It’s that time of year again, Snarklings. Autumn! Which brings not just cooler weather (very important with regard to a typical Goth wardrobe), but a flurry of letters, much like drifts of falling leaves, from young Goths heading back to school. Dress codes! How, oh how can they cope with their school’s dress code and still proudly show their ties to the Goth subculture? (This post lists previous lessons on school dress codes.)
Thing the First: The Lady of the Manners is going to reassure all of you (as she’s done before) that you don’t have to dress in a goth style to be a goth. No, no you don’t. Ignore those people who say you aren’t a Real Goth™ unless you are draped in black fabric and spend every minute of your life, awake or asleep, looking as spooky and undead as possible. For one thing, that’s an impossible standard that no one can achieve or live up to. (And the Lady of the Manners means NO ONE, not even our holy Goth icons such as Siouxsie Sioux or Peter Murphy.) For another thing, there’s more to Goth than “looking the part”. Being interested in the music, the literature, the art – there are multiple windswept branches on the Halloween tree that is Goth, and dark fashion is but one of them. Finally, there are times when, no matter how much you want to adorn yourself with black velvet and lace, or armor yourself in a shiny black carapace of leather and PVC, life … gets in the way, and you have to forego your finery for real-life practicality. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad or unworthy of calling yourself a Goth just because you don’t fit some shadowy paper doll ideal.
Thing the Second: Get yourself a copy of the dress code for your school. Even if you’re stuck with a mandatory uniform of polo shirts and black slacks, find out if there is an additional dress code that addresses hair color and styles, shoes, socks or other hosiery, jewelry, cosmetics, and/or any other accessories.
Read the dress code thoroughly, as in multiple times, and take notes. That may seem like a slightly over-the-top suggestion, but really, it isn’t. You need to know what sections of the dress code have fuzzier boundaries than the others. Does the dress code not mention hair color? That means you can indulge in unnatural dyes, clip-in streaks, or temporary color such as hair chalk or hair mascara. No rules about the socks that are allowed with the uniform? Then go wild with stripes, lace, or Halloween socks all year. Wear a necklace that has some gothy symbol (bats, spiders, the image of a favorite musician or writer, and so on), and make sure it’s long enough that it can be tucked into your shirt if needed. Paint your nails black, draw little bats on your arm with markers, or decorate your school bag with buttons and patches for your favorite bands, books, and movies.
Why yes, all of these suggestions are on the subtle side. Let’s face it, Snarklings: school dress codes are an annoying fact of life, and displaying your ‘everyday is Halloween’ lifestyle, while important, is almost certainly not worth your getting expelled over.
Thing the Third, which ties into Thing the Second: Make sure you are aware of all the rules and the specific language of the rules. When (probably not “if”, sadly) a teacher or school administrator decides to make you a target, you can refer to whatever rule they claim you are breaking and defend yourself. If there is any vagueness to the language, take advantage of it. Make the school officials explain what they mean by “no distracting clothing” or “no jewelry”, because the Lady of the Manners is willing to bet at least one pair of pointy-toed boots that there are a few of your more “normal-looking” classmates who are breaking those rules, too.
However, don’t fall into the trap of “But so-and-so is totally breaking that rule, too!” as a defense. Well, don’t use that immediately as a defense. Ask the teacher or school official to spell out exactly what dress code rule you are bending or breaking. Only mention other, perhaps less gothy, classmates who are also getting around those rules if you can give specific examples of how the rule isn’t being applied evenly to everyone.
Thing the Fourth: Talk to your parents about the dress code, preferably before you are lectured about any infractions against it. Explain to them the parts of the dress code you don’t agree with, and the parts that you may be thinking about edging around the boundaries of. While the Lady of the Manners doesn’t like pointing this out, be aware that your parents may dismiss your frustrations with the dress code, or tell you that you shouldn’t be wasting your time and efforts on it when there are more important things to be focusing on, such as what’s being taught at school. If they do this, try to stay as calm as you possibly can and explain to them why being able to express yourself through fashion is important to you. (As an aside, telling your parents that you need to do this because you’re a Goth is not exactly a good explanation.)
Yes, this ties into the whole Talking To Your Parents notion that the Lady of the Manners is always going on about. But look at it this way: it is better to prepare and warn your parents for the idea that you might be having some heated discussions with authority figures at your school, rather than bringing home one of those always-awkward official letters.
In the end, there may be nothing you really can do to circumvent the dreaded school dress code. Saying this makes the Lady of the Manners feel a little sad, and a tiny bit like a hypocrite, because the Lady of the Manners didn’t have to deal with these sorts of annoying restrictions when she was in school. She has been able to structure her life so she can dress in the style that makes her happy. But it’s a very different world now, and school boards cling to the belief that limiting expressions of personal style will reduce the bullying problem. (The Lady of the Manners strongly believes that mandatory classes on communication, empathy, and learning how to politely interact with people even if you don’t want to ever be friends with them would do a lot more to reduce the bullying problem, but the Lady of the Manners is a bit of an idealist about such things.)
Because this is one of the topics that always comes up, the Lady of the Manners is going to open up the comment section! Yes, share your stories and tips about dealing with school dress code nonsense, and show each other some support. Just like always, the comments are going to be moderated, so be polite, and don’t fret if it takes a little while for your comment to appear.