PAREN(T)HESIS — Clothing conundrums

March 31, 2017

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

Many Milwaukee Public School students will be wearing uniforms starting this fall due to a new policy. At some schools, parents and guardians voted on filing a school-wide exemption. If a certain percent of the adults vote against uniforms, the whole school will not adopt the new policy. Regardless of the vote, individual students can be exempted.

The uniform topic brings me back to my Catholic grade school and its dress code. We had to wear collared shirts and avoid logos and denim. As I remember, the overall attitude among students was that we were thirsty for the occasional denim day and that we accepted the rules, probably because they were our norm. Leaving the house dressed according to rules was common in our house. The school dress code my sister and I followed was significantly less restrictive than the police uniform my dad wore every workday.

Decades later, I can clearly remember the flare-up when a seventh grade classmate wore Guess brand jeans with a white triangle label on the back pocket. It caused a few remarks amongst our close-knit group of about 60 kids. The focus on a brand and the potential for other students to beg for the same expensive clothes was exactly what the dress code was designed to avoid. A few years after I graduated, that school’s policy changed and implemented uniforms for its students.

Clothing debates tap deep into our emotions, as evidenced by the Guess jeans incident I remember 30 years later. Friends have similar stories, harbored in their craniums for decades, about what they and their peers wore to school and what type of jeans they coveted. In my childhood, the dress code I had to abide until eighth grade, combined with my penchant for outdoor play, meant I had school clothes and I had play clothes. I got off the bus, walked to our house, and immediately changed into more casual outfits that could get stained.

Back then I never heard of a child who couldn’t tolerate wearing certain types of clothing, but zoom ahead 30 years and now there are many kids with mild sensory issues that can be triggered by some garments.

Some kids don’t like, or cannot be comfortable wearing clothing like pants with buttons or cotton blend pants without any stretch. Luckily, knit clothing options reign supreme now for both kids and adults.

What we wear involves a lot of emotion, but I think the biggest issue with clothing is its comparison among children. It’s safe to say that whatever route a particular school takes on the uniform policy, today’s kids will grow up and survive a few crazy fashion trends, and as I did, eventually harken back to the clothing of their childhood days.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

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