Dress codes and the Spice Girls

Last night my daughter was writing invitations to her Girl Power birthday party on Spice Girl stationery, and I noticed the words: "Wear something Spice Girls wear."

Then I remembered the last birthday party we went to, where I heard the parents talk about how happy they were that their children wore uniforms to school.

"Look at how kids dress today," one of the parents complained. It turned out that most of these parents went to parochial schools and maybe they figured because they wore those horrid uniforms, they were going to make sure their children wore them also. I attended public schools during the 1960s and '70s, and it seems to me that I wore the same things the kids are wearing today.

Deep down, I think uniforms are for parents, not for kids. Adults are always complaining that the children are too distracted by clothes, but I teach at a public school and think they're more distracted by tedious lessons and overcrowded classrooms than by what someone else is wearing.

Like the teenagers today, I remember wearing baggy bell-bottoms and flannel shirts, then listening to my parents whine, "How are you going to get a boyfriend dressed like that?" And when I wore hip-huggers and a halter top that was held shut by two strings in the back, they'd scream, "Why do you want to go out looking like a hooker? You're never going to get a boyfriend looking like that!"

In my parent's opinion, my clothes were supposed to be used as some kind of discreet mating call. But in my view, my clothes were for my girlfriends. We huddled in our bedrooms modeling them, swapping our clothes with each other. It was a female thing. We didn't discuss clothes with boys, or expect them to comment on our attire. They may have responded to it, but not nearly as much as our girlfriends did.

I prefer the Spice Girls to all those Barney tapes we listened to for years while driving down the freeway. The lyrics aren't profound, but neither were The Monkees - the all-male group that catered to kids when I was young.

Some may argue that the Spice Girls wear clothing that is too seductive, and write them off as not having the capacity to make a feminist statement of any quality, but I don't see why a seductive-looking woman can't also be a feminist. My daughter's only 6, and Girl Power seems to be making a feminist impact on her.

The other day when there was a dead mouse in the cupboard, my daughter swept it onto the dust pan chanting, "Girl power!" It helped that I bribed her with money, and assured her it was twice the money a boy would earn for doing such a nasty chore. I can't stand dead mice and I was more than happy to offer such a large sum that I didn't have to reach in there and sweep it out.

My daughter came home from school the other day and told me that her principal had gathered the entire K-2 school in the cafeteria to remind them not to wear any clothes that left the belly exposed.

The funny thing is that my daughter's father is from India, and I wondered what would happen if I sent her to school in a sari. The only body part showing is the belly. Strange how our cultures respond so differently to the navel.

Even if the girls come dressed like Spice Girls to Ania's party, I know she wants them to make their own pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game, bob for apples, build a fort, and do some dancing in the living room.

She really doesn't care if they come with exposed bellies, slinky dresses, or overalls. She just wants a Girl Power party and wants to wear something spicy, something she can't wear at school.

Yet, I suspect, there may be a few parents interpreting this invitation with a raised eyebrow, the way my parents critiqued the clothes I was wearing as I left the house for school. My daughter is hoping I'll wear something spicy also, although I'd rather wear a flannel shirt and bell-bottoms.

As a writer, I know words are for freedom of expression, the same way clothes are for freedom of expression.

Something tells me this push for uniforms has much more to do with creating a more colorless, uniform society than increasing a child's attention span at school and preventing gang-related activities.

But I don't want to write a generic book any more than I want to wear a uniform, so on that Saturday, it's Girl Power and spicy clothes for us.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to home@csps.com, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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