Unified Dress Code Proposal for Pinkerton Met With Questions

Polo shirts, Pinkerton logos and puzzlement were the order of the night as parents and faculty grappled with how Pinkerton Academy students can and should dress.
The discussion on a Unified Dress Code took place as part of a fall parent meeting Thursday, Sept. 26, in the Stockbridge Theatre. Associate Deans Kevin Yahnian and Wendy Despres facilitated the discussion along with Headmaster Mary Anderson.

Anderson said the issue has been on many administrators’ agendas in recent years. The idea was first floated at Pinkerton before the Freshman Building opened in 2008. At that time, she and Chris Harper, academic dean, researched the concept.
Five years later, they are ready to give it a try.
Anderson emphasized that a Unified Dress Code is different from a uniform. Where a traditional uniform strictly prescribes what a child can wear, a Unified Dress Code “narrows the options,” Anderson said.
“It is specific to what is allowable,” she said. “A dress code focuses on what is not allowed.”
The allowable clothing being discussed include polo shirts, long khaki pants, khaki skirts, khaki shorts and “skorts,” short-and long-sleeved button-down shirts and red or gray cardigans.
Anderson said according to research, a unified dress code would increase class and school pride, eliminate competition as to clothing brands and styles, help students focus more on academics, eliminate loss of instructional time due to dealing with dress code issues, and improve safety and security. With unified dress, she said, faculty, staff, administrators and students will know who’s supposed to be on campus and who isn’t.
Anderson said a parent survey in June showed 55 percent in agreement with a unified dress code.
Yahnian brought several Student Council members onstage for a fashion show. Students included Joe Tagliatela, wearing a polo shirt and shorts; Ally Rugg, in a plaid skirt, white shirt and cardigan; Gabby Guerard, in polo and shorts; Devin McMahon, in polo and khaki skirt; Ryan Cox, in polo and long pants; Ashley Palmer, wearing a button-down shirt and pants; and Russell York, in long pants, sweater vest and shirt. Several faculty members also modeled the clothing, with Harper delighting the crowd with a brief impersonation of Fabio.
Despres took the microphone to talk about options. The school is currently looking at clothing from Land’s End, though no vendor has been selected. Despres said, “As a parent and school employee, I can tell you that this line of clothing has a wide range of styles and sizes – petite, tall, plus sizes. We are trying to accommodate everyone.”
But in the question-and-answer period, parents’ concerns ranged from expense to freedom of expression, and circled back to expense.
Parental notification
Parent D.D. Barker said dress has never been a problem with her two children, one a PA graduate and one a current junior. She had been on the Land’s End website and expressed dismay at the potential cost, saying, “You are asking me to lay out $700 for these clothes?” She said she had created a shopping cart and that was what the recommended items came up to.
Her daughter is not a fan of khakis or polos now, she said. “You’re asking me to revamp her closet for a year. How am I supposed to do that?” she asked. “How is anyone supposed to do that?”
Barker also expressed concern about a 3 percent “kickback” the school was expected to get from ordered clothing. “Pinkerton will make $21 per family, which could be $63,000 in the first year,” she said.
Anderson responded that she had been told by Land’s End that the average expense for one child was $200 to $300. She explained that the “kickback” was actually a fund to help economically disadvantaged families purchase the unified dress code items, and that Land’s End worked with the school to make this possible.
Parent Janice Nash asked why the school had to go through Land’s End. She added, “My daughter would not wear half the clothes in there. You’re asking her to change who she is.”
Anderson responded, “There is room for freedom of expression on nights and weekends.”
Despres said the bottom line hadn’t been worked out yet. “We are very cognizant of parent expense,” she said. “We are working tooth and nail to get you the best quality product at the best possible cost.”
Anderson observed that administrators spend an “exorbitant” amount of time dealing with clothing issues under the current dress code.
In response to a question from parents, Yahnian said that there were 600 dress code infractions written up in 2011-12.
“How many were the same kids?” one woman asked.
“There were several repeat offenders,” Bill Lonergan, a freshman associate dean, said.
Parent Mark Connors asked if they had to have a specific vendor and if it had to be Land’s End. Anderson said they had to have a vendor for a unified dress code, but that it wouldn’t necessarily be Land’s End.
Connors suggested that the school phase in the program.
Parent Karen Norris circled back to cost. “My daughter is a sophomore this year, and she’s very easy-going,” Norris said. “I think I spent $110 on school clothes for this year. To ask us to spend $500 is outrageous. What happens when we can’t afford it?”
Another woman asked if there could be a vote taken. She was greeted with applause.
Yahnian referenced the majority vote in last spring’s survey. The students in a focus group last December were also positive, he said, and “I was pleasantly surprised.”
Student response
Yahnian called the student models back up onstage and asked them their opinions. The Council members were honest but diplomatic. “I think it’s very nice clothing,” Russell York said. “This is a dressy outfit, and not what I’d wear on a daily basis. But I do see kids on campus dressed like this.”
Devin McMahon said, “I want to feel comfortable and confident, and this doesn’t do it.” She gestured to her khaki skirt and polo shirt, and added, “But it would work with more variety.”
Ashley Palmer said she thought it would work with more time and more student input. “There are lots of different body types, different modes of expression,” she said. She wouldn’t necessarily wear her pink button-down and khaki capris to school, but agreed with York that they are “nice clothes.”
“Plaid is not my style,” Ally Rugg said. “But this sweater is comfortable, and I would wear it.” Like Palmer, she called for more student input.
“With input you could make it fashionable, like khakis that are ‘skinny,’” she said.
Joe Taglilatella said, “I can’t honestly say I’d wear this to school. That said, I appreciate what the faculty is doing. Unity is important to us, and having less diversity might unify us more.”
Two parents also called on their peers to be more accountable. One woman said, “If I told my daughter what to wear each day, it would not teach her to think for herself,” she said. “Good kids adhere to the policy. For the ones who don’t, you should hold the parents accountable.”
And parent Walter Nadeau said, “When my daughter leaves the house, she is adhering to the dress code. That’s my job.”