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August 22, 2012

With back-to-school shopping, function trumps fashion

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

The back-to-school season is upon us once again, which means it’s time for youngsters to tuck away their swimsuits and flip-flops in exchange for jeans and sweaters, and maybe even a new outfit or two. But as families head out to their favorite stores this fall, educators hope that parents will consider more than style when selecting classroom apparel.

“The word that we use consistently is appropriate, both for behavior and apparel,” said Fred Proctor, principal of Groves High School in Birmingham. “There are a lot of really beautiful outfits that are not necessarily appropriate for school.”

At Groves, Proctor said, he sees a range of clothing that isn’t suitable for school halls. From girls’ clothes that are too revealing to boys’ clothes that don’t fit correctly, or graphics on both groups that are too suggestive or are offensive to other students or teachers. He said that clothes, especially for teens, can not only reflect on the student, but can sometimes be a distraction in class.

“I think it can be a disruption for the person who’s wearing the clothes and for those who have to encounter it. Today’s fashions take away a ton of mystery because they’re more reveal than conceal,” he said. “I think some of our kids have been kind of immune to (inappropriate dress) because it seems to be less and less of a surprise what people are wearing.”

Proctor outlined a few key elements of the dress codes at Groves that he thinks can be used universally when planning what teens and tweens will be wearing to school this fall. He recommends that parents ensure that girls aren’t wearing tank tops with thin straps, and boys shouldn’t be wearing tanks at all, in his opinion. Skirts should be longer than a student’s fingertips when her arms are at her sides or be a couple inches away from the knee, and shorts should also be a proper length. Fit is another important consideration, he said.

“If your son has a 28-inch waist, then please don’t buy him size 34 pants. Parents, monitor what your kids are wearing and then ask yourselves, ‘Is it appropriate for school, or a work situation?’” he said. “Ultimately, we’re preparing our young people for the work world. So, what’s appropriate for a professional setting?”

Clothing concerns aren’t just a matter for parents of older students, though. The younger set also needs to be dressed in a way that won’t get in the way of the learning process.

In St. Clair Shores, parents have been turning to Connie’s Children’s Shop for nearly 60 years to pick up clothes for their little ones when it’s time to go back to school. Denise Kort, owner of Connie’s, said that since 1954 her store has been known for selling not only quality clothes, but tasteful styles appropriate for the classroom.

“Our clothes are age appropriate. I try and stay away from that Britney Spears look. I think the reason parents do shop here is because they know they’re not going to have that fight with their kid in here about what is and what isn’t appropriate.”

Kort’s store works with private schools in the area to provide students with uniforms, but there’s also a wide selection of playwear for public school students.

“In public schools, they’re probably a little more lenient. Stay away from flip-flops. It’s not more appropriate, but you want them to be comfortable,” she said. “Shorts are appropriate, as long as they’re the right length. And I’d probably say if they’re going to wear tank tops, (straps) should be three fingers across.”

She and Proctor both agree that what’s printed on clothing can make just as much of a statement as the garment itself. Kort said she doesn’t stock many clothes with pop-culture designs on them, such as celebrities or slogans. Proctor said that for tweens and teens, graphic designs on T-shirts can be unsuitable for school and sometimes even offensive.

“We don’t allow T-shirts that have any offensive or harassing type of graphic,” he said. “We also don’t allow weapons on a (clothing), and they can’t allude to any substances. Nothing with a beer logo or any inference to drugs or alcohol or anything like that.”

It’s also important to make sure the items being purchased for school are essential parts of a young student’s wardrobe that will be worn often, instead of items chosen only for their “cool” factor. Kort said back-to-school shopping, when done right, can go a long way through the year and can fit any budget.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.