Smartly dressed

A welcome change or reign of the fashion police? Students, parents and staff comment on the new district-wide uniform policy.



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Eisenhower International School student Madeline Keffer makes the most of the uniform policy with her accessories. C&J School Uniform Co. also hems pants and skirts to school-appropriate lengths so they can be adjusted later.

“Customers can bring them back in two or three months so we can let down the hem an inch,” she says. “It’s enough to get them to the next growth spurt.”

Edwards also has seen more family harmony as the uniform policy has spread throughout TPS. She has heard feedback from families shopping in her store that mornings are a lot smoother because it’s easier to get kids dressed, especially girls.

“It cuts down on the confusion in the house and the ugliness at the breakfast table,” she says. “Families can discuss what they’ll do at night rather than argue in the morning.”

For some families, uniforms represent a fashion issue or barrier to personal expression. For other families, the hurdle is financial. In TPS, 87 percent of students are in the free or reduced-cost lunch program.

Foreseeing potential objections to cost, TPS considered clothing assistance in its uniform policy, stating, “No student will be denied an education due to a bona fide financial inability to obtain clothing that complies with the school dress code.”

The district and individual schools have several options for getting students the khakis, polos and other assorted items they need at a reduced or no cost.

At Will Rogers College High School and Junior High, parents and students are building a uniform closet filled with new or gently worn separates. Principal Stacey Vernon says the items come from the PTA, staff or parents. School counselors or social workers also get uniforms from other resources.

It helps that most students at Rogers have worn uniforms in earlier grades, so the new policy presented virtually no learning curve. Some Rogers students even spoke at the school board meeting in spring 2012 in favor of the uniform policy.

And many have found ways to personalize their looks. Students, for example, have leeway with the color and style of lanyards that hold their student IDs.

“We allow some flexibility with socks and belts, if they’re not distracting,” Vernon says. “Some students have hair that’s a different color every week — blue, red, purple (something not allowed in younger grades). That’s one way of expressing themselves.”

The students at Rogers also can request additions to the approved uniform list, such as blazers with the 1939 school crest.

“They’re for high schoolers only,” Vernon says. “Some students wear them every day; others for college visits.”

The policy has other pluses.

“As an administrator, it’s easy for me to glance down the hall to see if someone isn’t a student and doesn’t belong there,” she says.

For her students, wearing uniforms takes the pressure off and removes the anxiety that can result in keeping up with the Joneses.

“Several students own just two pairs of pants, but no one has to know that,” Vernon adds.

Terri Hozhabri is the executive director of Project Elf, an organization she founded with Laurie Tilley that helps students with the basics they need for school — including uniforms.

“We keep an inventory of kids’, juniors’ and men’s and women’s sizes, mostly new, usually on sale or donated,” she says.

In addition to supplying uniforms, the organization also provides winter coats, hats, gloves and shoes.

Project Elf doesn’t work directly with families, but through school counselors or social workers.

“There are some heart-wrenching stories of parents being out of work or in need,” Hozhabri says. “We have students in every school. With uniforms, though, no one knows who’s living in a shelter or who’s living in a home. That’s made it easier on the kids.”

The TPS website provides no shortage of items on the what-not-to-wear list (cue the cheers from parents, school officials, and Stacy and Clinton of the TLC hit TV show by the same name). Gone are exposed bra straps, plunging necklines, off-the-shoulder tops or bare backs. Spaghetti straps are history; tank tops must have shoulder straps that are a minimum of two fingers wide (two adult fingers).

No more tattoos showing, no T-shirts with crude, vulgar, profane or gang-related symbols, mottoes, words or acronyms, according to policy. Excessively large or baggy pants are but a distant memory.

Expectations for the allowed pieces are especially aspirational. Shirts or blouses must be appropriately buttoned. Sleeveless garments can’t expose undergarments or “be otherwise immodest” (there’s a word not heard in many rap songs). Also, “garments must be of appropriate length, cut and/or fit to meet these requirements while sitting and/or bending.” Really, no butt cracks?

And, in case there was any doubt, suspender straps must be attached and worn on shoulders, zippers on pants and shirts must be zipped (thank you), and belts must be fastened.

Pants and shorts are worn at the waist, which means no boxers or briefs can be visible. Pant legs can’t puddle on the ground below the heel of the shoe. No bike shorts, no swimwear, no sleepwear. Forget dog collars, tongue rings or studs. Pierced jewelry is for ears only. Bye-bye house slippers, shower slippers, curlers and bandanas. Sunglasses are no-nos in the classroom. Don’t even think about chains that connect one part of the body to another (was anyone thinking about that?) because it’s strictly taboo.

What about every kid’s favorite staple, the hoodie? The answer varies by school. But as rules are made, rules can change. As Heidi Klum tells her designers, “in fashion, one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.”

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