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Bright Ideas From Our Readers: Disputes About Dress

These parent-tested tips will help avoid arguments about school dress.

By GreatSchools Staff

Thanks to our Parent Advisor newsletter readers who shared their tips on avoiding arguments about dressing for school. Many suggested limiting the choices and then letting their child choose. Others had creative ways to address the problem:

Don't buy inappropriate clothing in the first place

A parent in Rhode Island says she only buys appropriate clothing and only keeps clothes suitable for the season in her child's closet. She writes: "I always let my children dress themselves - the combinations can be quite amusing and it gives them a chance to express themselves creatively through clothes ... it's never too early to teach your children to be themselves without worrying about what other people think of them."

To reason with her 16-year-old daughter, one Florida parent writes: "I tell her if that tank top is suitable for you, I'll wear one also. I say this in a nice tone and with some excitement! That's all I have to say and the garment is back on the rack in less than a second."

Plan ahead and limit the choices

Several parents suggested choosing outfits for a week and then letting their child decide (preferably the night before) what to wear each day. Or with younger children, give them a choice between two outfits.

You make the rules

A mother of a 7-year-old establishes two sections of the closet: school clothes and play clothes. The child can pick only from the school clothes for school. For her 10-year-old daughter, her rule is that she can only have one pattern going on in her outfit. This decreases the amount of mismatched clothing ensembles.

Don't be afraid to be firm and set limits

"As a parent there is no need to argue with a 6-year-old," writes a Michigan parent. "You are the parent and you make the decisions about what is to be worn to school, especially if the school has a uniform or dress code policy. Parents give their youth too much control and then later they have lost all control of what their child says or does."

Another parent writes that she lets her child decide, but her child knows that mom always retains veto power.

A California parent of a teenager has strict rules about underwear and outerwear: "Underwear is 'underwear.' The minute it becomes outerwear, it becomes a problem ... If I see a thong sticking out once, I will give it a good yank. If I see it twice, I will cut it off and empty her drawers of all thongs. So far, it's been three years and not one incident!"

Make the worn-out clothes disappear

Do you have a child who won't give up wearing an item of clothing that is worn-out or stained? A Tennessee parent suggests "making it disappear" when you do the wash. Her son only asked once for his favorite worn-out shirt after that, and then forgot that it existed.

Restrict wearing favorites to a few times a week

"I tell my son that he can't wear his favorite shirt every day because by washing it so much it will fade, become icky-looking and won't last as long," writes a Michigan mom. She allows him to wear his favorite shirt only twice or three times in one week.

Let the school dress code be your guide

If your school has a dress code, have a discussion with your child at the beginning of the year about what the school says is acceptable dress. Make the school's rules your rules.

Lobby your school or school district to adopt school uniforms

Tired of arguments about clothes? Several parents wrote in singing the praises of school uniforms. They help eliminate arguments, competitive dressing and having uniforms cuts down on expenses (especially if the school has a uniform-swap at the end of the year, so parents can turn in their child's uniform that is too small and make it available to others). Several parents commented that uniforms help kids concentrate on their studies rather than on what everyone else is wearing.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

02/1/2012:
"My daughter Meghan likes to dress wildly. I am afraid that she will start to be teased about the outfits she picks, but I can't bear to tear her down by telling her that her outfits don't really match. She takes pride in what she picks out. What should I do? ~Loving + Caring "
07/7/2008:
"I think financial reasons are a ridiculous protest to school uniforms. I work for the school and all the parents wanted to complain about buying uniforms for their kids, so the district now allows them to wear their own clothing with an extremely strict dress code. The clothing we confiscate from the kids cost far more than what uniforms would cost. The fact is, kids dont want to wear a $20 uniform, they want $70 jeans and shirts that have inappropriate logos. The parents cant control the kids and never will be able to, so they use cost as an easy reason to not purchase the uniforms. You can easly get away with 3 uniforms and launder them every other day to save money. I have offered to purchase items out of my own pocket, however when the kids are wearing $60 DC shoes and mom has a $400 coach purse, its hard to keep a straight face at their arguement. Any person who works or lives in a gang affluent area or has a long enough conversation with a police officer would underst! and the importance of kids dressing appropriately. There is a video on youtube showing how many weapons can be hidden in a baggy pair of jeans with an untucked shirt, and it is frightening! If you care about your childs safety, you would look at the video and support school uniforms or dress codes at the very least."
07/2/2008:
"Uniforms do NOT stop the violence or the 'clique' factor as you are always going to have some kids who will fight or gang up on others. They also do NOT stop 'competitive dressing'--at my child's school, the ones in K-Mart branded 'standard dress' are singled out and taunted by those who are wearing French Toast or Ralph Lauren items. There are also fights over shoes-again store brand vs. big names. The only studies that count all show that scores, attendance, etc. even out after only a year or so and, compared to non-uniformed schools, show only a few points difference over all. It isn't worth the heartburn."
09/6/2007:
"My son was in P.G./Maryland school and having the children wear uniforms worked for us. As children get older they tend to take more time picking out what clothes to wear. With uniforms, students have a better chance on being on time for school in the morning and there are no clothing issues for teachers to address such as improper clothing woren by students. I have had the chance to see what it is like to shop for uniforms verse a regular school shopping. And shopping for uniforms was about a 100.00 to 150.00 nddifference..WOW! Now that we are in C. C. Waldorf school system uniforms are not needed this is a matter in which i think i speak for many parents when i say uniforms would be a great move for the county."
09/4/2007:
"I DO NOT agree with school dress code because some parents can't afford to go out and get the clothes the schools orders parents to buy or your child will get in trouble. I look at it this way my kids go to school to learn not to enter the school at 8am and gets in trouble because they have on a stripped polo shirt. Then my youngest kids was sent to the office. My youngest son told me later he went to his PE class and his teacher told him that if he wears another stripped shirt she was going to send to the office and he won't be able to come to her class. It seems to me that he will miss out on learning because of the shirt he wore to class, that's STUPID. I was OK with them wearing any type of polo style shirt, it's easy finding any style polo shirt. Remember some parents are on a budget, I am a parent with 3 kids. The only problem I have is the plain color collared shirts, they should be like they was last year. A Concerned Parent "
08/10/2007:
"I am a divorced father of a 7 year old girl, and I am already having the clothes debate. My ex and I have differing opinions about what is appropriate. The biggest problem is that fashion today promotes clothing that draws your eye to body parts. Bare midriffs, shorts with printing on the backside, low cut tops. These fashion trends translate down to clothing for younger children, and that is 'what they want.' Everyday there are stories about pedophiles, and sex offenders taking, and hurting children. Why are communities outraged, when it is ok for children to show their bodies. This is not an excuse for sex offenders, and it is certainly not the main reason for these things to happen, this is merely pointing out that many are hypocrits when they ask, 'how can this be allowed', but they never say a word about how children can be allowed to show off their bodies. School uniforms or dress codes may not prevent violence, but they will certainly avoid several issues. First, children will not be showing off their bodies or body parts for all of the world to see. Second, the use of uniforms will help lower clothing costs, over the long run, for families that cannot afford to pay for the latest in fashion. Yes, there will be an outlay initially to pay for the uniforms, but the cost of uniforms will pale in comparison to the amount of money a family will spend on new jeans, t-shirts, or even skirts in retail stores, and most of this clothing is where the problems begin. Also, with swaps and yard sales or second hand shops, eventually the families will be able to find uniforms at an even better price."
11/1/2006:
"I think uniforms would be great for all schools...To me there is no challange to what to wear and who has the best and wanting to fit in..Everyone will fit in then."
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