A Stupid Hill to Die On

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I am a child of the 70s and 80s. A child of two decades of questionable fashion. A child of plaid and perms and Jordache jeans; of acid wash and mesh shirts and leg warmers. There were harem pants, stirrup pants, and parachute pants. But by the middle of my high school journey I was expressing my self, and my fashion sense, in a slightly more safety-pin and ripped tee-shirt kind of way; lots of black eyeliner and three ozone layers worth of Aqua Net. Lots of oversized, undersized, half shirt, miniskirt, Doc Marten, fishnet, ripped tights and the occasional forearm full of rubber bracelets. If someone had mentioned the word school uniform back then, I would have been aghast. Me, with my Robert Smith hair, in a pair of khakis? Me, with my Siouxsie eyeliner, in a polo shirt or a smock dress? Surely it was against an amendment or two, whichever one protects freedom of expression; freedom of speech, press, religion, the right to gather and wear Thompson Twins concert tees.

And then a funny thing happened. I had kids. The older one went to school. He went to private school. And there were uniforms.

And it was the best thing since sliced bread.

Sure, they were expensive. Sure, they weren’t particularly attractive. Sure, the student body looked slightly lemming like as they started school each morning. But oh! The joy of not having to worry about arguing with my son about what he could and could not wear to school was worth every, single Euro we had to shell out, worth every iota of individuality squashing conformance those insignia emblazoned uniforms brought with them.

For two and a half school years, mornings were a breeze. Lay out the uniform, make a lunch, drive to school. As long as I made sure his pants weren’t too short or the knees weren’t too dirty, all was good and uniformly agreed upon.

And then we moved and switched schools, to one which didn’t require a uniform or really even a dress code.

For most this wouldn’t be an issue. Most people think of their trusty Levis as their go to wardrobe staple when the invite reads casual or the dress code is up in the air. But to my eldest son, jeans have always been a form of denim torture, seamed tubes of dungaree agony. They were too tight, he didn’t like the waistband, he couldn’t run in them. The list went on and on. It is entirely possible that he had some sort of legitimate sensory issue that I ignored or glossed over or refused to have anything to do with. It is entirely possible I royally screwed with him by forcing him to wear jeans now and then. It may not have been the smartest move on my part. But I chose to pick that battle and it’s hard to retreat, even when you see the casualties laid out before you. The thing is, because the second one does or does not do everything the first one does or does not, now both of them balk at wearing anything but….sweats.

Sweatpants, or joggers, or comfy pants as my kids call them, are fine for hanging around the house on a Saturday. Before noon. They are fine for running to the shop in. Provided you are planning on showering and changing afterward. I would say they are even fine for working out, but no one wears them for working out anymore, it’s all lycra and spandex and wicking and dry weave. I know they are comfortable, I just feel like they don’t have any real place outside of the school gym. And I definitely don’t feel like they have a place in the classroom.

I would happily volunteer even more of my time, chair the PTA, bake vegan gluten-free cookies for the bake sale and do face painting at the child/teacher conferences if my sons’ current school came up with a dress code that banned sweat pants.

Then I would have an excuse. It would be written and cemented in some sort of curriculum constitution. It would be in the rules. Because as it stands, the only reason I don’t want them to wear jogging pants to school is because I DON’T LIKE THEM.

Given the choice, my older son will go to school in lime green sweats, a red t-shirt and a blue zip up hoodie. He looks, as I have often commented, like a refugee from the Kazak wrestling team, only less coordinated. I have tried to encourage him to match his clothes, but one time, in a fit of brilliance, he challenged me.

“Why do my clothes have to match???” he demanded.

And I was stumped. Because he’s right. Why do they have to match? But I know the answer. You know the answer. The answer is obvious. And, in a fit of honesty, I answered him.

“Because it reflects badly on me!” I shouted at him.

I am pretty far off the soccer mom beaten track. In fact, I’m probably off the track altogether, past the bleachers and in the bushes somewhere. So the fact that I want my sons’ clothes to match is somewhat surprising. But though I march to the beat of a different drummer, there is a difference between wearing leopard print tights and hot pink ballet flats and wearing an ill-fitting turquoise tee, lime green sweats and red socks. At least there is in my mind. But I have a sneaking suspicion that I am giving myself too much credit. Because if I weren’t allowed to pick out my own clothes when I was a kid, to express my individuality through fashion, would I ever have developed the attitude necessary to carry off leopard print tights and hot pink ballet flats? What if I am thwarting my sons’ individuality by balking every time they dig through the laundry basket for the one or two pairs of sports pants I’ve let them beat me down into buying? What if sweat pants are their Gene Loves Jezebel tee, their pink Doc Martens, their Robert Smith hair?

I guess it’s the height of irony that I, who would have fought so hard for my right to express myself through bad hair and ripped tights, feel so strongly about them not wearing sweat pants to school. I guess it’s hypocritical that I, with my non-conformist yearbook picture and not necessarily matching or appropriate outfits, try to micro-manage what my sons wear to school. Increasingly I am starting to believe that my insistence upon anything other than jersey or fleece is what you may call a stupid hill to die on.

Sometimes you have to admit defeat and retreat to wait for reinforcements.

I’m hoping they come in the form of girlfriends who don’t like that sweat pant look.

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