Sure, summer is fading into fall, but with miniskirts and skimpy tops being all the rage, schools across the country are reworking their dress codes to fit today’s trends.
A spokeswoman for Concord Academy, a private, co-ed boarding school in Concord, Mass., said there is no formal dress code, but the school publicizes guidelines for appropriate attire in its handbook. Among the ground rules: Clothing should be clean and in good repair, and shoes must be worn in all academic buildings.
For any student contemplating a Madonna tribute, the guidelines are clear. “It should be understood that underwear is not outerwear,” the policy reads.
Braintree High School in Braintree, Mass., with enrollment of 1,450, instituted a dress code this year, notifying parents in early August that belly shirts, spaghetti straps, backless tops and miniskirts shorter than “fingertip length” were prohibited.
“Particularly females were pushing the envelope in terms of exposure,” said headmaster William Farrington of the community-supported decision to add a dress code. “It’s hard because that’s what fashion sells, yet we’re trying to educate kids, to keep them focused in a learning environment.”
So far, he said, most students “have gotten the message.” Farrington said, “The few we speak to, we make them put on a T-shirt. If it’s a short skirt at issue, we ask them to go home or to have a parent bring them something else to wear.”
In the Washington, D.C., area, school dress codes are pretty specific. In Virginia’s Fairfax County, public schools seem to want to head off any Jewel or Britney Spears wannabes.
“Clothing should fit, be neat and clean, and conform to standards of safety, good taste and decency,” the Fairfax school district’s dress code reads. “Clothing that exposes cleavage, private parts, the midriff, or undergarments, or that is otherwise sexually provocative, is prohibited. Examples of prohibited clothing include, but are not limited to: sagging or low-cut pants, low-cut necklines that show cleavage, tube tops, halter tops, backless blouses or blouses with only ties in the back and clothing constructed of see-through materials.”
In Montgomery County, Md., student fashionistas are given a bit more leeway. Teachers are instructed to not discipline students for their fashion unless their duds disrupt school activities, is associated with gangs, is offensive or promotes tobacco, alcohol or drugs.
However, individual Montgomery County schools have interpreted the official dress code rules to impose restrictions. For example, the Silver Spring International School bans hats, nonreligious head coverings, sweatbands and wallet chains; coats or outerwear must be stored in lockers and are not allowed to be worn around the building as a precaution against guns being carried on campus.
In Dallas public schools, the dress code bans short skirts, skull caps, visible body piercing, steel-toed boots, skin-baring apparel such as overtly sheer or halter tops or pants that hang below the waist, chain belts and wallets and boys wearing earrings. It also prohibits sex, vice or violence-related clothing, such as T-shirts with graphic slogans or artwork.
Each school within the Dallas district may also establish its own, more restrictive dress code that includes the option of wearing a uniform.
In the upscale suburb of Highland Park, the school dress code is a bit more relaxed but still bans all hats; tattered or ripped jeans; short skirts; T-shirts with sex, vice or violence-related slogans and artwork; tank tops; tube tops; bare midriffs; sheer tops, and spaghetti-strap shirts.
On the West Coast, where skin is celebrated by the sun-and-surf crowd or the Hollywood core, most schools frown upon revealing attire. At University High School in West Los Angeles, ninth through 12th graders must abide by a list that’s long: tube tops, tank tops, halter tops and low-cut blouses are no-nos. The 2,500 students did win a reprieve two years ago when the ban on spaghetti strap tops was lifted. “As long as bra straps aren’t showing,” stated school dean Stephanie Cole.
Other don’ts include do-rags, baggy pants and, as innocuous as it seems, all headgear except for baseball caps with the school’s logo. Cole said gang-related worries and distractions are always a concern at schools, not to mention student attitude.
“As a teacher, I used to conduct my class like a business, telling students they couldn’t go to work dressed like that,” she said. “Now that I’m a dean, I’m going to enforce it.”
If teachers spot inappropriately dressed students, they send them to the dean’s office where Cole keeps a supply of T-shirts — some donated, some with college logos for inspiration — for quick fix-it problems. For more difficult dress dilemmas, kids are sent home, which is uncommon, she said.
The hot-button issue at Marina del Rey Middle School serving grades six to eight centers on jerseys. Those mesh shirts sporting NBA names are not welcome on campus, according to Cyril Baird, the school’s assistant principal hired in January.
“Every school has an item that they go crazy about and here it’s jerseys, and I’ve been trying to figure out why,” said Baird. “I can’t explain it.”
For women, prohibited clothing includes fishnet stockings, HotPants and cropped tops. For boys, T-shirts with suggestive material such as drugs aren’t allowed and baggy pants are permissible only when worn with belts. Since school resumed Sept. 2, Baird said two students wore shirts with marijuana leaves on the first day and had to change into T-shirts he provided. He said most fashion missteps by students are easily solved except for one girl sent home last semester.
“She was dressed in a seductive manner with fishnet stockings and the whole thing,” Baird said. “She was in the eighth grade. You’d be surprised at how some people dress.”
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, comprised of 49 high schools, dress codes are left up to each school, but a basic idea prevails.
“Really, it comes down to if the dress is distracting or disrupting,” said Bud Jacobs, director of high school programs. Across the board, shoulders and midriffs fall under this category — “a special problem in today’s fashion,” noted Jacobs — as do short shorts. Skirt lengths are also being watched more closely, said Jacobs, especially as miniskirts have gained popularity.
Bad language on T-shirts is a no-no. Body piercing is tolerated except for navel rings, which fall under the bare midriff rule. Principals are encouraged to have clean T-shirts on hand or parents are sometimes called, but students are rarely sent home for violating dress codes.
“We try to keep them in school,” Jacobs said.