When it comes to debates about uniforms, we’ve forgotten what’s most at stake: decency and self-respect.
Last year, a principal at a public school in England turned away around 200 girls at the school gates for wearing non-regulation-length school skirts. Parents received a letter from the school before the Christmas holidays asking them to check that their daughters would be wearing a navy A-line skirt “of a suitable length for school, that is, no more than five centimeters above the knee” come January. But when the young ladies returned to school, you could say that many of the girls fell short of the requirement.
A modest proposal on modesty
Turning the girls away seems fair enough to me, but a lot of parents were up in arms that their kids were not allowed into school for breaching the regulations, believing the school had gone too far. But, surely, that is the job of a school, isn’t it? To enforce their rules for the good of the children? And it’s the job of a parent to help the child realize why these rules exist for a reason, and do the best they can to make sure they comply with them. I’m a parent myself, so, of course, I know this is easier said than done! But 200 girls (and their parents) ignoring the rules seems odd to me.
Growing up in England where the vast majority of schools require a uniform, most of my friends hitched their skirts up the minute they were out the door. I didn’t — although of course I was dying to — because my mother had bought me a skirt that basically fell to the ground. I’d have been rolling it up for hours on end, with the end result being a thick tire of fabric around my waist. But the skirt-rolling I witnessed as a kid was far from something sexy, rather it was sort of a rite of passage in my school. So I don’t blame these girls if they’ve pulled their skirts up higher than their knees, but I also think the parents should have supported the principal and her decision. Instead of posting rants on Facebook that their children will see, maybe they should talk to their kids, or — call me crazy — help them adjust the lengths of the skirts.
And parents need to go further than that: We are responsible for encouraging our young daughters and sons to dress appropriately by example. An important part of that is helping them learn that femininity or masculinity is firstly about respecting ourselves. I’m not saying that I expect my own 16-year-old daughter to cover up from head to toe. As I’ve told her — and tried to show her — the female body is beautiful and clothes should enhance, create elegance and femininity, and make you feel confident. It’s not about stepping out in an outfit that’s one centimeter away from an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction, or hoping that you’ll be impressing others.
That said, I can appreciate that I’m lucky: My daughter is quite sporty (for the moment!) and my biggest issue is the rips that appear in her jeans. But I have friends who are fighting a constant battle with their daughters who haven’t quite understood that getting dressed is all about balance; we don’t have to reveal every part of our body.
At the same time I get why teens could be confused. They’re constantly bombarded with images in the media and on their digital devices of their favorite celebs donning next-to-nothing, garnering millions of “likes,” and becoming globally successful. The daring skirt-rolling of my generation has turned into more akin to “reveal all” among some teens today. So yes, schools must enforce their dress codes, parents must be extra vigilant, and kids need to know it’s okay to actually take pride in their appearance: dressing appropriately for the right occasion.