Magazine article Techniques

Fashion That Works.Or Not

Magazine article Techniques

Fashion That Works.Or Not

Article excerpt


A joke's a joke. When Texas home economics teacher Mary Broadway spun a tall tale recently, students threw back their heads and laughed. Glints of metal from within two boys' mouths caught her attention. They weren't like dental fillings. The boys didn't wear braces. For the first time in more than 20 years of teaching, Broadway found herself staring at-tongue studs.

"I said, `Are you crazy? Why did you do that?"' recalls Broadway, teacher coordinator of Home Economics Career Preparation at Midway High School, just outside Waco.

Vocational teachers around the country are colliding with increasingly nutty fashion statements from students inspired by hip hop, shock rock and an apparent desire to trigger heart attacks. Frightful face paint and black lipstick; eyebrows, navels, noses and lips sporting an array of rings, studs and spikes; body tattoos going mainstream; oversized, baggy jeans hanging precariously from hips.

Educators' efforts to fight back extend all the way to school uniforms, a solution applauded by President Clinton but not the American Civil Liberties Union. If you are a vocational teacher who bemoans the lack of decorum among your young charges, cheer up. They probably will outgrow it (although, in the case of the tattoos and body piercing, not without difficulty). Meanwhile there are steps you can take to make them look employable. Also, take heart in the fact that Mary Broadway's pierced-tongued students did have jobs-as waiters-and that in many cases, teachers and even employers sport styles on the job that once would have been unthinkable. Job cultures differ wildly and change constantly. If students choose a career and emulate its culture, teachers, parents, and communities can congratulate themselves on a job well done.

The finest fashion, after all, is the one that works.

From flower power to firepower

The stereotype of the slovenly student goes back at least several centuries. Some trace our more recent school fashion clashes to the '60s-as in the long-haired, miniskirted 1960s. "That period sort of messed things up," says Bernard Minnis, director of School-to-Career Initiatives in the Jefferson County (Kentucky) Public Schools. "It opened up too many freedoms."

John Lammel, associate executive director of the Reston, Virginia-based National Association of Secondary School Principals, personally attests to a few decades of struggle. "As a high school principal for 26 years, we talked about clothing every year," Lammel says. "I go back even to that business of whether girls should be allowed to wear slacks."

Participants in those angry debates of yesteryear could not have foreseen how trivial they'd soon seem. Today's clothing controversies often reflect society's spookier side.

At Midway High School near Waco, a new dress code passed last summer was fueled by safety consciousness (or paranoia, depending on your point of view). The 5,700-student district made world headlines this summer when it passed a new dress code that banned shirts, jackets, or coats that extended below midthigh length. Explains J.D. Kennedy, assistant superintendent, "It's very easy to hide a rifle, or even a shotgun, if you have a long coat. A rifle or shotgun can do more damage than a handgun."

Dress codes once relied upon to keep little imps looking tidy now serve as bloodshed-preventing safety measures. Schools around the country have banned provocative clothing items, such as baggy pants, caps, jackets, or bandannas popular with gang members; and backpacks, other than the see-through kind, where drugs or weapons could be stashed.

Such paranoia is perhaps justified in the wake of a rash of shootings perpetrated by students against their classmates and teachers. It also can taint all students, however slightly. …

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