Blazers push the limits of the dress code
Junior Lisa Francois is X-rated, or so say the words stamped across her T-shirt. While the shirt calls to mind explicit content and visions of the illicit trifecta of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, Francois wears it because her mother bought it for her — besides, she thinks it's cute.
In her quest to look good, Francois is one of many Blazers successfully testing the Blair dress code, which offers little governance toward the new wave of implicitly suggestive clothing. The dress code, as outlined in the Blair planbook, prohibits "clothing which advertises or advocates the use of tobacco, drugs, alcohol or weapons, or which has contents of a sexual nature or profanity." But in a retail marker increasingly geared to teen spending — teenagers spent $159 billion last year, according to Teenage Research Unlimited — popular retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister have put a risqué spin on the traditional T-shirt, selling a series of popular and increasingly explicit shirts with suggestive messages and images, all in order to appeal to teenage consumers.
"Open to try any position"
The shirts sold at stores like Hollister are marketed towards adolescents looking to test the limits of taste. They can be amusing — like the one that reads "Under the competent and skilled protection of the Redondo Beach party patrol" — but frequently veer into a gray area of implicitly sexual puns. Hollister sells a series of young men's T-shirts that center on one large word, such as "Jump," followed by a phrase in smaller letters, like "If you're wearing a miniskirt." For girls, Wet Seal offers even more blatantly sexual apparel, including a cheetah- print shirt that reads "Promiscuous Girl."
Research analyst Kevin Kin believes that these stores find success with these shirts because the T-shirts are only supplementary to other products, such as jeans. "T-shirts are important, but they don't really have a big impact on sales," he says.
Junior Will Delgado sees nothing wrong with buying these suggestive shirts. He himself has a shirt that reads "Open to try any position" — a phrase he found amusing, although he admits that the shirt could be interpreted in different ways. "Everyone has different opinions. It could be about sports," he says.
When his friends start laughing, Delgado grins sheepishly. "No, he's open to try any sexual position," his friends crow. Delgado shrugs. So far, he has not been told by administrators that his shirt is inappropriate.
For other Blazers, style outweighs compliance with the dress code. Wearing a shirt that reads "Please come again," junior Christian Torrenegra says the trendy inside-out look of his shirt is more important than what it actually says.
Torrenegra does not think the message on his shirt is overtly sexual, and he has not been approached by an administrator about it. In the past, though, Torrenegra wore a shirt with a cactus on it and was confronted by a teacher, who thought it was a marijuana plant. These inconsistencies in enforcement of the dress code have led some to question the policies.
Assistant Principal Patricia Hurley admits discrepancies in dress code enforcement. "Sometimes teachers are not consistent, or they do not take the time to read T-shirts," she says. "I try to read shirts as kids walk by, but sometimes [the student and I] have different opinions." When she patrols the hallways or SAC at lunch, Hurley makes sure to look at as many Blazers as possible, even those who are bundled up in coats or slumping down in their seats.
Some students believe that most of the time, teachers do not take decisive action when they see a suggestive T-shirt. Francois remembers being approached by a teacher when she wore her "X-rated" shirt. "She said, 'That's a cute shirt, but is it appropriate for school?'" Francois recalls. The teacher did not send her to an administrator or make her change her shirt, so Francois plans to wear it again.
Francois does not offer an explanation for the phrase on her shirt, but her friends volunteer guesses. "It means explicit!" says one. Francois glares at her. Another girl remarks that it means exclusive, but Francois maintains that she wears it because she likes the look.
While Hurley believes that teachers should be more consistent in enforcing rules, she also says students should know what is appropriate for school. Hurley says students wearing suggestive clothing are asked to turn their shirts inside out, cover up with a jacket, find replacement clothing or, in extreme cases, go home and change. However, the difficulties administrators face in enforcing the dress code mean students can get away with wearing more offensive, even violent, T-shirts.
"It's worth a shot"
Violent or drug-related T-shirts have grown in popularity as students continue to toe the line between the suggestive and illicit and blatantly offensive. Wet Seal, for example, offers a shirt for girls with a picture of a shot glass under the words "It's worth a shot."
Junior Eddie Montanaez owns three shirts inspired by the gangster film "Scarface." Wearing one with a close-up of Al Pacino in character smoking a cigar, Montanaez describes the appeal of the shirt. "He's the coolest gangster around," he says. "He's a little crazy, but I can wear the shirt without approving of the things he does." Montanaez's other shirts depict Scarface wielding a gun and smoking. More than once, teachers have told him not to wear violent apparel, but he simply puts on his jacket to cover up the offending shirt.
Freshman Efrain Buitron is less subtle — he wears his love of gory movies on his chest, literally. He recently purchased a shirt that pictured a knife-wielding Chucky, the notorious doll from a series of horror films with the same name. "It just looks cool. I doubt it could provoke violence," he says. "It's just my personal style."
But Montanaez knows how to draw the line between tongue-in-cheek suggestions and blatant violations of the dress code. "One of my friends came in with a huge pot leaf on his chest," he says. "I was like, 'Okay, I can see how that's distracting.'" His friend was forced to change his shirt, and has not worn it since.
Violent or drug-related T-shirts, as Montanaez suggests, are easier to spot than implicitly sexual apparel. But as they become fashionable, administrators are having a more difficult time in consistently enforcing the policy.
"Make '07 up yours"
Senior Maggie Sullivan unwittingly fashioned an administrator's dress code nightmare simply by creating a class T-shirt. It began as a fairly innocuous dilemma: She didn't want to have another boring senior T-shirt to symbolize the class of 2007. "I was tired of seeing [lame] shirts every year because the SGA has taken over to make their own shirts," Sullivan says. "I was pretty sure they wouldn't approve my idea, so I decided to make them on my own."
After some brainstorming, Sullivan came up with a parody of the 7-Up soft drink's advertising slogan: "Make '07 Up Yours."
Sullivan's design consists of a naked Blazer on the front, under the words "Make '07." The back features the words "Up Yours" printed above a rear view of the Blazer, who has the numbers '08, '09 and '10 clustered around his backside. With the help of her mother, who used to be a silk screener, Sullivan began selling the T-shirts out of her home. Her friends were enthusiastic, and she has already sold 72 of them.
While she says the official senior T-shirts are "bland and boring," Sullivan thinks her shirts are funny. The main criticism of her shirts has come from the SGA, which loses money when students opt to buy Sullivan's design. Proceeds from the official shirts go to benefit prom and other end of the year celebrations. However, Sullivan plans on giving all the money she raises to the SGA in order to help finance the prom.
Hurley and other administrators see Sullivan's T-shirts as negative examples of class divisions and give a poor representation of the class. "I think it's too bad that the seniors feel that they need to make that statement," she says. "I mean, teenagers are teenagers, and spirit is good, but seniors are the ones setting the example."
But Sullivan, like many other Blazers, refuses to let the dress code detract from personal expression. "It's senior year," she says. "We've got to have fun."
Becca Sausville. Becca is a senior who is keeping the dinosaur dream alive. She loves Silver Chips a lot, possibly more than life itself. More »