Smart fashion statement

May 24, 2002

TRUE STORY: A city principal used to display an industrial-size spool of twine on the front counter of the school office.

Throughout the day, little boys emulating hip-hop video stars would slouch past her door, wearing droopy pants that revealed the advertising logos on the waistbands of their undershorts. She noted how the fashion hobbled them, as they could not trust their slight frames to keep the pants in place.

"I'm gonna string you up," the administrator would growl, steering each baggy boy to a corner for a lecture on propriety. She'd hand out hanks of twine. The students would cinch up their trousers, and walk taller returning to class.

Years from now, one hopes, they'll remember the humor and compassion with which they were taught that true style knows its time and place.

It's a life lesson, part social anthropology and part common sense, that many Baltimore-area schools and school systems have chosen to instill by imposing dress regulations. They are teaching a cultural code that contradicts the message of titillation and rebellion marketed to teens on the spokesbodies of Britney Spears and other young celebrities.

Carroll County's Student Government Association gets it. The students debated for months before proposing a dress code that bares heads and covers up midsections, cleavage, backs and hind parts. The proposed rules ask their peers to forgo flip-flops and visors, leave sleepwear at home, and put the under back in underwear.

They've suggested guidelines for attire reflecting their own developing standards of decency, safety, comfort, aesthetics and social acceptance, which, taken together, articulate a smart fashion statement: Look like you've come here to learn something.

The Harford County Association of Student Councils gets it, too, and on Monday supported most dress policies adopted by the school board to resolve concerns about neatness, safety and personal responsibility.

The chance to applaud these teens for their thoughtful citizenship in the school community should not be passed up. Savvy, they know there's ample room for individual expression within the boundaries of reasonable dress codes.

Meanwhile, a few choice words might be reserved for the educators complaining they'll be forced to be fashion police: Get real, as the students would say. In what era have schools had no bad-hair days, fashion victims or cliques defined by outrageous clothes? Certainly not since bluejeans were invented.

If fashion anarchy remains a problem, fall back on the timeless equalizer preferred by many private schools and an increasing number of public ones: It's called a uniform.

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