Dress to distress

Though it occurred some years ago, history teacher Nini Halkett still remembers sitting in the lower part of the lunch area and glancing towards the top half when she saw a girl wearing a particularly short skirt. The student scratched her “hip” and her skirt hitched up enough that “I could see her bare bottom. I guess she was wearing a thong or maybe no underwear, but I could literally see her butt cheeks. I was like ‘Did I just see what I just saw?’ I just thought, ‘Oh my god. Don’t do that.’ ”

Though most students don’t get dressed in the morning with the thought, “What will my teachers think?” teachers do form opinions on students based on the way they dress.
“It would be unrealistic to think that you’re not being assessed based on how you present yourself,” History Department Chair Katherine Holmes-Chuba said.

If something is inappropriate or particularly odd, teachers will take note.
More than anything, Halkett feels concerned when she sees female students wearing clothing that is too revealing.

“It would bother me that girls would feel like they have to wear that kind of clothing in order to be attractive to boys,” she said. “They’re trying too hard.” 

“Girls sometimes talk to me complaining that ‘Guys are such pigs’ because they stare at their breasts while talking to them,” counselor Luba Bek said.

“Well, if the breasts were not on display, there would be no reason for the guys to stare. If guys’ private parts were on display while they were talking to the girls, the girls would be distracted too, wouldn’t they?”

“If you choose to wear revealing clothing, then you have to work extra hard to show that you’re serious about getting work done,” Spanish teacher Margot Riemer said.

“I’ve asked some girls that were wearing low cut shirts or really short skirts to put on a T-shirt that we keep in the back of the geology room,” science teacher Dietrich Schuhl said. “That was a very uncomfortable situation.”

To avoid that uncomfortable feeling, English teacher Heath Moon wouldn’t approach a female student if they were dressed inappropriately.

Though Moon wouldn’t remark on a female’s clothing choice, he has repeatedly asked boys “to hike up pants that drop below the ‘50-yard line.’”

Wearing pants that are loose enough that a boy’s underwear is showing, or “sagging” as it is commonly referred to, is the most obvious form of inappropriate attire to teachers because teachers simply don’t want to see their students’ underwear.

“It’s unsightly,” Moon said. “I don’t know how they walk.”

Though Riemer finds the visibility of underwear inappropriate, she also notes, “I’ve had students who wear baggy pants do very well in my classes. They just wear baggy pants.”

If a girl is revealing too much skin, then it should seem obvious that she is dressed inappropriately for school, and she could offend one of her teachers, or even classmates.

But Holmes-Chuba is also perturbed by students’ constant need to follow trends and appreciates students with more alternative apparel.

“I find that I really like the kids who are punk rock because at least they’re doing something different,” she said. If a student has many piercings, “I’m intrigued more than anything.”

Halkett agrees, noting that a student with lots of piercings “wants to distinguish themselves from the crowd and be an individual. That’s fine with me.”

Riemer, on the other hand, is more put off by the punk look.

If a student has multiple piercings, “that would make me wonder what kind of environment the student lives in outside of school,” she said. “It makes me worry a little bit about drug use and things that are destructive.”

Though Moon finds boys dressed inappropriately more often than girls, Halkett and Schuhl disagree.

 Inappropriate attire is “mostly when it comes to girls,” Schuhl said. “Let’s just say it gets a little bit risque sometimes.”

The showy manner in which some students present themselves, clad in expensive brand names, will most likely bother other students, but to a much lesser extent will it bother teachers.

Halkett’s daughter, Ashley ’09 frequently comments on the brand names students wear, but Halkett rarely notices.

Moon notices the opposite of extravagant attire most often: “beatnik” attire as he calls it, particularly ripped jeans.

Whenever he and his wife pass by a high-end boutique selling torn blue jeans, he stops and exclaims, “Oh look, it’s a Harvard-Westlake uniform shop,” he said.

“A kid probably paid $200 for those jeans, and I think he’s crazy,” Riemer said.

Moon, who joined the school last year, admits that when he first arrived he was a little dumbfounded by students’ appearances, especially all the grungy, tattered clothing.
“I thought, what is this?”

He believes that students dress casually because they are “reluctant to show they come from well-off families. It’s a strategy of breaking down class barriers.”

Though students interact with their teachers on an academic level, not on a physical one, Moon notes, “I enjoy teasing students about the way they dress, but I enjoy teasing students about all kinds of things.”