Teens: Policing Fashion

Teens: Policing Fashion

By Karen Kaliski

Just yesterday she was prancing around in her pink gingham jumper with the smocked front. He was so proud of his big boy chinos and polo shirt. Now her tank top doesn’t even attempt to hide her training bra, and he’s so proud of his big boy underpants he lets everyone see them. And, wait, does it say “juicy” on her butt?

Every generation makes a fashion statement and it’s hard for those of us who felt oh so cool in our plaid pants to sling arrows at our own kid’s fashion preferences. On the other hand, kids’ fashions have become increasingly…adult. Girls can be revealing before there’s much to reveal and boys can shout any number of naughty messages from the front of their T-shirts.

How much should parents weigh in on their kids’ fashion statements? What forms of fashion self-expression are inappropriate and what should we do about them?

“There’s a lot of room for self-expression,” says Jenny Lane, guidance counselor for grades K–7 at the South Royalton School in South Royalton, Vt. “We have to be open-minded and look for context. Why is a very young girl wearing make-up? Is a boy exaggerating a certain style to compensate for other things that might be going on?”

Lane points out younger kids often try to keep up with older siblings they admire. Peer approval certainly moves kids in the direction of one style over another. “It’s really important for kids to be comfortable in their own skin,” she says. “If a child seems happy and healthy and is doing well in school and with peers, we shouldn’t get too carried away about the clothes they choose.”

Then again, kids might not understand the effect their fashion choices have on others. Young girls might be surprised by the kind of attention their outfits attract. One kid’s “cool” is another — maybe older — kid’s “hot.” Having a conversation about the statement various outfits make is less contentious than just dictating wardrobe. Lane suggests using television shows, movies and advertising as fashion-related conversation starters. (“Did you know that Miley Cyrus is actually nine years older than you are?”)

Of course, parents and schools can’t be relaxed about downright offensive clothing. That warrants both a discussion and corrective action. Schools provide good guidance on this issue. The Richmond Middle School in Hanover, N.H., posts this policy on their web site:

Students must, when on school property or when participating in a school activity, wear sufficient clothing so that no bare skin is visible on the torso. You must be covered from above the breasts to well below the buttocks. Students must understand that clothing worn during school is subject to a different standard than clothing worn outside of school. Articles of clothing that display references to alcohol, other drugs or illegal activities are not to be worn. Any staff member may ask a student to change inappropriate clothing.

Other Upper Valley schools have similar dress codes for elementary through high school grades. In cases where kids might be making too extreme, or offensive, a fashion statement, they are a great tool for parents.

The Upper Valley’s weather patterns and “mall void” work together to relieve some fashion pressure. There are plenty of shops between Bradford, Vt., and Claremont, N.H., but nothing like the retail opportunities and in-your-face mass marketing that beckon kids in more urban and suburban areas.

Everyone has a style. Kids are going to search around until they find their own. And, from time to time, they’ll look a little sketchy in their attempts. So, if it says “juicy” on her butt, and it’s a Saturday, relax. Go with the flow. Just don’t let her stand up.

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