have any reference to drugs, alcohol or tobacco. Also, the shirts can have no racial or sexual references. And here's a biggie: No hats or caps of any kind. Do you realize that some of the sissy-ass boys of today could save a half-hour or more by not having to stand in front of a mirror making sure that their stupid cap is tilted at exactly 17 degrees off horizontal and 31 degrees off center?

Just about everybody involved with the school when the code went into effect was amazed at how quickly and smoothly the transition went. Within just a couple of weeks, the vast majority of the students were complying with the code, and it has been working well for years now.

My personal favorite part of the code was the punishment phase. If a kid showed up to school dressed in an inappropriate manner, they would be sent to the office, where they would be given a T-shirt to wear. And they couldn't wear it over the offensive clothing; they had to change. Then, at the end of the school day, they could trade back. But here's the best part: Sunnyside wouldn't wash the T-shirts. You not only got the shirt; you got to share the body funk of the last 10 or 12 people who wore the shirt before you.

Sunnyside Assistant Principal Art Menchaca says that they wash the shirts these days. That's too bad. They shouldn't go soft. If it were up to me, a first offense would have a dirty shirt. The second offense would have a dirty, stinky shirt. By the third offense, the kid would be given a shirt with dookie stains.

Menchaca says that they still get about 10 kids a day with dress-code violations. That seems high, but it's only 10 out of a campus of more than 2,000 students.

He says parents are generally really good about it. "We'll call a parent and she'll say, 'Did she end up wearing that to school? I told her not to wear that.' However, some parents dispute our position. Every now and then, we'll have a mother come in and say, 'I bought her that outfit, and I think she looks good in it. It's my decision what she wears to school.'"

Alas, somewhere along the line, discipline has become a dirty word. Of course, it should start in the home, but if it doesn't, it's incumbent on the schools to pick up the slack. In all my years of coaching, I've found that most kids actually crave discipline, and those who don't, really need it. And establishing and enforcing a dress code can certainly go a long way toward that end.

When I was taking him to school this morning, I asked my son about dress codes. He shrugged, "It's not that big a deal."

Then, he sighed. "It's for sure none of the girls in my honors and AP classes dress like that."