Yes, middle schools, you <em>should</em> let girls wear leggings!

Yoga teacher Leah Kalish in, of course, yoga pants.
(Los Angeles Times)

So much ado about leggings.

Blogger Charlotte Allen recently took to task the overly sensitive parents of middle schoolers who were outraged that the administration of Haven Middle School in Evanston, Ill., seemed to be banning short-shorts, leggings, yoga pants and skinny jeans on girls because they were too distracting to middle school boys. The parents contended that such an edict essentially said it was the girls’ responsibility not to entice hormone-addled middle school boys.

Allen contended that the parents needed a reality check. This dress code — and many schools have similar ones — is just about girls not willfully distracting boys and boys not enthusiastically succumbing to it, she said.

Then she came to this mind-blowing conclusion about parents: “So many of them want their daughters to become scientists and college presidents, but they don’t want them to dress or act appropriately in the educational settings that will prepare them for those intellectual professions.”


Maybe Allen hasn’t been out and about much this century in the United States, but “appropriate” dress has changed dramatically. School-age kids as well as professionals — men and women — dress for school and the workplace in a variety of styles, often casual, even more often body-conscious. Middle schoolers and high schoolers grew up dressing casually, making pilgrimages to Brandy Melville for tiny cutoffs and tight jeans.

I don’t think a motivated middle or high school student will be any less serious a student if she’s sitting in class in leggings or shorts, any more than an unfocused, lazy student wearing a knee-length skirt and blouse will suddenly become more serious about school work.

Of course, there remain professions with strict, formal dress codes. But I’m with the Haven parents on this: It’s not their daughters’ responsibility to not distract boys.

As for the maligned leggings, they are as ubiquitous and unremarkable as jeans these days. Six-year-olds wear them. Seventy-six-year-olds wear them. I often wear leggings to work, and I guarantee you it’s not because I want to distract my male colleagues as we discuss proposals to raise the sales tax. It’s because they’re comfortable. (OK, it’s a little different. We’re all adults here. And we’re too tired to flirt at early morning meetings.)

And what I wear over my leggings doesn’t make me look like my next stop after the editorial board meeting is an audition for a Shakira video. The point is that leggings, for all their body-hugging, are awfully mainstream these days.

That said, I get it that schools can’t allow a free-for-all, dress-wise. There are limits. How to define them for all is difficult. The principal at Haven Middle School had to scramble to calm parents, sending a letter home saying that leggings were not banned — even though, according to a Chicago Tribune report, the school’s website said they were. The letter said that a school advisory team would meet to discuss the dress code Tuesday. Interestingly, the dress code on the website now allows leggings if they are worn with a top that is “a minimum of fingertip length of a straight arm.” (The page says it was updated March 26.)

The Haven dress code also bans clothing touting alcohol or tobacco or printed with gang symbols, and it forbids the wearing of “hats, do-rags, scarves and bandanas” unless for religious reasons.

My only connection to middle school is that I have a niece who attends one. Her school, Palos Verdes Intermediate, has a 15-point dress code, echoing some of the Haven dress code and addressing some very basic ideas. Like “shoes must be worn at all times.” And clothes should “reflect good taste and decency.” (Uh oh, that’s tough enough for adults to abide by.) Other than that: no bare midriffs, no see-through tops, no sports bras. In other words, no one should be naked. Leggings appear to be OK. As are “modest” shorts.

I understand that schools often need to micromanage the language of the dress code, but, in the end, officials need to make sure it’s about insisting that all students are clean and safe — and responsible for their own actions.

And leave the leggings out of this.


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