Adhering to the dress code (or, when rules do and don’t matter)

Posted November 8th, 2011 by Robin (noteverstill) in Child, Uncategorized

My daughter’s school has a dress code. She’s only been there for a bit over two months, as she’s just in kindergarten, but the dress code is something that we’ve heard about for years. We’ve shopped end-of-season clearance in anticipation of the dress code. We’ve saved hand-me-downs that were passed on specifically for purposes of the dress code. We had, we thought, prepared well for the dress code.

This dress code calls for plain white shirts and dark blue bottoms. Previous editions of the school handbook have insisted on collared shirts, although that specific criterion seems to be missing this year. And- not every day is even dress code day. So my daughter can wear her brightly colored clothes pretty often, giving her little complaint when it comes to dress code day.

And yet.

She’s been complaining mightily about dress code days. Why? Because I’ve actually been sending her to school in dress code attire. It seems most families interpret the dress code liberally: a white t-shirt and jeans, for example, equals white and blue. A blue shirt with stars and a white sweater is good enough. A blue dress with white polka dots. Blue tie-dye. Navy track pants. And I keep sending her to school in those boring white collared shirts.

So here’s the question: if the school does not appear to enforce dress code, and her teachers do not appear to enforce dress code, and she vigorously objects to my strict compliance with dress code, is there any reason to go on with compliance?

In other words, when and how do you let your kids learn that some rules matter more than others?

She wants to wear her blue tutu and her blue-and-white striped collarless shirt with the big blue glitter heart and her favorite blue-and-gray tights. (Maybe not all at once.) (Well, actually, that’s probably exactly what she wants.) Those are still “nice” clothes. They’re no polyester pull-away track pants or “My aunt went to Jamaica and all I got was this lousy shirt” tee, both articles I’ve observed worn on dress code day from the vantage point of the carpool lane.

But I was talking to two moms on Saturday, both women I adore and admire and whose opinion I wouldn’t blow off, both veterans of this school with more knowledge of its culture than I have, and they both said, “I send my kids in a collared shirt. That’s the rule, and I keep telling them that I don’t care if nobody else follows it.” And I just don’t know. Because if the school doesn’t enforce it and my kid bristles so much against it and she’s still dressing respectfully and in the spirit of the dress code, which honestly seems to be good enough… is it? Is that good enough?

It just makes me think of when we’re driving home through our neighborhood and she sees the big 25MPH sign and asks if we’re driving slowly enough. I’m usually under 30, but almost never actually under 25. But without explaining all that in detail, I say, “Yes, babe. This is slow enough.” And yes, I understand that’s a law and this is a rule. But really, in our society we operate in shades of gray, don’t we? And I remember as a kid the very thing that mystified me most about the adult world was shades of gray. How do you teach that?

And how strictly would you enforce the dress code?

When Robin isn’t begging you for parenting advice here, she is probably begging you for advice on her own blog, The Not-Ever-Still Life. You can also find her on FacebookGoogle+, and Twitter

Image via Antonia Hayes.

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4 Responses to “Adhering to the dress code (or, when rules do and don’t matter)”

  1. Thrift Store Mama

    Ugh – situations like what you are facing trouble me too. We are big rule followers in our house. I usually repeat the “in our family, we follow the rules and the rules state this” or something similar.

    I hate to say it because I want to think that I would address every situation individually, but “everybody else breaks the rules and nobody enforces them so we will too” can be a slippery slope.

  2. Katy

    I’m probably not a big help. I’m a “rules are made to be broken” kind of gal. But then I’m also a “you break ‘em, you take the consequences” kind of gal too, so if my kid got called out on the tutu, they wouldn’t get a whole lot of sympathy from me.

    I’d talk to E and ask her what she would choose as an outfit, and then ask her what she thinks might happen if she wears it, and if she’s comfortable with the possible consequences. It’s a good conversation starter about black and white versus grey areas. My parents always stressed the importance of rules that protect other people from harm. Probably why I respect those kinds of rules to this day, but not so much others.

    It’s an interesting question, in that it does open the door to belief systems about rules. And you never know: the principal might get annoyed midway through the year and bring the hammer down. That’s another thing about rules: they may be ignored, but always at your own peril! E’s probably old enough to begin grappling with some of that and have her own opinions about it. What a fascinating age! I’m sure whatever you do, she’ll be better off for your willingness to grapple through it with her!

  3. AwwwTrouble

    We’ve struggled with this, too. Our first school also had the white top blue bottom rule, and we simply interpreted that slightly liberally. IE, most of what she wore was a plain white top and plain blue bottoms, but I also had a few things that were outside the norm. It was a public school ,so there was little enforcement, and we stuck to the letter of the low but not the full law. She had a pair of blue and white striped pants. Sometimes we’d let her wear blue shirts. But always in a way that was not too far out the norm, if that makes sense. No jeans. No tshirts with slogans or pictures. But I also would allow a striped shirt under the white shirt, or multi-colored (with blue the main color) leggings. This year, new school, uniform is a tshirt. THis is a major pain in the rear for girls. If they were a dress (which my daughter loves), they have to wear the t over the dress. Totally impractical. We are being stricter, but I’ve also noticed not all parents are abiding. It’s frustrating. Our last principal used ot say she would talk to the older kids about dress code, but not so much the younger kids. She understood the littler kids might just have one of those days where they need to wear the tutu, and she wasn’t going to argue with them. But once they were in numbered grades, and therefore (she hoped) more in control of themselves, she expected a stricter adherence.

  4. Susan @Whymommy

    I guess I don’t understand the vagaries of a school dress code that appears to be just a suggestion. It puts parents in an awkward position.