Who Says You Can’t Legislate Good Taste?

An adage says that nothing has the power to tell the truth about an age quite like fashion. Clothing speaks to time, place, events and values. What is fashion telling communities and parents when their public schools find it necessary to enforce a uniform dress code policy?

I’ve experienced the headline grabbing debate in two communities as they made the switch from students walking the halls wearing fashions inspired by a combination of corporate capitalism, slick advertising, peer pressure, retail availability and family circumstance, to a new fashion era where the school uniform is the new black. Now that some time has passed since students started attending class in clothing inspired by their local school board, is hindsight proving either side of the debate right? Community members that support a “uniform agenda” claim that uniforms promote school unity, develop student discipline and create an atmosphere more conducive to learning. Critics of the uniform policy say that students have their freedom to express themselves compromised and that a change of clothing will not affect academic performance. Both sides have their fair share of valid evidence and supporters, but hindsight is proving them all to be a little short-sighted.

While watching the uniform debate take place in a school that my daughter was attending, I was also working for one of America’s most beloved department store chains. Unlike the critics of school uniforms, retailers are well aware that children already dress like their peers—their consumer group peers. The entire retail clothing industry is built upon the fact that we don’t express ourselves as individuals when we shop. It would be difficult to mass produce, nationally advertise and sell huge quantities of individuality. What consumers buy is known within the industry as McFashion-clothing that is fast, disposable, easy, entertaining and largely homogeneous. To industry insiders, shoppers are expressing their lifestyle reference group whenever they make a retail purchase. Our shopping patterns are so predictable that marketers are able to guess what car you drive, which restaurants you frequent, what books or magazines you read, how much money you earn, what music you listen to and which brand names you covet. Think that you are above it all? Don’t worry. The retail industry has a consumer group for you, too.

The word “teenager” was coined by Madison Avenue in 1941 when the marketing of products to adolescents began. Like all products, children’s clothing is produced by commercial interests that don’t care about what they are creating. Fashion trends used to flow from the top down. Now, they flow from the street up. Today it is fashionable to look downtrodden, overtly sexual or downright criminal. According to Alissa Quart, the author of Branded: The Buying and selling of Teenagers, today’s teens are the victims of the contemporary luxury economy. Culturally, where and how teens shop and what they buy is the new common denominator of social discourse. There has never been a generation with more “stuff requirements” than the current generation of students because our consumption-based society is using shopping to create community. This generation lets other know who they are through what they buy and own. Back-to-school shopping isn’t new, but the amount of money being spent each year has grown tremendously making it the most important selling season of the year for retailers, after Christmas. According to Richard S. Tedlow, a Professor at the Harvard Business School and former Editor of Business History Review, the emphasis on mass consumption in American society is so pervasive that we tend to take it for granted. In his book New and Improved: The Story of Mass Marketing in America, Professor Tedlow states “mass consumption is a rare phenomenon in the history of the world”. He says “there is nothing “natural” about mass consumption. It is a cultural and social construction”. Therefore, the clothing that we choose to wear is also devised systematically and subject to a culturally agreed upon interpretation.

We are all more or less conscious of a “mysterious bonding by means of cloth that creates for human-beings an atmosphere of human uniformity” according to Paul Fussell, a professor from the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Uniforms: Why we Are What We Wear.

Whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not, we all wear a uniform. Jeans used to represent freedom from convention. They were adopted by American society as “an impudent antidote” to uniformity and now that everyone has at least one pair of jeans hanging in their closet, they have become the most important American uniform of all.

When someone says soccer mom, lawyer, college professor, skateboarder, janitor, nurse, surfer or computer programmer, certain images come to mind and clothing is a part of that image. And even renegade image labels such as gangster, rock star or political revolutionary make a fashion statement in this day and age, a concept that borders on ironic. For example, the creation of the epitome of revolutionary-chic, the “Che Guevara Brand” (just visit The Che Store.com -“For ALL Your Revolutionary Needs!”) is accused of creating “the commoditization of an anti-capitalist rebel, who opposed all that his hyper-commercialization image now represents”, by writer Michael Casey, the author of Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image. For more details, please visit these sites:- www.bunnydirectories.com

Those who support the uniform agenda in public schools are actually making sure that any young revolutionary want to-be’s don’t make a mockery out of themselves by showing up in commercialized revolutionary-chic garb for class. Most dress code policies do NOT permit students to wear military fatigues, in addition to dog collars, or any article that condones violence or suicide. Should any parent be upset that their little darlings will be unable to do their back to school shopping at Hot Topic if their school district decides to go with uniforms?

Even the non-conformists have to conform to some degree to fit in with the other non-conformists. According to the Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge, you will be rejected by the other bohemians if your attire does not express your eccentricities, decadence, creativity and deviance with your personal style. Not that any teen or tween non-conformist would even want to be a bohemian now that being un-Dead is all the rage.

You thought that the grunge movement was bad? Did you give a sigh of relief when heroin-chic made its way to the clearance bin? Teen fashion trends never end. Vampire-chic is hot now thanks to the popularity of the Twilight series among young teen girls who are sporting their “I Like Boys Who Bite” T’s and vamp jewelry. The zombie-look is currently considered chic and edgy, so if you had to pick an era to become a zombie, this is it! But even zombies have their own clothing issues to contend with as members of the army of the non-living, and most of these clothing issues seem to center around dealing with gender differences according to David P. Murphy, author of Zombies for Zombies: Advice and Etiquette for the Living Dead. This just shows how cutting edge zombie-chic is since gender issues are so trendy hot right now, even in mainstream society. Gender-bender fashion issues are nothing new to the principals of our public schools across the nation.


Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *