are uniform at this high school.
help students focus on their work.
It's official -- the largest school district in the U.S. has adopted school uniforms. Over a half-million elementary-school students in New York City will have to adhere to a dress code by the Fall of 1999. The president of the school board said the policy is "important to diminish peer pressure and promote school pride," but that it's not "an act of magic to transform schools overnight....It isn't going to replace good teaching, good principals, small classrooms."
It's a fashion trend that's spreading. From Los Angeles to Louisiana, from Maryland to Miami, public schools are discussing, and in many cases adopting, the old private school idea. School uniforms are designed to help kids focus on algebra instead of high-tops; to make students compete for grades rather than jackets.
Weekend Wear vs.
"It helps to get up in the morning and not have to think about what you're going to wear," said Maria, a ninth-grader who swims, plays soccer, and wears exactly what everybody else does at her high school in Washington, DC. Each school day, Maria dons an all-white oxford shirt, brown shoes, and a gray/maroon plaid skirt that has to be long enough to the touch the ground when she kneels. After school and on weekends, of course, all bets are off. Maria has a simple yet effective strategy: she borrows her friends' clothes, typically baggy jeans.
"I just kind of steal them," said Maria. "That way, they do the shopping, and I get to wear them."
No-nonsense uniforms are what many school are using as weapons in the war against gang-related violence and classroom distractions.
President Clinton: Pro-Uniforms
President Clinton thinks they're a good idea. In a March 1996 speech he said:
It always starts in California...
Public school uniforms became popular 1994, when the Long Beach, California school district became the first to require uniforms. A year later, according to the district, school fights and muggings there went down 50%; sexual offenses declined 74%.
Since then, many public schools--usually one at a time--175;have followed suit, in most cases following discussions among faculty, students and parents. And it's not always mandatory: some schools let students opt out for personal beliefs, and others say uniforms are totally voluntary.
One in Four students
Uniforms are most common in elementary, middle and junior high schools, according to the federal Department of Education. The Lands' End clothing company, which just came out with a school uniform catalog this year, estimates that one in four public school students below high-school age will be in uniform in the 97-98 school year.
Not everybody is welcoming the idea. The American Civil Liberties Union says there's no link between school uniforms and safety or good grades. Former California high school principal Dennis Evans says teenagers who decide what to wear in the morning are developing decision-making skills and learning to take responsibility for their choices in life. Many students agree.
"If I wear flared pants, it means I'm kind of trendy and I'm kind of cool and with-it," said Athey, an eighth-grader who plays basketball and soccer at school in Washington, D.C., where students can wear what they want -- so long as there are no spaghetti straps, frayed pants or exposed midriffs. "And if I wear something nice on special days, people think: 'that girl dresses well and cares about how she looks.'"
But how do they look?
Let's cut to the chase. How do they look? In many public schools, the formula looks like this: polos and oxford shirts on top; khakis, skirts and chino shorts and pants on the bottom. Most schools require solid colors, the more popular choices being red, white, navy blue, evergreen and soft yellow maize. And there's more variety on the way. Soon uniforms will include jean shirts and striped polos.
"School uniforms are conservative by design," said Andrea Rachels, who designs school uniforms and other kids' clothing at Lands' End. Still, there are ways to be hip, according to Rachels, whose recipe for success includes "cool, cool socks." Multi-colored, striped stockings are said to be a student favorite.
But for Peter, an 11th grader who runs cross-country and wears what he wants at his high school in Potomac Maryland, school uniforms could be an unwelcome hurdle in social situations.
"I guess it would be hard to get girls, because a lot of times they like the way you dress, and that's always a helpful thing," said Wong, whose brown leather shoes of choice are Sketchers.
Nevertheless, Wong admits that many students could get to school sooner if they didn't have to worry over what to wear in the morning.
school uniform catalogs like this
one from Lands End.