DEVILS LAKE, N.D. – It’s no stretch to say the issue of yoga pants, leggings and tights has become a hot topic here.

A recent meeting on the dress code addressing those items of clothing attracted national attention, with a critical post on the Gawker website.

Students who wear such form-fitting attire were shown a clip or clips at the dress code meeting from the R-rated 1990 movie “Pretty Woman,” a move meant to illustrate how clothing choices affect people’s perceptions.

Critics said it compared the students to prostitutes. That wasn’t the meaning intended, Superintendent Scott Privratsky said Tuesday.

“It could have been approached differently, in hindsight,” he said.

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“Was there a clip from “Pretty Woman”? Yes. Was that the best way to portray (the message)? No,” Privratsky said.

While some reports have said yoga pants, leggings and tights are banned in Devils Lake schools, they’re not prohibited outright. The policy in the Devils Lake student handbook says they “must be appropriately covered by other clothing,” Privratsky said. “So they aren’t so revealing.”

The intentions of the assistant principal and the female staff member who visited with the students “were good. It was to talk about appropriate school attire. It wasn’t the intention to draw any references to students acting like hookers or prostitutes or anything like that,” he said.

Privratsky added “there may have been a comment that was made that I believe will be retracted by that staff member and apologized for,” though he declined to be more specific about which staff member or the comment made.

Some reports claimed an administrator told the students tight uncovered pants or leggings can be distracting to teachers and other students.

The superintendent said Devils Lake staff will meet with the school’s female students today after an assembly to make clear the message they had meant to convey, Privratsky said.

A skirmish between students and administrators over what is appropriate clothing to wear at school is nothing new, but it’s not the first time leggings have posed an issue for school officials in the region. 

While policies at local Fargo-Moorhead districts don’t directly address skin-tight leggings or similar articles of clothing, two area private schools have specific provisions relating to below-the-waist attire.

 

Fashion is fickle

 

Young people have long chafed at restrictions on dress and what is considered appropriate apparel.

Holly Bastow-Shoop, the head of the apparel, design and hospitality management department at North Dakota State University, said she grew up in western Massachusetts at a time when standards were a tad tighter.

“We used to be made to get down on our knees and made to go home if our skirts didn’t touch the floor,” Bastow-Shoop said.

She said some twin girls from Minnesota had transferred to her school and made the mistake of wearing pants to school when the weather got cold. Back then, in that part of Massachusetts, pants on girls was a no-no.

“They were sent home,” Bastow-Shoop said.

Parochial schools and schools around the world have long used uniforms to avoid fashion flubs and to remove social status from what is worn, Bastow-Shoop said.

Ann Braaten, a professor who teaches about dress and human behavior, history of fashion, and pattern design at NDSU, says fashion is cyclical and fickle.

“It just changes based on people’s interests and perceptions,” Braaten said. “It’s hard to point fingers at anybody because one person’s fashion is another person’s horror.”

In general, she said people need to use common sense.

“You don’t wear your gymnastics outfit into the classroom,” Braaten said.

Community standards change, too, she said.

“When I was in school, the mini-skirts had to be the length of the fingertips if your arms were held to your body,” Braaten said.

In the 1980s, the “Madonna wannas” would wear crop tops and short skirts. The punk look offered ripped jeans that could give a view of the wearer’s underwear, Braaten said.

Camisoles used to be worn under a blouse to cover underwear. Now they’re used as a blouse, Braaten said.

In the late-1990s and 2000s, low-rise pants and crop tops revealing bare midriffs had elders fuming. And in the past few years, deeply cut blouses, “showing too much of a woman’s charms” set off alarms, Braaten said.

For guys, saggy pants belted below the buttocks with boxer shorts showing were banned in many schools, as well as anything showing signs of gang affiliation, she said.

What is fashionable and acceptable evolves, Braaten said.

“We have an appreciation for sports clothing that filtering through our fashion, and what is considered common attire to wear,” she said. “It’s so confusing. There’s just so many things people consider OK.”

Fashions in Fargo-Moorhead are not much different from what is seen in New York City, she said. And even though Los Angeles is much more body-conscious, “the stuff that shops sell here, is not that far behind.”

What it comes down to is a generational perception.

Children are much more in tune with what’s being shown at the malls, movies and television, than the older people making the rules, Braaten said.

The tight pants are sending messages to older people that younger people aren’t respecting their sensibilities, she said.

 

Local policies

 

Two years ago, a high school principal in Minnetonka, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis, caused a commotion when he urged parents to ask their daughters to cover up the increasingly trendy leggings and yoga pants.

But it hasn’t publicly emerged as a problem in Fargo-Moorhead.

The Blessed John Paul II Catholic Schools Network in Fargo has a uniform policy that doesn’t include yoga pants or leggings.

In the Fargo, West Fargo, Moorhead and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton public school districts, students are reminded to wear clothing that is clean and not a distraction to the learning environment. But there are no specific mentions of yoga pants, leggings or tights in those policies.

Two private schools do mention yoga pants and leggings in their dress codes.

Park Christian School in Moorhead’s policy allows yoga pants as long as a shirt is worn long enough to cover the buttocks; leggings may be worn under a standard length skirt or dress, Vice Principal Michael LaVang said.

Oak Grove Lutheran School’s policy prohibits yoga pants or other tight-fitting “spandex” pants.

Leggings and tights can be worn in black, navy, blue or white and only under skirts or shorts at the Fargo school.

“We just didn’t want yoga pants anymore. It’s kind of old news with us.” Oak Grove spokesman Steve Rezac said.

Meanwhile, Privratsky said he and his staff have gotten some positive feedback on the dress code stance, which isn’t changing.

But he muses some things could be done differently. Perhaps, it would be right to include young men when talking about appropriate dress, he said.

“Can we do things better in the future, I think so,” Privratsky said.

 

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

 

The particulars on pants

Looking to get a leg up on talking about elastic fashion? Here are some definitions:

  • Yoga pants are flexible, form-fitting pants designed for yoga and other activities that involve a lot of movement, bending and stretching, such as martial artsdancing, Pilates, aerobics, etc. They are made of cotton, spandex, nylon, polyester or other light and stretchy synthetics giving them a smooth, silk-like finish when worn.
  •  Leggings are a skin-tight garment that covers the legs and that can be worn by both men and women. Modern leggings are typically made from a blend of lycra (spandex), nyloncotton, or a polyester blend, but they can also be made from woolsilk and other materials. They are sometimes worn fully exposed, but are more traditionally worn partially covered by a garment such as a skirt, a large T-shirt, shorts, or fully covered by a full-length skirt
  •  Tights are a cloth garment, most often sheathing the body from the waist to the toe tips with a tight fit. Tights have a history going back centuries, when they were worn by men. Today, they are worn primarily by women and girls and some men and boys. Athletic tights are considered unisex. The difference between pantyhose and tights is determined in the weight of the yarn used and the thickness to which the garment is knitted.