The tartan cover-up

12th September 2003 at 01:00
No school dress code is safe from the subversive influence of the teen girl's need to be drop dead gorgeous, says Deedee Cuddihy

have seen the future of school uniforms in Scotland and it's tartan . . .

tartan shirts, that is. Although I have never been in favour of school uniforms, for reasons I cannot really pin down, I began to wonder last year if they might be a good thing after all.

That's because it was taking my teenage daughter at least an hour every morning to decide what to wear. Her whole wardrobe would end up on the bedroom floor and still (according to her) nothing looked right.

As the temperature rose during the summer term, the tops got skimpier and the jeans got lower and, although my daughter often left the house exposing more flesh than Christine Aguilera, I was so relieved to see her go I didn't dare say anything in case it sparked off another frenzy of outfit changing.

But I did mention it to the guidance teacher when she phoned, yet again, to ask why a pupil who lived so close to the school was always so late. "It's the clothes," I explained and added that being surrounded by half-naked girls (my daughter wasn't the only one) must be making her male colleagues feel a little uncomfortable.

"You would think so," she replied, "especially when you see how short some of the skirts are; it's almost indecent. But if they admitted they felt uncomfortable, it would mean they'd noticed and then you might get accused of being a pervert."

A couple of weeks later, during a chance meeting at the school with the headteacher, I learned that they had decided to enforce a "dress code" in August.

I jokingly mentioned the half-naked girls again but apparently even headteachers are not allowed to acknowledge their existence because he immediately launched into a spiel about the need to build a community within a school whose pupils came from so many different communities. (Many of whom, I knew, would have stayed in those communities if their own schools had not been closed down and turned into "luxury" flats.) "And within those geographical communities," he continued, "you have smaller groups who define themselves by what they wear - the 'moshers' and the 'goths' and the ones with different brands of track suit." At that point, he waved his arms to indicate the boys who were milling around in front of us beside the school gates. And they were wearing the most amazing variety of outfits.

"It's all about power," one of my teacher friends from another school later told me. "Before we brought in a dress code, you had kids wearing football tops which introduced an element of sectarianism into a non-denominational environment, and gang members wearing different types of track suit which were like a uniform but not sanctioned by the senior management team. The dress code put us back in control. It also means that kids who are not pupils cannot wander in to cause trouble and not be noticed.

But would he ever check a female pupil for exposing a lot of flesh? "Never," he replied. "From a male teacher it could be interpreted as sexual innuendo."

So I began to warm to the idea of a dress code, especially when I realised it was bound to put an end to all that frantic trying on of clothes in the morning.

Sadly, this has not been the case. If anything, it is now taking my daughter even longer to get herself ready for school. As she explained to me, it is harder to make an outfit look fashionable when you have a more limited wardrobe to work with.

What is even worse, she has moved from what could be described as a raunchy look to something that might be found on the top shelf at the newsagents.

My - male - teacher friend does not understand my discomfort but my daughter does. When she is out on the street now in her fashionably short skirt, tight white shirt and absurd regulation tie, she says men look at her in a "weird, pervy way. It's like they're not seeing me, they're seeing the outfit."

Which is where the tartan shirt comes in. Here is a practical, comfortable, colourful garment that would not only cover bare flesh, football tops and track suit jackets but would also celebrate our national heritage and revitalise the Scottish textile industry, all at the same time.

But it will probably never happen. As my daughter pointed out, a tartan shirt could never be fashionable - or sexy.

Deedee Cuddihy is a freelance writer.

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