Loco Parentis: U R What U Wear

Clothes make the man — but not the teenager anymore, apparently.

A FEW YEARS ago, the school board in the town where we live began making noises about school uniforms. I didn’t pay much attention, because the school board is always making noises about something. The school uniform issue, though, struck a nerve with my husband, Doug. He hated the idea, I think because he went to a military school where you had to be all spit-and-polish from head to toe. The uniform policy the school board was proposing was nowhere near that draconian; kids would have to wear khaki dress pants or skirts, with white, navy or powder blue collared shirts. But for Doug, the details mattered less than the principle. He took to speaking out at school board meetings and writing letters to the local newspaper, assailing groupdress as leading inevitably to groupthink, and decrying the loss of the rights of the individual in American society.

But the school board was adamant: Uniforms would end a multitude of problems, from unruly teens concealing weaponry in their overgrown hoodies, to the manifestations of economic disparity that had some kids decked out in Juicys and others in Walmart clearance, to the lewd and shocking practice of boys wearing pants that rode below their butts and girls with acres of midriff on display.

That’s when I came around to Doug’s viewpoint. The board’s faith in the magical efficacy of khaki and collars struck me as dangerously naïve. There are serious woes in our community — poverty, drugs, joblessness, teen pregnancy, racial tensions — and they didn’t seem the sorts of things a school uniform Band-Aid could resolve.

Alas, we were a distinct minority. The old folks in town swooned at the notion of uniforms, since it meant a return to the clothes they themselves wore to school, back before Jane Fonda brought God’s wrath down on the U.S. of A. Our fellow parents were generally in favor. Beleaguered teachers and administrators were willing to try anything. And so the uniform policy was enacted — for elementary and middle schools. Phew! The process had been so protracted that our daughter Marcy was already in college; Jake was a high-school junior. And while there was something undeniably adorable about the younger kids toddling home in their matching outfits, I refused to believe the school board would be lunatic enough to try to force a high school full of vampire worshipers and hip-hoppers and Lady Gaga wannabes to toe the line.

Last September, it decided to, just in time for Jake’s senior year.



I’m not opposed to all uniforms. I love the way Jake looks when he suits up for football games. I’m proud when he puts on his Class A for Boy Scouts. Sure, Scouting’s kind of corny, and I hate the no-gays policy, but I’m jelly at every Eagle ceremony we’ve been to, watching boys we’ve known since kindergarten stand up as men.