Thank you to our many readers who told us how they help their children to make good decisions about school attire. Here are some of their tips:
The dos and don’ts of smart clothing choices
Do use “business casual” as a gage.
The parent of a young girl writes, “Try to be within the realm of ‘business casual,’ leaning a little more to the casual. It is her ‘job’ to work at school and learn so that she can take her place as a fully responsible, capable adult. She is not in school to show-off and call attention to herself. But she still needs to fit in with other students coming from various economic classes. This means erring on the side of being understated rather than overstated. So, therefore, jeans are okay if they are in good condition, T-shirts are okay as long as they are not offensive. No shorts, no tank tops, no sandals. And this may sound a bit odd, but since my daughter is in elementary school with recesses and other play times, no dresses or skirts. If she wants to and the weather permits, she might choose to wear a skort.”
Do instill a dress-for-success mentality.
A Virginia mother of two writes, “I only allow my children to wear khaki pants or shorts and collar shirts to school — clothing along the lines of casual Friday attire at work. I am trying to instill in them at an early age that this is how you dress during the week and that there are other clothes for weekends. I feel that T-shirts with writing are very distracting in the classroom. My kids don’t have a problem with this dress and I think they enjoy their weekend clothing a lot more than if they wore it all week long.”
Do follow the school’s dress code.
A parent in Indiana writes, “[Our middle school] has a fantastic dress code in place. The students are to dress ‘for success’ and not a day at the beach. This means no T-shirts with inappropriate messages, no slouchy jeans, no bare arms, no low-cut tops. Skirts must be at fingertip length when arms are held down to their sides. No flip-flops, no pajama bottoms, and any pants with belt loops must have a belt threaded through the loops, and no tank tops.
‘[The school] is giving our children a ‘heads up’ on dressing for success, as if they are going out into the ‘real’ world and not spending a day at the beach or weekends lounging with friends. With this dress code in place, it takes the weight off parents’ shoulders when their children try to wear inappropriate clothing to school. The dress code still gives children the opportunity to be themselves when dressed for school, within limits.
‘I, personally, love the dress code rather than a mandatory uniform dress code. In the ‘real world’ not all careers are confined to a uniform, nor should schools. Dress codes are a much better way of dealing with inappropriate clothing.”
Do avoid shoes with roller skates in them.
A mom in Washinton State writes, “My son is getting ready to start third grade and he is positively itching to get a pair of Heelys. Even if I were to buy them for him (which I will never do), I do not think that children need to be roller skating through the hallways at school. I know many schools have made rules about taking the wheels out of the rolling shoes, if they allow them to be worn at all, and I whole-heartedly agree! I will be very glad when this fad goes out of style!”
Do avoid suggestive words and stereotypes.
The parent of a 7-year-old writes, “‘100% Angel, Princess, Sweet, Flirty.’ These are all suggestive. We do not live in a monarchy, so there are no princesses. My daughter is not allowed to have sayings written on the rear-end of her clothing. She can wear original items with sayings as long as they do not stereotype or attached to a gender (e.g., would a boy wear Sweet, Cheer, etc.). Clothing that distracts from learning is out. Clothing that cannot be actively played in is out. Advertising over one inch anywhere on the clothing is out. (My daughter is not a walking billboard). No hot pink and black — she’s not hott (the old term for hot or sexy) — pink items are limited to fewer than 10 — for the stereotypical reason. My daughter is nearly 8. I have to say that over half the girls in her school are allowed — and wear — all of the things listed above.”
Do avoid excessively bagging pants.
A parent of a 10-year-old boy writes, “Although the current fashion seems to encompass very baggy jeans that ride low, as it has for some time, and shorts that fall to beyond mid-calf length, I will not permit him to dress in these items for school. Between constantly pulling up his pants or complaining that he is too hot in the ‘shorts,’ I think he would be pretty unhappy in these anyways. I do allow him to wear loose fitting pants/shorts providing they fit in the waist. Regarding shirts, I will allow him to wear shirts with funny and sometimes sarcastic sayings or pictures as long as they will not get him in trouble at school or offend anyone. I draw the line at anything referring to girls, teachers, or authority figures as a whole. Since he has respect for these groups of people anyways, he doesn’t argue the fact. There are a few shirts that he has that are questionable that he really likes, but we just agree to let him wear those on the weekends or at home only. I would have to say my biggest ‘no’ is regarding him wearing Heelys shoes. I won’t even let him have a pair much less, if he did, would I allow him to wear them to school, the mall, etc. They would only be for home. Most often, when I encounter kids that have these, they are more concerned with skating fast than the fact that they are cutting people off, etc.”
Do try this “mutually agreed upon destruction” policy.
A Texas mom of a sixth-grader writes, “This is her third school change, so we’ve had everything from public school uniforms, Catholic school plaid skirts, to, this year, no uniforms. I always review the school’s dress policy with my daughter so she understands why I say no to tank tops, etc., and she doesn’t look at inappropriate choices. I am more strict this year on shoes than the school district — only comfortable tennis shoes, which we also discuss BEFORE shopping. What works with my daughter is shopping together with our ‘mutually agreed destruction’ policy. She can say no to a choice of clothing and we put it back. I can say no to a piece of clothing and we put it back. No arguments from either of us allowed. No reason except ‘no’ is fine.”
Don’t buy T-shirts with slogans that mock school or homework.
A New Jersey teacher and mom writes, “I do not allow my children to wear T-shirts with sayings on them — particularly sayings that contain negative connotations toward school. I believe we should be teaching our children that schoolwork and homework are an important part of their lives, not something to mock. Even if children do not have to wear school uniforms, there are plenty of appropriate clothing choices for school.”
Don’t have inappropriate clothes in the house.
A mom from Virginia writes, “We don’t purchase clothes for our 11-year-old son that would be inappropriate for school, so our son is not limited in what he can wear. As long as he’s clean and his colors match (in his mind), what he wears is up to him.”
Don’t sexualize our daughters.
An Arizona mom of a 5-year-old writes: “I have an issue with parents letting their young daughters (and by young I mean 5 to 13 years of age) wear revealing adult-like clothing. I think that while the girl may think she is chic and stylish, she may be unaware of the message she is sending to boys. Also, I think parents are unaware of how dressing their daughters this way may cause grown men to look at them in an inappropriate way, regardless of how young the child is. There are lots of sickos out there, parents! It is our job to keep our girls safe. One in four girls will be molested … scary statistics like this cause me to take pause when buying or accepting clothing for my daughter. She will not wear shorts that could show off her bottom if she bent over, or sat a certain way. Capris are a nice, stylish alternative. She will not wear belly-baring clothing or backless clothing. Tank tops are fine, as long as they are not cut too low and there are no gaps in the arm pit that could allow someone to look at her chest. I have no problem with colors, but I do think that shirts with phrases that are dirty, racial, slanderous or sexual have no place in any school!”
Don’t buy T-shirts with sarcastic comments on them.
A California mother of an 11-year-old girl writes, “My daughter is not allowed to wear any clothing to school with wording on it, especially if it can be construed as arrogant, selfish, obnoxious or distasteful. I had a talk with her about what we want to portray about ourselves and what impression a sarcastic remark on a shirt makes to others. I was calm and articulate when explaining this to her and there was no argument. I think it helps to treat the child maturely and explain the reason for the decision, instead of just stating a blanket ‘no.'”