Monday, January 17, 2000

Dress For Success

In Granite City, Illinois, the school district is seriously considering putting a new dress code into place.

Not for the students. For the teachers. That’s right, the teachers.

In a classic example of a couple of people ruining it for everyone, some of the school board members were concerned about the apparel worn by a few teachers.

They already had a policy telling teachers to “dress appropriately,” but apparently that’s too vague. The proposed new policy would ban, and I quote: blue jeans; crew neck athletic wear; nylon gym shorts; cotton athletic sweat suits; Spandex pants and shorts; excessively tight clothing; revealing clothing and cut-off denims. And shorts should also be no higher than 2 inches above the knee.

Let’s examine this.

What responsible adult wears a sweat suit to work? Unless you’re going for a run or headed to the gym for a workout, in what business establishment is a sweat suit the correct attire?

When I see someone out in public wearing a sweat suit, the same question comes to mind as when I see a woman in curlers at the supermarket: Do they think no one can see them? Do they have no concept where the casual dress line is drawn? “Hmm, pajamas would fall right under the inappropriate bar, but I want to show the world I’m a completely lazy person, and I think sweats are the way to do it!”

The same applies to shorts, whether or not they’re cut-offs. There’s a columnist here in town who led a ridiculous campaign last year to make it acceptable for guys to wear shorts to work. Okay, I can see the need to stay cool under sweltering work conditions. So we’ll include an exemption for foundry workers. Everyone else on the job, pull on a pair of pants!

Speaking of pants, I just can’t see what the problem is with jeans on a teacher. Since when is denim bad, Dockers good? How does that affect the educational experience? “Sorry, Mr. Jenkins, I can’t name the capital of Portugal because I’m too distracted by the fine Levi Strauss product you’re wearing.”

I can remember fighting for the right to wear jeans to school as a kid. Until then, boys had to wear slacks -- this was actually so long ago that people still used the word “trousers” -- and girls couldn’t wear pants at all, just dresses or skirts. When that changed, did academic standards go straight to hell? No, of course not. But the era of bell bottoms followed soon thereafter, so it wasn’t a time completely without obstacles.

Teachers then were attired more formally, too. Female teachers were dressed mostly in skirts, with the exception of the occasional language teacher who committed the limegreen pantsuit faux pas. Every male teacher wore a jacket and tie. Although every school did have that one cool teacher that the students all loved -- usually in English or running the drama club -- and he wore a turtleneck! Ooooooh.

As to the question of when it’s appropriate for a teacher to wear tight or revealing clothing, here are the simple rules, broken down by gender: For men, never! For women, only if you look like Brandi Chastain.

The superintendent of schools in Granite City says that most teachers do dress suitably for the job, so a more precise dress code may not be needed. But they are going to retain their zero tolerance policy, which expels any student who so much as peeks into the teachers lounge during lunchtime.

I’m not sure, but the rumor is that they’re wearing Spandex in there.