Thursday, 10 September 2015

A tight fit

Is it just my impression, or are there more and more disputes over school uniforms and whether certain items of clothing are "appropriate" or not?

A rising number of schools seem to be adopting detailed dress codes that tell pupils what they can or can't wear, and what styles of clothing are banned because they're "indecent", "unacceptable" or "distracting".

This inevitably leads to pupils being told they're wearing something inappropriate and ordered to go home and change. And very often the child's parent complains that the school is being draconian and the clothing singled-out is quite inoffensive. Not only that, they say, but the school is drawing attention to something that would otherwise have gone unremarked-on.

The latest controversy occurred at a high school in Stoke on Trent, where two female pupils were sent home because their trousers were "too tight around the legs and bum". A male pupil was also ticked off for trousers that "made his private parts look indecent".

I have to wonder if anyone would even have noticed their "exceptionally tight" trousers if a member of staff hadn't commented on it. And so what anyway? Are tight trousers really preventing pupils from concentrating properly on their studies? Are they really damaging the school's reputation or encouraging other pupils to break the school rules? It all seems way over the top to me. A case of slightly puritanical staff reading something sexual into quite ordinary clothing.

Personally, I can't remember either of my schools ever admonishing me for "inappropriate" clothing. Either my clothing was always "appropriate" or the staff simply weren't so censorious or strait-laced. I do remember some boys at my secondary school wearing quite tight trousers and longish hair. But then, it was a single-sex school and maybe the staff felt clothing wasn't an issue because there were no girls around to be "distracted".

I guess as long as there are school dress codes, there's going to be endless controversy over whether certain pupils are breaking the code or not. And head teachers endlessly getting hot under the collar about "having to set minimum standards".

This one will run and run.

Pic: Harriet Dale of Trentham High School, Stoke on Trent

PS: There's a superb critique of school dress codes here

27 comments:

Helen Devries said...

Since when did headmasters take on the role of discotheque doormen...

Jennifer said...

Hee hee...I just remembered an episode of Vicious that I saw the other day. A guy asks an older woman (at a ballroom dancing competition) if his costume is too tight. She says, "Oh no, dear, it's fine!" Then she looks again and says, "I didn't know you were circumcised!"

Ursula said...

I am writing as someone who made it into my school's paper: "Don't blush, avert your eyes. Here Ursula comes." Mini skirts, hot pants. All at age fourteen, all with my mother's blessings (in fact she bought the damn things for me). I didn't know (no bullshit) what the fuck they were on about. As they say these days: "Whatever".

Mind you that was not in England, the country of the uniform.

When the Angel was little I told him I'd fight his corner if he didn't want to wear that blasted uniform. Despite the fact - or maybe because - he very much knows his own mind he didn't give a toss. Uniform? Fine. Tie at age five? Fine. Oh did my (female and British) friends laugh. Yeah well. Sometimes conformity is the way of least resistance.

Anyway, enough of me and my son. Uniform stinks to high heaven. Just think of the word itself. UNI FORM. So we are all in the same mould. Excellent preparation for working life to come.

Anyway, Nick, thanks for letting me steam off on a subject I truly do feel passionate about.

One last thought: Too tight? Too tight for what? Life will eventually expand and descend with its reality.

U

Nick said...

Helen: Funnily enough, it seems to be female head teachers as much as male. And yes, isn't the disapproval often just as arbitrary as the snap judgments at discos?

Jennifer: I like it!

Nick said...

Ursula: For some reason I suspected you might be in favour of school uniforms. Obviously way off track there! It seems to me that mini skirts, hot pants etc are only "indecent" if you choose to see them that way. Interesting though that mini skirts used to be commonplace in Northern Irish schools until recently but have now been banned.

As you say, sometimes conformity is the line of least resistance, that is if you don't mind being thought of (no doubt mistakenly) as lacking any personality of your own.

Ursula said...

Sorry, Nick, I must be more careful about my copy> I am the LEAST "in favour of school uniforms".

U

Bijoux said...

It's often in the news here as well. I'm anti-uniform with Ursula. It reminds me of cults or something!

Disputes here seem to be on whether girls should be allowed to wear yoga pants. There are also dumb rules about not wearing hats or coats in class (the latter as a concern about hiding weapons). What annoys me is that school clubs, with administration's permission, will have special hat or sport pants day where kids can pay $1 to wear the forbidden item and the money goes to charity. How dumb is that?

susie said...

That boy with the tight trousers? Isn't that extremely uncomfortable?
We don't have uniforms here. The girls look like they should be at the beach sometimes.

Nick said...

Bijoux: Yoga pants? I guess leggings are our equivalent. Showing your figure quite explicitly - whatever next? And what's with the hats and coats thing? Suppose the school is freezing cold - how are you supposed to get warm?

An unusual charity fundraiser! We could do the same here. How about £1 to wear a miniskirt or crotch-hugging pants?

Susie: You're right, it must be very uncomfortable. But beach outfits must be very welcome in sweltering hot weather.

CheerfulMonk said...

when I was a kid girls weren't allowed to wear pants at school. Even at Stanford we had to wear dresses or skirts on the main part of campus, except on weekends as I recall. How archaic is that?!

Nick said...

Jean: It was a major step forward when pants became acceptable for girls and women. Apart from anything else, pants are more practical for any kind of physical task. But I can still remember my father saying "I'm the one who wears the pants in this house".

tammy j said...

i never wore a uniform.
but i'm like jean in that every single school i went to throughout my educational years strictly forbid girls to wear any kind of clothes except skirts and dresses.
RIDICULOUS. i have stood at a bus stop wearing a pair of jeans under my dress in 40 below temperatures with a snow bank as high as my head ...
only to have to go to the lockers and remove my jeans before going to class. how stupid was that?
sometimes the heat would go out in our building. the girls were freezing of course ... with bare legs.
talk about a distraction to learning?
LOL. i sound a bit bitter don't i.

Rummuser said...

We don't have this problem here because we do not a multicultural society trying to bring about some kind of uniformity. You don't need me to elaborate do you?

Wisewebwoman said...

Am I the lone voice of dissent? I find uniforms a great leveler of social and monetary structures. I've always felt sorry for the kids who are indoctrinated into labels with the other kids wanting the Gap crap, etc.

I wore uniforms, as did my daughter and my granddaughter attended a progressive school that banned labels of any kind.

I find it kept the school focus on learning rather than a clothing competition.

Oh well, to each his own.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

Tammy: That's totally ridiculous, having to wear jeans on the way to school because of the biting cold, and then having to take them off when you got there! And as you say, how distracting is it being frozen stiff?

Ramana: No, I don't quite understand. Do you mean a multicultural society will look for clothing that brings people together and erases cultural difference?

Nick said...

www: Actually I thought most of my blogmates would take the same view as you, but I was very much mistaken! Perhaps pupils in the schools you went to stuck strictly to the guidelines and there wasn't any big controversy?

Nick said...

I have the ideal answer to all the school uniform controversy. Both boys and girls should wear dungarees at all times.

Suburbia said...

I'm with you on this one Nick.
I recently read an article about dress codes for women saying that excessive rules on dress contained the myth that women are dangerous!

Nick said...

Suburbia: I know the article you're referring to. It's significant that dress codes are applied overwhelmingly to girls rather than boys, and that so much of a girl's body is seen as "indecent" or "distracting". Clearly the objectors are sexualising girls' bodies and just revealing their own "inappropriate" behaviour.

Nick said...

A woman living in Iran, writing in the Guardian today, says that women wearing a hijab or chador are just as sexually harassed as other women. Wearing "modest" clothing doesn't deter men in the slightest.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I actually think dress codes are necessary. Not insanely strict ones, but I do think there should be some minimal level of modesty. I think if your ass is showing, your shorts are too short, for instance. And I also approve of the rule my kids' school had that you couldn't wear t-shirts with drug, alcohol, or tobacco references or with obscenities. What's wrong with asking for a little decorum in an educational setting?

Nick said...

Agent: Good point about T shirt slogans. I guess you're right that slogans encouraging unhealthy activities aren't a good idea in a school setting. But who's to say if shorts are "too short"? That's the sort of rule that leads to endless disputes and grievances. I would have thought most pupils would dress fairly sensibly of their own accord, but then I haven't been in any schools recently....

Jenny Woolf said...

I think it's a good idea to have strict rules over school dress. Teenagers need to rebel about something and it's good if they can be rebelling about the length of their skirts etc. rather than using that time to rebel about doing their homework. If they can win a small concession on the uniform, they are likely to be happier about agreeing to do something else.

Nick said...

Jenny: Interesting line of thought! You might very well be right that rebellion over uniform will avoid rebellion on the more serious issues like doing homework. On the other hand, any dyed-in-the-wool mavericks may just rebel on everything that comes their way!

Liz Hinds said...

Prefects used to come round with tape measures to check skirt length in my grammar school days then in her senior school Daughter was admonished for the colour of her hair.

Liz Hinds said...

And on the subject of school uniform generally I say yes. Prevents no end of early morning arguments.

Nick said...

Liz: Why this fixation on things like skirt length and hair colour? It's got nothing to do with education, it's just some outmoded idea of "decorum" or "respectability". And do uniforms prevent early morning arguments or do they just cause new arguments about whether your daughter (and it's usually a daughter) is complying with the school dress code?