For several years now, we’ve watched growing numbers of District students walk to school each morning in uniforms. To date, the sensible garb—collared shirts and dark pants for the boys, plaid skirts for the girls—has transformed 91 different outposts of the public school system. The uniforms, so far, have been voluntary. But last week, the politicians stepped in to make it official.
Introduced Sept. 21, the D.C. Council’s school-clothing legislation would slap uniforms on all public-school students, right down to the sloppiest dresser, by 2001. The result, advocates say, will be so long to brand-name jeans and schoolyard brawls and hello to…well, what? Once control over student dress is handed over to the fine folks who brought us the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, it’s only a matter of time before business lobbyists, cultural activists, and Congress try to get their mitts on 71,889 kids’ daily outfits. So, will the new costumes reflect ethnic pride? Business imperatives? The tactical needs of students navigating dangerously aged buildings? Never fear. With a dress-code rumble on the horizon, Washington City Paper is here with suggestions for D.C.’s elected fashion designers:
The “Chamber of Commerce”
This is an outfit for the new, business-friendly D.C. Corporate America will look with affection on a city that swaddles its youth in peppy advertising trademarks. Sponsorship, meanwhile, will help subsidize the outfits—the school system’s crack contract-negotiating team should easily be able to rope in a $10 student scholarship donation for every 1,000 pairs of Fruitopia sweatsocks purchased—and also help speed District students toward their true role in the new District: a lifetime of product consumption.
Now here’s an outfit sure to “curry” favor up on Capitol Hill! After all, how better to show those brash D.C. teenagers their place than via a uniform evoking the honor and traditions of the imperial era? But because D.C. is such a multicultural place—our gracious lords on the Hill come from the East Coast, the Midwest, and the West—this outfit reflects the glory of all sorts of colonies: a cap from French Morocco, pants from British India, shoes from the Dutch East Indies.
The “Reverse Psychology”
They say parents like school uniforms because they save them the money they’d otherwise spend keeping up with changing teenage tastes. Well, this getup will save parents even more money: It’ll ruin those expensive tastes for good. Force every last D.C. student into the most expensive basketball shoes in town, and then load them down with the most glimmering gold rings we can find. Once summer vacation rolls around and the tyranny of academic fashion lets up, they’ll head straight for the store—to buy cheap gray trousers and starchy white shirts.
The “Little Gentrifier”
Here’s an outfit that should win our pols favor with D.C.’s arriviste population. Why send your kids away to school in England—or even to St. Albans—when they can sport the same old-moneyed look during their morning stroll over to Shaw Junior High? Newcomers can enchant distant relatives with a picture of junior in his smart getup standing in front of the new Logan Circle Victorian.
The “Family Values”
D.C.’s critics say it’s our lax morals that have hurt kids. But here’s a way our political leaders can blunt those charges: Drop the younguns into uniforms that make it hard for them to get their pants—or anything else—off. Trudging to school and back in cumbersome black costumes, the students won’t have the energy for anything other than church, schoolwork, and the occasional harvest supper with friendly local Indians.
The “Facilities Management”
Why fix up our crumbling school buildings when we can outfit our kids to survive real estate armaggedon? Say hello to hard hats and gas masks, goodbye to time-consuming roof repairs and aesbestos cleanups.
No one has had the sartorial impact on D.C. of former mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. And if the choice of school uniforms comes to a vote, Barry loyalists will demand that his legacy be honored. Hizzoner, after all, had an outfit for every occasion—the passionate appeal to Ward 8 partisans, the power breakfast with developers, the morning game of tennis. If it was good enough for the former mayor, why not let our students switch with the situation, too? A plus for students confronted, say, by irate fathers of girlfriends: They can just tell dad they were, uh, “changing.” CP