The naked truth of uniforms

Pssssst. Kid. C'mere.

I want to talk to you. And without that wall of attitude you put up for other adults. You can't help it, I know. It pops out like a zit. I remember. But believe me, I'm better at it than you. I was a teen-ager in the '80s, so don't try to out-angst me, snotty. You won't win. Can we talk without you acting like Val Kilmer? Good. Nobody likes Val Kilmer.

It's this school-uniform thing. There is a notion afoot that making school uniforms mandatory will bring order to schools by bringing the appearance of order. This is like painting a pizza on the table and saying, "Look! We got pizza!" and then wondering why everyone is still hungry. Or in your case, still postal. And speaking of postal, uniforms never seemed to be very calming to mail personnel.

So on the one hand, whatever your problems are, it doesn't seem like clothes are going to solve them.

But I don't think uniforms are the end of the world. That kind of makes me feel like an age-traitor, because I still have a teen-ager within, and I like her. Her ability to cut the crap still serves me. But sometimes you have to pick your battles, and clothes just might not be worth fighting over. I'll let you in on a few secrets.

Clue me in

Clue me in

Secret one: Most adults are wearing uniforms. All the time.

Adults are more free than you, no question. I wouldn't be 15 again for a jillion dollars and a harem full of hockey players. But most adults conform to dress code, self-imposed and otherwise. Sarah Michelle Gellar gets told what to wear at every set she's on. Band members dress alike. Hillary Clinton had to get her style overhauled before she could try to overhaul health care. Nude dancers all wear the same thing. I'm sure there are days when Marilyn Manson thinks, "Christ, if I have to put in those freak-ass contact lenses one more time ... " But he has to. It's his uniform now. He's got to put it on before he goes to work. School is your job, and some jobs have dress codes.

Secret two: Consistency can be comforting. I wore a uniform in Catholic school. If you looked like crap wearing a uniform it wasn't your fault. Everyone looked like crap. Then I got to public school where, if you looked bad, it was obviously just you. Do you want that extra pressure? You have better things to do with your IQ than wonder whether your bra strap is showing under that tank top. (It is.)

When I was 12 I wouldn't have bought that argument if it had come with a free TV. But 24 years later, I know a lot of adults who buy five of the exact same thing and wear it every day. It's one less choice in a day full of way harder choices than "What shirt should I wear?"

Secret three: Self-expression is essential. But nobody gets that freedom 24/7. Limiting your creative freedom bothers me. I want you to look like as big of a freak as you want. If you're well-adjusted and if it prevents you from shutting out the world, writing bad poetry and leafing through a gun catalog, by all means, put on your Vampyre Armand outfit and go to town. Dress so outrageously that blind people wince.

But please remember that clothes aren't the only form of free speech. Self-expression sometimes requires very hard work. If you have something to say through art, music or whatever, it's a real bitch, but the reward is worth every difficult, disciplined second. Stephen King dresses down, but what he doesn't put into his looks he puts into his books, and he's a millionaire and one of the planet's most widely respected freaks.

Anyone can put on a T-shirt. And if the only thing you have to say is what's on your T-shirt, how worth saying is it? Anyway, someone already has said it, or it wouldn't be on a T-shirt.

Clothes minded

Secret Four: The enemy may already be within the walls.

If you wear high heels that hurt because you want to impress someone else, you're compromised. If you're dressing like a don in the Trenchcoat Mafia just to tick off adults, you are a puppet dancing for their reaction. Uniforms are a compromise, but you may already be living less freely than you think. It's your call.

Secret five: There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.

That's a line from the depressing Frenchie Albert Camus, and it got me through my miserable teen-age life. Here's how it can work for you. If they demand you wear uniforms, wear them well. Act polite. Become cheery and helpful. Turn your school into Pleasantville. Parents so expect you to be sad, angry bastards that if you become wholesome, you will freak them out like you would not believe. It could be the greatest trick any generation has ever pulled. Watch Village of the Damned for pointers.

Unless the uniforms they want you to wear are plaid with pleats. Then join the circus, where the clothes look better. No one should have to wear plaid and pleats.

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