This morning my youngest daughter was getting ready for school and announced that some teachers give extra credit if you dress professionally. My first thought was that was absurd. My second was I wished schools required uniforms. And then my third thought, as I am clearly one to continuously recycle even the most mundane ideas in search for some deeper meaning; brought me back to a time when I taught in New York and received a grant to teach summer school and pay our students to come to school.  Essentially, their summer classes, while also providing them with necessary credits towards graduation, became the students’ summer jobs.  If they came to school late, we docked their pay.  If they didn’t hand in an assignment, we docked their pay. If they did extra work, came in early or stayed to clean the classroom, a small bonus found its way to their paychecks. We tried to require them to dress more workwise, both to make a point as to the importance of dressing respectfully at a place of employment, but also to cut down on the inappropriate garb that managed to skillfully get past their parents’ eyes each morning.  That is; if their parents were paying attention. I realize that being able to regulate our students’ attire, etc. was somewhat idealistic in a generally unrealistic situation. It worked though. As to whether the message we hoped it would impart had any effect, we can only hope. The point is, optimistically they later understood the importance of being prompt, fulfilling one’s responsibilities and dressing suitably for a job, all matter.

I have to admit I am still surprised at the way even adults dress, particularly in a place of employment. I know casual Friday has found its way into Monday through Thursday in many offices, but even informal can mean buttoning one more button, no? At open house at the high school recently, my son’s math teacher greeted us in shorts and flip flops. Now I will be the first to admit that teachers are severely underpaid, but she couldn’t find something a bit more apt to the situation? How did she expect us to take her seriously when she didn’t have the decency to respect her own position enough to dress the part of a professional? If you want to be valued, play the part. Unfortunately, we live in a society that thrives on visual impressions.

I wonder how some kids make it out the front door in a few of the outfits I’ve seen entering the middle and high school and recall my niece showing me how she wore her shorts out the door at one length, but when she arrived at the bus stop, she conveniently rolled them up to a length that her father would have had her strung up for. Yet, somehow, said niece managed to make it into adulthood, rather successfully, and unscathed both by her father’s admonishment for inappropriate dress or a reputation that may have deemed her better suited for a job that required a pole. As my daughter rushes past me, my attempt at a goodbye kiss barely reaching her hurried cheek, I hold my tongue about the lip gloss that glistens a bit too much for my tastes or from a reminder to refrain from changing her outfit after she leaves (because I have already convinced her that I have spies all over town). I remind myself that I have drilled into her my favorite saying in regard to attire, “Don’t advertise what you’re not willing to sell,” and that I don’t want to go overboard and be faced with utter teenage rebellion (although I am not one to shy away from a just insurrection). I pray that school dress codes will back me up. While it is true that there are days that I wish my kids never saw a music video or any sort of media for that matter, I hope that we have reached a happy medium between respectful and inappropriate dress, because whether we want to believe it or not, how we present ourselves portrays an image that is difficult to erase.

I’ve rethought my opinion on the teachers that give extra credit for students that dress more professionally and want to thank them for attempting to keep the idea of demanding respect through one’s appearance alive. I concur that it is unfortunate that we all fall prey to visual influences, but until the world truly begins to see things in shades of gray, please reserve the flip flops for the beach.