Editorial: Clothing Optional?

The dress code at Germantown Friends School is somewhat unique, in that there is heavy emphasis on the choice of clothing being a highly personal matter. This reflects in a student’s dress in quite a few different ways.

The first sentence of the code allows for students to be free to express themselves. “GFS recognizes that choice of personal clothing is a highly personal matter, a valuable form of expressing the self.” In fact, this is more or less what the whole first paragraph is about. In the GFS Bluebook section on clothing, there are virtually no dress limitations that a student or parent could find “unreasonable.” However, it must be pointed out that if one were to really take this code literally, one could almost make an argument for coming into school stark naked, so long as one was wearing “footwear at all times.” Of course, we are pretty sure that if a student did come to school sporting only footwear, he or she should probably expect to have an almost immediate and extremely private conversation with an adult about his or her choices, but it could be argued that technically no rules had been broken. Of course, no one actually does this, but it is an indicator that perhaps there are some “holes” (no pun intended) in the GFS dress code. Perhaps, the emphasis on self-expression through clothing is potentially dangerous. While often this is a positive approach to dress, sometimes a conversation with an adult, however severe, is not enough to get a message through that certain ways to dress are simply not appropriate for a learning environment as GFS, and should be used in more private circumstances.

Some solve this problems through uniforms. Imagine having to wear the same thing every day. That’s what students with school uniforms have to do. For many other schools, Middle and High School girls wear skorts and collared shirts to school; boys wear a jacket with a tie and khaki pants. Whoever invented the idea of a uniform was crazy. The skorts itch; the collared shirts are hot. Yet, you can see the good intentions behind the idea. In Middle School, some people judge others on what they wear, so having everyone wear the same outfit means less criticizing. Even with a uniform in place, people find loopholes, such as which shoes people wear. People could wear expensive shoes to school, and the people who don’t are “separated” from everybody else. Also there is the matter of how short the skort is. Some schools have a rule that the skorts are supposed to be as long as your finger tips. People find loopholes in that field too by safety-pinning the front part of the kilt, making the skorts look shorter. It is different when people can wear whatever they want. At GFS, we have guidelines and that implies that the student body knows what is acceptable and what is inappropriate. It helps the students make their own decisions earlier.

However, uniforms have  some advantages, too. A Middle School is full of teenagers, or people becoming teenagers, and this journey from child to adolescent to adult is fast paced and full of change. People try to find out who they are and who they want to be, and part of this experimental process is displayed in clothing. Finding a style normally starts with copying someone else, whether it be a peer or a celebrity. In Middle School, it’s all about fitting in or sticking out. The kids who choose the former copy one another, until a widespread stylistic norm has been established. At Germantown Friends School, there is space and acceptance for these kinds of norms. In the beginning, this is fine, until the norms reach an extent where if you are not in the norm, you are abnormal, and outcast. For example, if everyone was wearing ivy league college sweaters and someone wore a sweater from a high school or obscure college, they might be looked down on by some peers. If everyone wore similar clothing, these status gaining brands and clothing types would be annihilated.

It is clear that although there are one or two flaws in the current and somewhat indulgent Germantown Friends School dress code, there is more than one answer as to what to do with the issue of student dress. So, with many teachers struggling to compensate for the social needs we obtain through dress, it must therefore be up to the student body, at GFS and any other school with no strict dress code, to use our very own code in the way it was meant to be. And with all due respect, please, let’s all come to school in more than just our shoes.

~ The Corner Editorial Board 2011-12