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DRESS CODES ARE CLOTHED IN INCONGRUITY

Remember the great nonconformity movement of the 1960s?

I sure do. Why, it seems like only yesterday that the rallying cry of American youth was, "Do your own thing." The radio blared out popular tunes like "Express Yourself" and "Let It All Hang Out."Alas, those days are gone forever. Those free spirits of the Woodstock Generation are parents themselves. And their new rallying cry is, "Mandatory uniforms for students!"

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised. It is an unavoidable law of nature. Things come in cycles.

Still, I have a hard time accepting the fact that the people who fought long and hard to secure every young woman's right to wear hip-huggers in the classroom would turn 180 degrees and support legislation that would costume their own daughters in Mary Janes.

The Great Dress Code Rebellion of 1968 began at my high school with many small skirmishes. Prior to that fateful day, we noted a few scattered cases of boys being slammed against the lockers for having their shirttails out or hair long enough to touch the back of the collar (yes, kids, there was a time when corporal punishment was allowed in schools).

Then my girlfriend and another girl were kicked out of school for wearing skirts that were 4 inches above the knee.

The scandal rocked the district.

When they attempted to return, wearing blue jeans, they were branded sluts and suspended until further notice. My strong sense of chivalry forced me to take action.

I bided my time until Pep Rally Day, which was every Friday. On this day, boys were required to wear a white shirt (tucked in, of course) and a tie. The key point was this: The cheerleaders were required to wear their micro-miniskirt uniforms!

It was the custom of cheerleaders to travel in packs. I had never heard anyone argue against this practice. Their camaraderie worked to my advantage. Spying a cluster hanging around the school store, and taking advantage of their youthful curiosity, I said, "Hey girls, come here! I want to show you something."

This line always worked. I took off at a brisk pace, the chattering cheerleaders in tow.

As we passed The Office, I quickly pushed open the vice principal's door. Before cheerleaders could protest, we were face to face with Mr. Drake.

"Mr. Drake, sir," I said. (I was always polite to my superiors.) "I feel it is my duty to turn these young ladies in. They are in clear violation of school policy. Why, you can even see their underwear! Their presence in the classroom is a distraction to the students, not to mention some of the teachers . . . ."

I never got to finish. The girls protested: "Geez, Leo, it's not underwear! It's kickpants!"

Mr. Drake dragged me around by my ear. Things got a little jumbled. All I remember is that when school resumed the following year, I still had 10 days detention left.

When I read about disciplinary successes in schools that adopt "behavior codes" that include uniforms, I have to wonder: How much of that success can be attributed to clothes? If I was a teacher, I'd want the problem people to make themselves as obvious as possible so I could keep an eye on them.

And then I read in the newspaper a quote from a parent who, in contemplating the purchase of a $150 school uniform, said, "It'd sure be a lot cheaper than going out and buying the high-priced jeans and designer clothes that kids want to wear."

I must ask, who is in charge around here, anyhow?

If the parents wish the Mr. Drakes to become fashion cops for their kids, why have parents at all?