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Weekly Alibi Dress for Success?

Even Teachers Need to Look the Part

By Cap'n O

OCTOBER 13, 1997:  It was a sight so terrible that I still shudder when I think of it decades later. And that's most of the time because it was seared into my mind, and there it remains, robbing me of productivity during the day and of sleep at night.

There was no warning. A classmate and I were crawling around the floor in kindergarten one day while waiting for our teacher, an old German woman, to read to the class. She sat on a chair in the middle of the room. Suddenly I looked up and there it was--a massive white girdle, complete with hooks, straps, snaps and whatever underneath her skirt!

I pounded my classmate's arm and pointed. He looked. There was no laughter. We were traumatized. The sight forever altered our lives. In later years when classmates urged us to look up girls' dresses, we trembled and suffered silently the taunts that we were "different." As teens and young adults, we declined to date females out of fear that we would encounter that thing underneath their dresses. Inevitably, we were seized with the fear that torments young men, that maybe we were different.

I reveal this painful episode to point out the need in the public schools for dress codes for teachers. Albuquerque Public Schools has a student dress code, and now some APS board members want one for teachers. Many teachers and their union representatives are resisting. They shouldn't.

Some APS teachers are showing up to class in short-shorts, tank tops, pants with holes and other garments that fall short of giving them a professional appearance. If kids have to dress decently, so should teachers.

Believe me, no one knows better than I that how one dresses is unrelated to job performance. There's no correlation between the two whatsoever. A carpenter can pound nails and a plumber can loosen pipes whether dressed in coveralls or short-shorts. A bank teller can count money whether outfitted in a business suit or in spiked heels, black mesh stockings, leather mini-skirt, see-through blouse, no bra and fluorescent pink lipstick.

Just because an undertaker comes to services wearing a clown costume doesn't mean he can't embalm a stiff. Police officers can write tickets, chase crooks and shoot people while adorned in their uninspiring, dark blue uniforms or in gaily colored dancing tights.

If a lawyer goes to court in boxing shorts, so what? Nothing says that one's grasp of and ability to argue constitutional law increases in direct proportion to the number of pinstriped suits one owns. And I would never doubt the ability of a president who walked around in dirty, wrinkled shirts and torn pants to carry out his presidential duties. You don't need a pressed shirt and expensive suit to launch a nuclear first strike.

No, how one dresses has nothing to with how one does a job. But how one dresses does have an impact on others. The undertaker in a clown outfit might rattle off some great prayers. But the family of the deceased might view his attire as disrespectful in the face of their grief. The spike-heeled, braless bank teller could be a whiz at math, but people who gave her money--especially horny men--would expect more than a smile and a receipt from the transaction. The fact is, in the real world it does matter how you dress. And when you're in the business of educating kids, you need to teach them about the real world. Showing up to work dressed like slobs or hookers sends them the wrong message. It can also be distracting and, as in my case, traumatizing.

That German teacher was an excellent reader. But her dress was inappropriate attire for someone who was going to sit on a chair in front of a bunch of kids on the floor. And it ruined me for life. It robbed me of my manliness. Because even now I get the nervous shakes when I look up a woman's dress.

--Cap'n O


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