The Freedom of Wardrobe Choice

Dress codes.  Uniforms.  Status quo.  Stifling expression. Attempting to create equality.

Upon hearing the news of the new Waterloo Community School District dress code the week before last, I was once again going back and forth between the pros and cons of school uniforms and dress codes.

I love the United States mostly because our concept of freedom is second to none.  I truly realized the power of free speech when taking a Communication Law class at Simpson taught by Ben Stone, then the director for the Iowa Civil Liberties Union.  While I didn’t agree with everything he said, Ben challenged me to really think about the concept of free speech and the slippery slope we lean toward if we limit speech of any kind.

The way we dress is a form of self expression and speech in a different form.  I love individuality.  However, when it concerns kids in a learning environment, school uniforms might have an appropriate role to play.  A lot of being a kid, especially during the teenage years, is trying to belong.  And this belonging is often attained by keeping up with the name brand wardrobes that the cool kids display every day.

I grew up in a small town, and name brand clothes were a big thing there in the 1990s.  When I received my first pair of Guess jeans, I wore them as often as possible because they were my only pair of name brand jeans.  I wanted to fit in with the popular kids who had multiple pairs of name brand jeans.

Wouldn’t it be easier to wear standard khakis and polos?  Ah, but those have brand labels also.  Kids will find some way to differentiate themselves, if even in a small way.  Maybe it’s enough to make the playing field closer to level for lower and upper income families though.

And maybe dressing the kids similarly will create fewer distractions in a learning environment.  With the things I see them wearing these days, I am beginning to understand that argument.

Nearly every school has some sort of dress code already.  At my school, we could not wear midriff shirts or hats of any kind.

As kids grow up and enter the real world, they will face dress codes in many work places.  My Target Optical job requires red and khaki.  It’s a love-hate relationship most days.  It’s nice not to have to think about what to wear, but then I do tire of the colors.

If I was unable to tolerate the red and khaki, I could choose to work at another company with a different, or no, dress code.

And with open enrollment, some families have the option to change schools if they strongly disagree with an institution’s policies.  Another great thing about America: the free market.  Parents make those decisions for children, which is the good and bad thing about being a kid.  I suppose if kids don’t agree, they can lobby their parents for change.  Welcome to Democracy 101!

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One thought on “The Freedom of Wardrobe Choice

  1. I generally have no issues with dress codes in schools, though I don’t necessarily agree that uniforms are useful simply because, as you said, kids WILL find ways to stand out. But I digress.

    My issue with dress codes, especially in schools, is that they are not often equal between the sexes, or so my experience has shown me. When I got my first ear piercing (age 11, sixth grade), I showed up to school with it and was told I needed to take it out. I was told that boys were not allowed to wear ear jewelry at school. So I went home and told my folks. We wound up lobbying the school to let me wear it based on the fact that allowing girls to have earrings but not boys is inherently unfair. The argument that my parents and I used is that if you were going to say boys couldn’t wear earrings, you had to say the same for girls.

    In high school, we saw the same thing. Girls could wear tank tops (though not spaghetti strap), but when a boy wore a basketball jersey, they had to have a tshirt underneath.

    It’s a tough balance to strike, I realize. But for a dress code to be effective, it must be struck.

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