Learning displays its own fashion sense

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

As parents, we love to romanticize the start of school.

We naturally try to capture those images, grabbing for our cameras to get a few snapshots.

But starting seventh grade, Becca informed us that she no longer wanted us to take first-day photos. (Though she did allow me to snap a photo of her and her sister, Bailey, before we left the house.)

Not only that, Becca insisted on being dropped off at school. When you're in junior high, you don't want to be chaperoned by your parents on the first day of school. It's just not cool.

Bailey, our third-grader, doesn't like the first-day-of-school pictures any more than Becca. I did accompany Bailey to her classroom on the first day of school. In past years, I captured a portrait of her standing by her teacher.

Not anymore. Bailey wouldn't even smile for me as she transferred her school supplies from her backpack to her desk. There were few parents in the room, and Bailey gave me that Dad-don't-embarrass-me look. I talked briefly with Bailey's teacher and then left, not wanting to be in the way and certain that it was too late for a Kodak moment at the start of this school year.

At least in third grade, the rules seem simpler. And I didn't see a mannequin anywhere.

That wasn't the case during orientation at the junior high school. School officials displayed two mannequins in the main hallway, showing off just what not to wear to school.

Students can have pierced ears, but anything else that is pierced better be covered up, according to school policy.

Students also can't have orange, green or otherwise unnatural hair colors. Tops with spaghetti straps are on the banned list.

In an age when children worry more than ever about how they look, school fashion is serious business. Even the locks that students buy for their gym lockers now come in a whole series of fashionable colors.

School fashion is particularly important to girls. Becca and her friends want to go to school in style.

Fortunately for Becca, that style doesn't include green or orange hair or other banned looks.

But the dress code isn't as big a deal for the students as the bathroom code, which severely limits how many times students can go to the bathroom during class periods over the course of the school year. Such interruptions are marked down on the students' ID badges.

In our increasingly security-conscious age, students have to wear ID cards. It used to be you didn't have to have an ID card until you got to college. Of course, kids didn't bring guns to school either.

When I was in junior high, there were no ID badges to wear.

Of course, there have always been dress codes. Today's code just seems a little more detailed than in the past.

In my high school, the journalism teacher used to stop girls in the hallways and use a yardstick to measure if their skirts were too short. But otherwise most of us didn't give the dress code a second thought.

School officials back then seemed more worried about catching students smoking in the bathrooms.

But then they didn't have to worry about belly-button rings or baggy pants worn too low.

As for Bailey, her biggest fashion worry in third grade is having a good pair of sandals.

Regardless of dress codes, one thing is certain: Learning has a style all its own.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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