, Derry, New Hampshire


October 24, 2013

Column: Pinkerton dress codes have changed with the times

I read in the newspaper that Pinkerton Academy is once again trying to decide on what their students should wear on campus. At a parent meeting Headmaster Mary Anderson tried to sell the proposed change in policy by saying that the so called Unified Dress Code does not prescribe what a student can wear; instead it would simply “narrow down the options.” Most people I suspect would describe the new student garb as being somewhere between “preppie” and “country club classic.”

The battle over teenage clothing has been going on for decades. Usually the squabble centers on the expense of “special” school clothes and the kid’s right of self expression versus the school’s need to maintain decorum and to foster an appropriate learning environment. I don’t suppose the issue of dress codes will ever be settled to everybody’s satisfaction. I really don’t have a dog in this fight but I will help frame the debate by offering a brief history of dress codes at the academy.

As least as far back as the Civil War, there seems to have been a dress code at Pinkerton. I’m unsure if the “code” was in writing but it certainly existed. Boys always wore dress shirts and neckties. The younger boys wore knickerbockers until they were about 15 years old. The change from short pants to trousers was a kind of rite-of-passage signaling the movement from childhood to being a young adult. Similarly the younger girls wore tea-length dresses which came just below their knees and wore their hair in braids or allowed it to flow loosely down their back. By about their sophomore year, the co-eds started to wear ankle length dresses and began to pin their hair high on the top of their heads. In truth, the PA kids were pretty much wearing the same style of clothes as were their parents. All men — the blacksmith, the shoe factory worker, and the street sweeper — wore ties to work and all ladies wore long dresses.

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