It is a set of those mixed messages adults are always giving children: The same week the state of Maryland suspended sales tax on back-to-school purchases, schools reiterated their dress codes in time for the start of classes.
What are our kids hearing? "Clothing will be 5 percent cheaper for a week. Good luck finding anything legal to wear."
Clothes shopping used to be a family affair: Mothers fought with their children up and down the malls of the United States over issues like price, quantity and modesty. Since the mid-1990s, however, schools have added their voices to the argument with growing lists of no-no's.
No halter tops, no tube tops, no T-shirts that advertise drugs, alcohol, violence or sex. No droopy pants, no too-tight jeans, no short-shorts, no short skirts. No ball caps, no do-rags. Schools in some states forbid clothes and shoes with decals or logos. There are probably places in this country where the dress code is longer than the criminal code.
Seventeen-year-old Amanda, a friend and my link with youth, is appalled at the hypocrisy of dress codes: "They care about backs and shoulders, but they never say anything about cleavage," she says.
And, Amanda points out, the dress codes are hopelessly far behind the next wave. "What about lace-up sides and low pants and shredded waist bands?" Amanda asks. Dress codes need to address these things or the kids will cry foul. "But you never said" has a familiar ring for every grown-up.
To put everything "on sale" in the name of tax relief, and then defy kids to purchase anything that they will be allowed to wear to school is a particularly bad-faith offer from adults. No wonder they hate us.
After rejecting my suggestion of an Ann Taylor twin-set with a matching knee-length skirt, my daughter threw up her hands in frustration and spent her back-to-school budget on lip gloss.
There wasn't much else out there. Forever 21 was offering full-coverage tops, with boat necks and wrist-length sleeves. But they are made out of what looks like Grandma's old lace table cloth, and nothing was left to the imagination.
Gap offers V-neck T-shirts that might be better described as V-breast T-shirts. They are so low-cut, no one will be looking at her neck. For those of you who objected to spaghetti-strap T-shirts because of the exposed bra-strap factor, Gap is offering stretch T's with "built-in breast support." Yeah. Sure. Right. Whatever.
Gap also has back-to-school flip-flops and very short skirts which, when worn in combination, show the maximum amount of leg.
The Limited is displaying long-sleeved, white dress shirts with faux French cuffs. But the first button isn't introduced until about the solar plexus.
(You mothers of preteens still shopping at Limited Too: Buckle your chin-straps because you have about 10 minutes until Day-Glo colors won't do it for your 10-year-old daughter anymore.)
Bebe, another popular stop for teen girls, has lace-up leather pants for $269 that appear to start about 3 inches below the pelvic bones. Your daughter can put that together with a V-neck top that looks to be made out of mosquito netting and report right to the principal's office.
Underneath it all? Victoria's Secret is offering five pairs of cotton V-strings (thinner than thongs) for $19.50. Buy this week and save 98 cents!
Not that a 5 percent savings even registers on the psychic channels of most teen-agers. For them, shopping is somewhere between recreation and group therapy. It is not about hunting for bargains.
You couldn't get my mall doll and her gal pals off the phone for "an extra 50 percent off" unless absolutely everyone was going to be there, too. Once there, about all they would do is drink cappuccino and complain about adults.
And they'd be right.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.