Shopping (& sobbing) for back-to-school clothes

This time of year, all across the country, parents quietly weep in department store aisles because they're shopping for new school clothes.

Hang around the mall during back-to-school season and here's what you find: Parent pulls garment off rack and says, "How about this?" Child turns up nose, rolls eyes, snorts, etc… Flustered parent tries repeatedly with same results. Finally, parent surrenders and allows child to make a selection. Parent's reaction: "Oh, my GAWD! Are you kidding me?" Then the process starts over again.

Younger children often can be bought off -- they'll wear anything as long as it's decorated with the proper licensed action figure or Disney character.

But rebellious teens want only those clothes that draw their parents' disapproval. No matter how hip you may be as a parent, your teen will find some garment that turns your stomach. This article of clothing, naturally, becomes the child's absolute favorite.

Conversely, any garment the parent chooses will be deemed way too square and will be hidden under the child's bed until the child outgrows it.

It's always been this way. I remember shopping for clothes with my mom, back in those halcyon days between Woodstock and disco, and it always resulted in a tearful argument. In those days, we kids got our wardrobe cues from our schoolmates, who were quick to let us know when we were dressed like geeks.

(How strong was that peer pressure? Let's just say that I owned a pair of platform shoes, even though I'm already so tall I have to duck through doorways.)

Nowadays, teens look beyond their peers when deciding what is cool. They get their clothing cues from the rock stars on MTV.

For males, this means clothes so baggy that, if the average boy whirls around suddenly, his clothes remain facing the other direction. (This is why so many kids today seem to wear their clothes backward, though it doesn't explain why their baseball caps always point the wrong way.)

For females, current fashion requires the opposite. Their clothes must be so tight that their eyes bulge slightly, giving them that surprised Valley Girl look. A whole generation of young women do not know what it means to be comfortable in a T-shirt. Girls also want bare midriffs and low-slung jeans and giant clunky shoes. They want to look like pop divas, all of whom dress like hookers.

These fashion choices make parents froth at the mouth, which, of course, is the whole point.

But parents have a new ally in the Clothing Wars. Many schools have adopted dress codes that ban outlandish fashions. These dress codes -- aimed at stemming gang activity and classroom distractions -- outlaw "sagging" and bare midriffs and dangerous jewelry.

Parents should carry these dress codes along when they take their kids shopping. They can use them as ammunition when arguing about the appropriateness of giant pants or see-through blouses.

When that doesn't work, parents can use those absorbent pages to wipe away their tears.

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