PORTLAND, ORE. — For students at the Portland Waldorf School, plain dressing is the norm. The dress code at their private K-8 school not only forbids belly-baring tops and sagging pants but also bans all clothes with logos, images, photos, jazzy patterns, garish colors, or offensive words.
"Our dress code insists on clothes that are easy to move around in, nonrevealing, and not full of references to pop culture or corporate brands," says Maya Muir, outreach coordinator for the school. "This helps to create a haven for the students where they can be less self- and status-conscious, and can concentrate on their work at hand."
In the past year, a growing number of schools and school districts, public as well as private, have instituted no-logo clothing policies. For some schools, particularly those in high-crime districts, the concern is to limit colors and symbols that may signal gang affiliation.
But in some suburban districts and private schools, the ban on logos has less to do with crime and more to do with concerns about exposing students to excessive commercialization.
It's a discomfort that has gained further currency through the popularity of a couple of recent books. Naomi Klein, author of the book "No Logo," shows, step by step, how name brands have become increasingly pervasive, not just in the media and on the street, but increasingly in schools as well. Her sentiments are echoed by economist Juliet Schor, author of "Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture."
At the Portland Waldorf School, Ms. Muir also worries about the connection between electronic media and ads and logos on clothing. As a general policy, the school discourages parents from allowing students - especially younger children - to absorb too much TV or play too many video or computer games at home. Teachers at the school say such activities leave kids with short attention spans and a desire to be constantly entertained.
"The dress code is a similar issue," says Muir. "Often the logos or pictures on kids' clothes refer to media figures."
Some schools have developed very specific codes about what students can and cannot wear.
At the Brookside Intermediate School, in Friendswood, Texas, students may wear red, but not maroon (which has a gang affiliation). Logos of any kind are prohibited, except for the school logo.
In February, 100 parents gathered in the Millington High School auditorium in Tennessee to hear area principals discuss their reasons for supporting a dress code that would substantially limit any logos, along with baggy clothes and shirts that were not tucked in.
It's all about promoting a climate conducive to learning, says Tonya Mabry, principal of E.A. Harrold Elementary in Millington. Even in their younger years, she points out, students' choice of dress can be disruptive to the school's academic environment. "When you get to fifth grade and you wear a shirt that says 'Dare me' across the front, it's a disruption," she says.
Teachers at the Portland Waldorf School heartily embrace the ban on logos and in fact any kind of writing or images on students' clothing. "The dress code is designed so children can focus on their class work and not be distracted by commercial or grotesque images," says Craig Thom, a fourth-grade teacher.
It's not only the students who get distracted by logos. Teachers also find it distracting to see a room full of students with words and images on their clothes, says Lauren Johnson, the school's development officer. "It draws attention away from the child's face."
Predictably, however, not all the students like the policy. Middle-schoolers, says Muir, are the most unhappy. Emily Baker, 12, says the code is way too strict. "I had a shirt with butterflies in sequins, and I was really disappointed when they said I couldn't wear it."
But most parents at the school are supportive of the policy. "I like the dress code because we don't have that atmosphere of commercialism in the school," says parent Laurie Smith. "The kids aren't walking advertisements."
They are also being protected from the attitudes some of this clothing might inspire. "If you are coming to school with a T-shirt that says, 'Sassy little stuff,' " asks principal Mabry, "how do you think you are going to act? The same way."