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From Our Readers: Helping Kids Make Smart Clothing Choices

GreatSchools' readers share their ideas on how to teach kids to dress appropriately for school.

By GreatSchools Staff

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."

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

12/21/2010:
"I agree about young girls wearing inappropriate clothing part. I have a friend who is only 12 years old and her mom actually allows her to wear high heels! I don't agree about kids wearing 'business casual' clothes. These are kids not business people. Let them express themselves. And the whole 'no pink and black' is unnecessary. "
11/24/2009:
"seriously? what about expression? art? i understand you dont want your kids to wear provocative clothing... but this is a bit extreme. OK.. so have an etiquette class for those interested, but don't subject them to so many rules. they might as well be homeschooled if you cant let them make a few decisions for themselves. I used to love wearing band shirts in highschool. I did not feel like a 'billboard'. I felt like I supported a local band and expressed myself in no negative way. Cut some slack jackals"
10/31/2008:
"We don't have school uniforms at my school, but we do have dress codes. Skirts and shorts have to be to the knee, accept in gym (physical education) class. No tanktops. No low-cut shirts. No t-shirts that refer to sexual thoughts. I am glad that we have dress codes at my school, because without them, our school would be a disaster! The girls would be dressing like sluts and trying to impress guys... and they're giving them the wrong idea then what they're thinking about. Schools don't need uniforms, but they deffinately need dress codes, unless they want to embarrass themselves. WE NEED TO TAKE A STAND!"
08/14/2008:
"hey i'm eleven and my parents allow to wear almost anything as long as it follows the dresscode. However, I only will buys things that are cute and awesome! Any clothing that shows off my bottom, belly, or back (three b's) I don't wear. I dont anything with an offensive remark either. Oh, and parents, let your kids do their shopping! they dont want YOU picking out their clothes1 just have them say, 'can I buy this?' when you're shopping! If you say no and she protests, tell her why you think so and show her an alternative that's less revealing, inoffensive, more comfortable, etc. Also, just let her buy the shirt that says< 'californis has better surfers' , k?"
09/11/2007:
"As a mother with a child that has recently changed schools from a uniform school of 6 years to a non, I'm very happy. He looks forward to school and gets up on time without any badgering. He even lays his clothes out the night before. He likes to shop for his clothes now, where before I had a problem with him even trying them on. I've worked in the professional environment with casual Fridays for the past 26 years. I enjoy the time my 11 year old and I spend together shopping. I regularly measure my sons waste, so that he doesn't end up with baggy pants, with the boxers showing. He respects my wishes and so far has improved in school. He comes out smiling and tells me what a great day he had. It's not lets get home quick to change. He is not a sloppy dresser and looks very nice going to school. It's up to the parent to monitor what your child is wearing. The local high school is non uniform and that's wear I think the monitoring should be stronger. As pre-school thru 8th grade students start to develop their personalities, I feel that a child should be comfortable in what they are wearing and have a choice."
09/7/2007:
"this is great inside opinions for those of us with kindergartners just starting the whole school thing. "
09/7/2007:
"I totally agree with the Arizona Mom, I also think that alot of the clothing out there for young girls is very inappropriate and sends a sexual message to weirdos out there. I will not allow my daughter to wear such things either. I also find it a shame that it's hard to find nice normal appropriate young girl clothing out there! I find alot of clothing I do like at Land's End. "
09/6/2007:
"This was a wonderful and timely discussion topic. With three girls, 6th, 7th & 8th grades, I have plenty of concerns. Each child has different tastes in clothing and style and each has a different body type, so shopping is often very stressful. I have found that the schools dress code is often not enough. What is allowed in school is not necessarily what I would allow them to wear. Or what I feel is appropriate. So I applaud those schools who have much stricter policies regarding skirt and shorts lengths and shoes. I have seen so many girls going into school with flip flops and a short (barely longer than the underwear) skirts or shorts. Even though, as parents, we set the standards in our home, it sets us up for an arguement every morning with measuring the length of skirts to fingertips, etc. And schools with very lax policies, allowing flip flops all year long. You may counter that as parents we veto school policies, but many families, like mine, are blended and kids are ! allowed to purchase some items and wear them to school from a completely different household. In the end, it is the parents job, not the schools, to set dressing guidelines, but it would be wonderful if many schools didn't allow such a wide range of 'acceptable' options. Or at the very least, actually enforce any policies written down. Especially the trends for shower shoes, beach wear, etc."
09/6/2007:
"Hurray! There are still some parents out there who think for themselves and care about their daughters!!!Judging from what I see the girls wearing at the high school, I was wondering if anyone cared anymore. It seems too much emphasis is put on physical beauty, rather than inner beauty, brains, integrity, morals and character. Thanks for posting these comments!"
09/6/2007:
"Being from Florida, I do think it is ok if children wear shorts or sleevless shirts as long as they do not reveal their bottom when they sit or bend over and as long as the shirt doesn't gap under the arm. It's 95 degrees here today and they spend some time outside!!! As far as shirts with sayings on them...I feel that as an educated adult I can help my daughter make choices in her attire that is fun and also appropriate. The thing I hate to see on some children is the clothing that screams 'I think I'm better than you' which I see in many X game type athletic families..I am an arm legnth awy from one so I know from where I speak. Proficiency in a sport or other activity should not be a hall pass to arrogant or demeaning behaivor."
09/5/2007:
"Frankly, we let our nine year old son wear T-shirts with slogans on them to school. He gets excellent grades, rarely misses school, does well on standarized tests, and does his homework with focus and dedication each night. We, as parents don't see anything wrong with letting our son express his opinion about homework with funny words on his shirt. He's a child! He has every right to express himself, even in school."
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