By BEN R. WILLIAMS
Back when I was in middle school and high school in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, we had a slew of dress code regulations.
For one thing, boys’ hair could not touch their collars. Anarchy would have ensued. After graduation, I didn’t get a haircut for several years. Boys also weren’t allowed to have facial hair at my school; the only exception was sideburns, although the sideburns could not extend past the earlobe. As a hirsute young man, I was busted on sideburn violations on several occasions.
Of course, boys also had to wear collared shirts. No one can possibly be educated while wearing a T-shirt. To abide by the letter of the law if not the spirit, my buddy Wes and I used to go to the Eden Flea Market; a lady had a booth there where she used to sell old mechanic work shirts that usually still had the name patches attached. I got a lot of mileage out of my old brown work shirt that identified me as “CARLOS.” The name was stitched in cursive so I figured it was pretty classy. The school administrators disagreed.
Boys also couldn’t sag their pants. That one didn’t really affect me since I was never cool enough to sag my pants. Instead of looking like an early 2000s fashion plate, I would have looked like I’d wandered out of a mental hospital. Several of my friends were constantly admonished to pull their pants up, though.
Sometimes the rules seemed to have been made up on the fly. There was apparently a brief window around the year 2000 when it was considered cool to wear designer overalls, but ONLY if one strap was hanging loose. My classmate Marcus showed up to school wearing some slick Tommy Hilfiger overalls only to be told by the principal that overalls could only be worn to school with BOTH straps over the shoulders. Marcus shrugged the loose strap back on, and all day long, people called him “Farmer Marcus.” He never wore those overalls again.
Of course, the dress code rules for the boys had nothing on the rules the girls had to follow.
I remember multiple occasions when girls were asked to stand up and hold their arms straight down at their sides; if their shorts or skirts were shorter than the spot where their fingertips fell, they had to either cover up or go home and change. They also couldn’t wear spaghetti straps, and God forbid a shirt showed any midriff whatsoever. Coming into school baring midriff was maybe a half-step down on the punishment scale from rolling in with a bag of cocaine.
Of course, all of the dress code rules for the girls were intended to keep them from distracting the boys. Today, a lot of people argue that it’s deeply unfair to punish girls for distracting boys with their dress when the onus should be on boys to not be weird little creeps. While I don’t disagree with that logic, I would add that it’s stupid for another reason. As a former teenage boy, I can confirm that a particularly shapely cloud is enough to provide a distraction. A girl covered head-to-toe in U-Haul moving pads would distract a teenage boy. The school administrators are basically King Canute shouting down the waves at that point.
The reason I got to thinking about school dress codes is because right now, with school starting back up imminently, districts in many states across our nation are debating whether or not students should be required to wear masks to school.
During a pandemic.
Involving an airborne virus.
A virus that children under the age of 12 cannot yet be vaccinated against.
In some districts, school administrators are actually fighting the state government to allow them to enforce a mask mandate. In Florida, for example, districts face a loss of state funding because Gov. Ron DeSantis has banned mask mandates. He claims that requiring students to wear masks “lacks a well-grounded scientific justification,” which sounds like the kind of thing a Civil War battlefield surgeon would mumble at you while spit-polishing his leg-cuttin’ hacksaw.
In other districts, however, school administrators have argued that it’s simply impossible to require students to wear masks. It would take too much time and effort to even try. They are powerless, simply powerless, to enforce such rules on the young people in their care.
That sounds like bunk to me. If you don’t believe me, ask Farmer Marcus.