Parent’s Dress Code
Don’t wear ‘Juicy’ across your butt

By Victoria Goldman

Dressing for success at your private school can be a no-brainer. “But, you don’t want to be remembered for what you’re wearing,” warns one parent whose children have attended several private schools and has been to hundreds of school functions. 

Although dress is a highly personal thing — it’s the way you present yourself to the world — when you’re at school you absolutely don’t want others impression of you to be a function of what you have on. “Dress for Success” guides agree, expounding that the purpose of your dress is to fit in and to keep the focus away from what you’re wearing and on the purpose of your meetings or visits.

Even so, JIL’s seen it all, from men in skirts and tight black leather jackets to women with uber-expensive handbags, blazers and jackets wearing diamonds the size of small eggs.

Trying to convey social status through dress is never a good idea, and can often hurt your child.  “It’s better to leave expensive accessories at home,” says the savvy parent. The downside of being flashy can backfire when you try to communicate with faculty, coaches or anyone else who works at the school. These professionals often aren’t interested in such items and overexposure is a big turn off. And, don’t believe anyone who tells you that they don’t care or don’t notice.

As a parent, you’re representing your child and you want to dress in a clean and simple way for most all school functions.  Naturally, the annual benefit may require a little bit more—higher heels for moms and a suit for dad—but for the most part, dressing down or as you would for a regular business day or board meeting is always a win-win.

Always consider the style of the school. Smaller single-sex schools tend to have a more formal atmosphere, so parents should dress conservatively—ties and jacket for dads and slacks or skirts, no jeans or sweats for moms.  For many of the larger co-ed schools, dads often, but not always, need not wear ties or jackets and moms can wear jeans to many events.

There is never an instance when parents should dress like their children.  Never be seen wearing “Juicy” across your butt, or wearing an Abercrombie or J. Crew T-shirt, sweatshirt, flip-flops, or carrying a Jan Sport or Northface backpack.

A good handbag can help make up for being underdressed though.  For moms who aren’t in the mainstream work force, often running between home, workouts, a myriad of appointments, other commitments, or who have an unusual occupation, and don’t have time to change their clothes before heading to school events, sometimes a good handbag can carry an outfit.  Hint: Try not to sport the Fordesque Birkin Bag (ultra popular among wealthy, showy moms).  The Birkin is the wildly priced Hermes handbag that’ll set you back least $5,000, or in a skin more like $10,000.  Or, any other bag with an obvious well-known designer logo and similar sky high sticker price.  It’s much better to sport a lower-profile bag without a label, something that’s just plain well made.

Standing on the sidelines or sitting in the bleachers naturally require more casual attire than attending a concert, play, exhibit, conference, graduation or any other parent event. Moreover, sitting at a swim meet where temperatures can inch north of ninety in the middle of winter can be tricky.  Many peel off layers of winter wool and fleece to survive the heat and humidity, others merely melt. Sweats are fine and so are clogs or sneakers, but no tank tops or shorts, please. 

For other sports or activities, mainly held outdoors or in gyms, cafeterias, classrooms, or common rooms, parents are either layered beneath down jackets and hats, scarves and gloves, or in sweaters, sweatshirts, jeans, khakis, boots, loafers, or sneakers.

Ivy League or other college garb, perhaps except for umbrellas out of sheer necessity, can be a real fashion faux pas if your child is a senior in the midst of the college admissions process, or a junior about to start touring college campuses and taking SATs.  Tensions run high as the competition to get into certain colleges is tough, kids are sensitive and feelings raw, so why rub it in? So, try not to wear your Princeton sweatshirt to homecoming. It’s a better idea to wear your Horace Mann, if that’s your kid’s school. You can, however, affix a decal to the rear window of your car.

“Basically, the bottom line,” concludes the private school parent is, “No rags or tags,” she chuckles. And, to ask yourself, “Are you working at IBM or a boutique-type firm?”  Different schools may have different cultures and that’s conveyed in the way the parent’s dress, but to be understated and simple is always the best way to go.”