Thursday, May 29, 2003

Dress codes try to stay in step

By Gina Daugherty
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For every generation, there is a gap. One of the widest is that between students and administrators.

Girls love low-slung jeans with their thongs hanging out. Boys love baggy pants with their boxers hanging out. School officials hate clothes that reveal the underwear of either.

The relationship between student freedom and school dress code has always been tenuous.

"Every generation has its thing that is a ridiculous fashion statement, but it looks good to them," says Margie Voelker-Ferrier, associate professor for fashion design at the University of Cincinnati. "No one realizes how silly they look until they are in their 50s."

The thing about fashion, says Voelker-Ferrier, is that once it becomes pervasive, it dies. Thongs will go the way of corsets, while capri pants will vanish like parachute pants. What most people don't know is where the items originate.

Baggy pants on men originated in the prison system, says Voelker-Ferrier. Prisoners are not given belts to hold up their pants. In defiance, hip-hop culture adopted the look.

Gauging the times

Writing a dress code that addresses thong underwear and baggy pants one year is fruitless when midriff shirts and body jewelry are popular the next. A code that changes with the times can be elusive.

"Every time you try to set rules, things change," says Principal Ron Spurlock, of Liberty School in the Lakota School District. "There are so many gray areas. I've seen districts where the dress code says shorts must be at least fingertip length. But what if a student has long arms? Or short legs? It's hard to be fair and consistent."

The Lakota district recently adopted a dress code that is brilliant in its simplicity: Don't show skin. Necklines should be high enough that cleavage is covered, while lower garments are to be high enough that no underwear or buttocks show.

But rest assured, students will find a way to challenge it.

It took a 40-member panel of educators, parents and students to draft the policy. Some members were conservative while others said, "So what?" to skin. What resulted is a policy that Spurlock says should be fairly easy to enforce.

Enforcement was a problem at Fairfield City Schools, says Ann Crone, Board of Education member. The old policy was enforced by some teachers in some buildings, but not by all in every building. As a result, Fairfield set a new policy into place last year to address the discrepancies.

Crone said she has been pleasantly surprised at how many students are in favor of tightening up the dress code. And she adds that they are not asking for much.

Simple rules

"No bare midriffs and pants must be pulled up," Crone says. "We do not want to see any bareness. You must be covered. It's very simple."

The best part, for school officials at least, is that the policies will be reviewed regularly - to coincide with the times.


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