Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Leggings off limits in St. B high school

Form-fitting tights don't make the grade

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They've become the latest front in the fashion war over what kids can and can't wear in school across North America.

Body-hugging leggings aren't just turning heads and raising eyebrows, they are also making headlines from Minnesota to Halifax to Vermont as schools are banning the trendy tights.

Apparently what was fashionable in Tudor times is now deemed inappropriate when it comes to the form-fitting fashion statements.

According to the St. Boniface Diocesan High School Parent and Student Handbook, "tights, leggings, yoga pants... are not to be worn in the place of pants."

The Dubuc Street school for students from grades nine to 12 also outlaws "clothing that is excessively baggy or tight" and says "physically revealing or provocative" dress isn't allowed. It prohibits short-shorts for girls and boys, as well as "extreme hairstyles."

"Each of our schools works with the parent community to create a dress code or a uniform, whatever the parents choose," said Robert Praznik, director of education for the Archdiocese of Winnipeg Catholic schools.

The principal of a Minneapolis-area school didn't mince words in an email late last year to parents, sparked by the trend of wearing leggings without having a sweatshirt or sweater to help cover their skin-tight nature.

"Some of our girls have chosen to wear T-shirts with the leggings, thus exposing more leg and backside area. This can be highly distracting for other students and I am asking for your assistance,'' Dave Adney, principal of Minnetonka High School wrote.

One of the leading retailers of leggings can't understand all the fashion fuss.

"I think it is appropriate for girls to wear leggings," said Emma Dux, manager of American Apparel on Osborne Street.

"I don't necessarily think it would reflect poorly on anybody if they did... but I can understand how some communities would think it's inappropriate."

Dux said she doesn't think wearing leggings sexualizes women. "I guess it also depends on how they're being worn, too. I mean, are they wearing it with half of a T-shirt or are they wearing it with a sweatshirt?"

Of course, school dress codes are nothing new.

Jodie Layne, founder of Hollaback! Winnipeg, which wants to cut down on street harassment, said she was sent home from school in Grade 6 for wearing a shirt her vice-principal deemed too low-cut.

"I think people should be free to dress the way that they want to dress, as long as they're not causing any harm to another person," said Layne, who said offensive T-shirts could be looked at differently.

"If it's discriminatory or hurting someone in some way, I think obviously there's no place for that in a setting which is supposed to encourage learning, growing... However, somebody wearing leggings does not fall into that category at all, and (that's) a classic case of body-policing and body-shaming."

Paul Olson, president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, said he knew of a school in Manitoba where backpacks were banned years ago. He said he had no comment on the leggings issue, but said elements of some dress codes can be "silly."

"The reality of these things is that sometimes they're useful, sometimes they're quite silly, and honestly, you kind of hope that common sense prevails among the entire school community, and usually it does, and sometimes there's a disagreement," Olson said.

Annick Beauchesne, a 15-year-old fashion blogger, said the decision on whether to wear leggings depends on the leggings and the figure of the individual.

"They can look cute, but sometimes they look sloppy and inappropriate. I think that in some cases, leggings are appropriate, like when they are made of a thicker material and are worn with a longer shirt. If they are too thin, they can be a bit too revealing. Also, in most cases, leggings are not figure-flattering.

"I think that schools should regulate the kinds of leggings that people wear, allowing the thicker kind but not the thin, flimsy kind.

"I'm all for freedom of expression through clothing. However, I think that a modest dress code in schools is important because when young girls are encouraged to dress modestly, they are... being encouraged to respect themselves and not feel like they have to be dressed inappropriately to get attention."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2013 A2

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