Monday, November 26, 2007

Hot topic: label lust and dress codes

Her name was Tracy Larsen, and she was the prettiest girl in my elementary school. She had bright blue eyes, silky blond hair, and adorable little freckles sprinkled across her nose. She was also the best dressed—at least in my opinion.

I attended elementary school in the 1980s in the South Bay at the height of the Esprit fashion craze. If you wore the San Francisco-based brand's bold-colored, Euro-chic fashions, you were cool. And, of course, Tracy was a walking Esprit advertisement. I'm embarrassed to admit that I remember specific outfits she wore in the fifth and sixth grade. A matching blouse and skirt made from a fabric with pink frogs leaping off green lily pads. A fluorescent yellow and navy blue striped dress and top. (I can remember showing my Mom the same outfit at Macy's, and she said, "If you wear that, you'll look like a jail bird!")

I owned a few pieces of Esprit clothing: I wasn't entirely deprived. My Mom's work required her to go to San Francisco once a month, and so I would encourage her to drop by the factory outlet. But my Mom also traveled to London once a year to see plays, and so she picked me up wool kilts, argyle knee-highs, and itchy sweaters. And the majority of my clothes came from Ross and Marshall's, places where I happily shop now but didn't so happily back then.

Tracy introduced me to label lust, which is a horrible, awful feeling when you're only 9-years-old and incapable of realizing that buying something because it's tagged with a specific logo is actually quite superficial. And I've already observed label lust in Alice. The other day she told me that she needs a pair of sparkley shoes because so and so at her preschool has a pair.

And so the idea of uniforms and dress codes makes sense to me. Though I would never pick a school just because it has uniforms. Rather, I see uniforms as an added bonus. But a friend of mine says she'd rather not send her child to a school with a dress code because she feels her daughter is able to express herself creatively by choosing her own clothes. And I can understand this point of view because I let Alice wear whatever she likes (though I don't buy her whatever she likes). And she definitely reveals her creative spirit by wearing dresses over skirts over pants, and mixing florals and stripes and polka dots.

I'm wondering how others feel about uniforms and dress codes? What have your experiences been?


  1. Here are a few elementary schools with dress codes:

    Bryant, Cesar Chavez, Fairmount, Leonard Flynn, Starr King, Monroe, John Muir, Rosa Parks, Jose Ortega, Paul Revere, and Sanchez.

  2. Kate,

    Sorry to deviate from the dress code topic but I was wondering if you were going to comment of SF Day school? Didn't you post you had seen it?

  3. The coolest dresser in my junior high (a lot longer ago!) bought all her clothes at Joseph Magnin, the young-n-hip high-end Union Square department store. She had the first pair of white go-go boots at Edna Maguire Junior High, and one of those Pucci-style print combos of tights and matching turtleneck, worn with miniskirt.

    At my 20th high school reunion, I learned that she had died, though no one knew how. Puts it in perspective.

    To make a long story short on the uniform issue -- if your child winds up in an SFUSD school, the brand-label craze is truly not an issue. The socioeconomics are just too diverse for that.

    Today, uniforms tend to be a hallmark of schools with a lot of disadvantaged students. As far as I can tell, they're not a badge of shame, but it's interesting to note that. The SFUSD schools with more middle-class populations just don't have them.

  4. For the SF Day poster:

    I don't know what Kate thought, but having attended the SF Day open house myself I have to say I - and many people I know - left underwhelmed. The mission wasn't clearly communicated, some of the teacher presentations were so-so and the student panelists were very rehearsed (perhaps understandable given they were talking to several hundred people). The new head of school (the previous one lasting only a year) rattled off some statistics on diversity but somehow failed to inspire us.

    That said, I've also heard that SF Day's Open House isn't an accurate reflection of the school.

  5. I promise to post on SF Day soon. I felt the same way as the above poster. The night-time tour seemed more like a society event than a school tour. Though I have heard some good things about the teachers and curriculum and students. Anyway, I'll get to it this week.

  6. We too were underwhelmed at the SFDay evening a few years ago and we ended up not applying. I know people who love the school and I'm sure it's a good school but one big strike for us uniforms!
    As an aside I understood SFDay is a place where politics is discussed but there was too much of a anti-bush, anti-middle america theme in the students informal comments. The attitude seemed to be "you would have to be an idiot to support bush". I dont disagree but with our kids we try and have a discussion to try and see that things are never black and white. Attitudes that openly blatant would supress any dialog.

    My daughter is now at a school with uniforms and we cant imagine going without it. No more fighting over what she will wear in the already hectic morning routine as we were already doing in preschool. Our school is affluent and without uniforms "keeping up the Emmas" would definitely be an issue and create another level of level of stress and anxiety for our daughter and us the parents.
    Thank god for uniforms.

  7. I have to admit uniforms are appealing for precisely the reason mentioned by the previous poster -- it would be so nice to have no morning battles over clothes to deal with (and yes, i've tried the pick out your clothes the night before routine, but she's a big one for changing her mind ...). And she basically wants to wear flip-flops and tanks no matter the weather. i'm not sure what we're going to do if we move back east one day ...

  8. Ha! Morning battles... we had a friend -- a single dad -- who would feed his boys dinner, hose them off in the backyard, dress them in their school clothes, and put them to bed. (He later remarried.)

  9. We are applying to several middle schools, including as a top choice James Lick, which does have uniforms. The others seem to have dress codes that include no baggy pants, no hats, no bare midriffs, etc.

    At James Lick they are not *uniform* uniforms by the way; the requirement is black pants (or skirt) paired with white collared shirt or blouse. Absolutely no red or blue. The kids seem to find creative ways to express themselves within those boundaries.

    Reason for the uniforms is to avoid gang colors. On the tour the principal talked about this not in terms of the school but in terms of the neighborhoods that many of the kids return to each day.

    My child is not wild about the uniform idea, but okay with it as she has seen what the older kids, ones she knows from elementary years, are wearing and how reasonably stylin' they can be. For myself, I am thrilled with the idea that we can tone down the label-happy clothes pressure during the middle school years. It's also another way of leveling the playing field at a school with enormous differences in family income. Not to mention avoiding some potential huge clashes over inappropriate styles "that everyone else is wearing."

    In a small way the collared shirt does set a tone that there are expectations of decorum and of learning. I find for myself that I work better when I dress up a little rather than wear jeans to work! I figure my child can express herself plenty after school and on weekends, and like me, take pleasure in settling into favorites I wouldn't wear Monday-Friday.

  10. Agree, agree, agree. I want my daughter to find more creative ways to express herself than through her clothing, especially during school hours. While, like Kate, I would not choose a school over the uniform issue I would see it as a HUGE bonus if the school we land has one.
    Not having a morning battle over her wanting to wear her frilly, pink dress yet again would be bliss. On Friday, my daughter came home from pre-school upset because her "best friend" had told her that she wore "ugly" clothes (it must not have been a pink dress day!) - both girls are THREE!
    More seriously, does anyone know of a school that has changed or introduced a uniform policy after input from the PTA or a new principal?

  11. My kids' middle school relaxed its red/blue ban after input from the PTSA -- so the opposite.

  12. My first response to reading this is that you are so YOUNG! It's funny - I was in high school and college in the 80's, so I guess that makes me a full decade older, but our children are exactly the same age. Wow.

    Anyway, despite our age differences, I like uniforms too. There are not a lot of public and privates that require them. The single-sex schools do, which is nice. I assume that MCDS doesn't have uniforms? I know that Live Oak and Day don't. I think that uniforms are harder to manage in a co-ed environment - they seem to segregate the sexes unnecessarily. Maybe that is why they don't exist in most co-ed privates.

  13. Thanks Caroline - I think "relaxed" counts as changing the policy. I only asked because I have no history here and wondered if a uniform policy is something that is set in stone at schools - or (much more appealing) the sort of thing that parents can have input about, regardless of whether they are for or against it.

  14. I had to wear a uniform from K-12 (two different co-ed schools, each with a uniform). It took me nearly 20 years post high school grad to wear navy blue of my own volition! However, as I look back on it, I'm really glad we had uniforms. In general, uniforms kept us from becoming overly focused on our clothes and out friends' clothes. We still cared about those things on weekends, but that's a lot less clothing to worry about and a lot less time spent thinking about clothes. We found other outlets for creative expression. Also, when I went through my "mod" stage, my mom never had to worry about what I would wear to school :)

    As for this issue not affecting kids in public K-5s, I've seen evidence to the contrary. One girl I know who attended an SFUSD K-5 was completely obsessed w/ Coach purses, much to her mother's dismay. I'm sure it is worse at private schools, but it seems to exist everywhere.

  15. I wore a uniform at my Catholic all girls school in the Midwest. For convenience, it's an A+ -- I distinctly recall rolling out of bed at 7:10 and boarding the bus at 7:20 -- the polyester plaid skirt held its shape overnight quite well. However, I do NOT think that wearing a uniform masked much in terms of wealth and its sartorial display. The wealthier, better-dressed girls still looked better dressed, even though we were all wearing white button-downs or navy sweaters (I should say that we didn't have to purchase shirts or sweaters from a uniform shop, but they had to be collared, and one color, etc.) Also, our creativity had some outlet, in terms of socks and -- get this -- leg warmers! (it was cold and it was the 80s, what can I say?).