Every generation has at least one article of clothing that makes it question what kids are wearing these days. But many parents feel helpless to make a stand because (a) they succumb to the plea that "everyone else is wearing it" or (b) they go shopping and see the thing they find distasteful or inappropriate plastered on every poster in the mall.
Joleen Reinholz feels your pain. She has a seventh-grader and a college freshman, so she is living through the Wardrobe War. She also is in a position to do something about it.
Reinholz is the principal of Sweet Home High School, which has decided to get tough with its dress code. Over the summer, parents received a letter informing them that when their sons and daughters returned to school in the fall, they would be expected to adhere to the code and stop dressing as if they were trying out for a new reality show called "How Much Can I Get Away With?"
(In the interest of full disclosure, my three daughters are Sweet Home graduates, and my son is a junior.)
Reinholz noted that her school already had a dress code, but it was vague and unevenly enforced, a problem other schools face. So the letter spelled out in exacting detail what was and what was not acceptable.
"Current trends in fashion really have pushed the boundaries of decency," she said last week.
Sweet Home is not breaking new ground with the dress code; according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, about 57 percent of public school principals reported in 2009-10 that their schools enforced a strict dress code, up from 47 percent 10 years earlier.
And enforcement, coupled with making the policy crystal clear, is the key. That's why the school also produced a brochure that featured students modeling attire that was acceptable or unacceptable. It also included specific rules, such as "Pants or shorts must be worn at the intended waistline" for boys and "Skirts, dresses or shorts must reach mid-thigh" for girls.
So if students and parents are unsure about whether something will pass muster, they can refer to the brochure.
As for enforcement, Reinholz said there are no second chances. Students were told to bring a change of clothes with them to school. For those who didn't, Reinholz keeps a collection of Sweet Home apparel on hand that they can wear to get through the day. The last resort is to contact the parents and have them bring clothes to school.
Reinholz said parents have been "overwhelmingly" in support of the steps she and the school-improvement team developed. And even if the students don't love it, they're getting it. On the first day of school, there were 27 violations among the 1,100 students. On Friday, there were two. Reinholz said the difference after one month is stark.
"It has completely changed the climate in our school," she said.
The districts that don't have a dress code or don't enforce one should now have no excuse. When students complain that it's not fair, they can say, "Everyone else is doing it."