Name for me, please, a teacher, counselor, principal who would never treat kids badly just because their parents didn’t adhere to their idea of what is and isn’t “appropriate” to wear in public.
Right. I didn’t think so.
That’s precisely why I happen to believe James Madison High School Principal Carlotta Outley Brown just did her students a huge favor and whether or not they realize it, parents, too.
Reading the story out of Houston, I couldn’t help wishing television news managers would ban their reporters from interviewing women wearing purple hair bonnets, too.
I cringe every time one pops up on my television screen the same way I do when a young black boy is led away in handcuffs.
Children are influenced by everything around them — their peers, their teachers — but it’s undeniable that their parents have one of the biggest roles to play, even down to their wardrobe choices, in shaping who and what they will become.
Brown clearly understands this.
And another thing Brown seems to understand: There are a lot of grown folk out there who apparently still need parenting. For heaven’s sake, what mature, self-respecting adult shows up anywhere unkempt?
And so in early April, Brown informed parents in a letter that they could not enter school grounds while wearing pajamas or revealing clothing. The school also prohibited parents from wearing leggings, sagging pants, low-rider shorts, short dresses and low-cut tops. Women can’t wear a satin cap, hair curlers, shower cap or bonnet on their heads.
The new policy was implemented, Brown said, “to prepare our children and let them know daily, the appropriate attire they are supposed to wear when entering a building, going somewhere, applying for a job, or visiting someone outside of the home setting.”
Belinda Johnson, a retired teacher who taught for 30 years in the Houston Public Schools, agrees.
“Parents are the first role models in a child’s life,” she said. “Our schools are places of educational business. Just think if teachers were allowed to dress freely. Parents would be the first online to complain.”
The argument has been made that it’s hard enough to get parents into the school building without imposing dress codes, but if you’re African American, appearance matters like, well, your name. There’s a reason Jequavious is less likely to get called for an interview, and it’s the same if John shows up wearing sagging pants. It’s called bias. It isn’t right but it is what it is. Both determine, in many ways, how you’re treated, which doors you’re allowed to enter and which will be closed to you.
The same goes for a kid whose parent shows up at school looking like he/she just rolled out of bed or worse.
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Not everyone is in complete agreement with me.
My favorite fashion historian, Amanda Hallay, who teaches at LIM College in Manhattan and runs the popular YouTube channel The Ultimate Fashion History, believes school principals are well within their rights to impose some sort of dress code for formal school events such as graduation.
But for busy moms and dads dropping kids off at school before rushing home to get ready for work, or dashing into the classroom to drop off forgotten homework, Hallay said it’s totally acceptable for parents to wear whatever they feel like wearing.
“In the 1950s and 1960s, it was almost ubiquitous for ladies to wear rollers and a headscarf when dropping off or picking up kids,” she said. “They’d wear their rollers covered with a scarf when grocery shopping, too. Some would even wear them to lunch with ‘the girls.’”
Hallay recalled photographs of Audrey Hepburn and Lilly Pulitzer, both arbiters of fashion and recognized style icons, wearing scarves-over-rollers when out and about in the 1960s.
“Perhaps more high school principals should put Fashion History on the curriculum,” she quipped, “because rollers and casual clothing worn by parents when stopping by school has a rich, and fashionable, tradition.”
For the record, Hallay said that she runs neighborhood errands with her hair in rollers covered with a headscarf at least twice a week.
“Not everyone wakes up with naturally great-looking hair, and those of us who rely upon rollers to look groomed and pulled together will invariably find ourselves in the position of wearing them outside,” she said. “Far from giving kids a bad impression, I would argue that seeing ‘mom’ take such time and care with her appearance (even if that necessitates wearing rollers outside) suggests the importance of grooming, and teaches kids that looking good involves a ‘process.’”
I’d argue that it doesn’t take time or care to come out wearing rollers, even if you happen to cover them with a scarf rather than say a bandanna.
As for modeling the importance of grooming, take the rollers out and throw on a cute hat and some red lipstick. Lipstick can cover a multitude of fashion sins.
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