original nytimes article: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract. ... 94D0494D81
By JONATHAN RABINOVITZ
April 3, 1998
New York Times
Max Lombardo was disturbed last week when a friend, Bryan Giles, showed up at school in a long peasant dress with a plunging neckline.
''It was tacky,'' Mr. Lombardo said. ''Purple, yellow, weird colors, flowers and butterflies.''
Nowhere near as tasteful, insisted Mr. Lombardo, a 6-foot-3-inch sophomore, as the wraparound Indian-print skirt that he borrowed from his mother and wore to school Tuesday in a show of solidarity with Mr. Giles, who says he simply feels comfortable in a dress.
But school officials failed to see anything stylish in their sartorial statements: both of them, as well as two other students wearing women's clothes, were suspended from Middletown High School, the latest victims in the never-ending teen-age struggle to challenge the limits of acceptable attire.
But the move provoked an outcry in this city of 44,000 just south of Hartford, and the school backed down. Officials cut short the suspensions of the four male students who had donned skirts and dresses, and civil libertarians hailed the students' return to school this morning as a small victory for a movement that equates freedom of expression with the a boy's right to wear fishnets and a mini to school.
''My algebra teacher treated me like a celebrity,'' said Mr. Giles, a 17-year-old junior who has a curl of Big-Bird-yellow dye in his black hair and plays bass in a band called Cadaver. ''I feel that I had the right to do it, and I'll do it again,'' he added, though today he wore baggy jeans with giant cuffs and a long chain leading from his belt to his back pocket.
School officials today maintained that they had acted properly by suspending the students and said they would do the same again. David Larson, superintendent of the Middletown schools, cited a Supreme Court decision that gives school officials the right to discipline any student whose attire is considered disruptive.
Dr. Larson added that Mr. Giles had crossed the boundary of acceptable dress when he stuffed tissue paper down his front, though the school chief added that the dress alone was reason enough to suspend him. ''We don't want to create a carnival-like atmosphere in our school,'' Dr. Larson said.
Mr. Giles said that he had put the tissue paper inside his dress only briefly and that he was puzzled because on other occasions when he wore a dress -- or even a priest's robe -- to school, his choice of wardrobe drew no discipline.
The dispute began eight days ago, on a Wednesday, when Mr. Giles wore the purple and yellow peasant dress. After the principal, Robert E. Kozaczka, demanded that he remove it, he changed clothes. A few hours later, Mr. Giles put the dress back on and was given a three-day suspension.
When Mr. Giles returned from his suspension Tuesday, he wore a denim skirt, and at least eight other students put on dresses and skirts to support him. They were joined in their protest by as many as 12 girls, who wore business suits and ties.
The four male students who refused to change clothes were suspended, with three of them getting three-day suspensions and Mr. Giles getting a five-day suspension.
''The Middletown school definitely overreacted,'' said Joseph S. Grabarz, executive director of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, who added that this case had less to do with ''disruption of school'' than about administrators' own discomfort about men wearing dresses.
''They wouldn't react the same way to a cheerleader wearing a football jersey,'' he said.
Outside his apartment this afternoon, Bryan Giles did not talk about the First Amendment or whether the Constitution protected his choice of clothing. Mr. Giles said that he liked skateboarding, playing in his band and talking to his girlfriend, that he was a C student and that he worked a job after school serving food at a nearby college.
''I feel comfortable wearing a dress,'' he said. ''It's just something I like to do. I make sure it isn't trashy and looks cool.''
Still, the friends who wore dresses to support him do not view it as a new fashion craze. ''I'm not going to wear one again,'' Mr. Lombardo said. But, he remarked, he was a little surprised at the response he got when he wore the skirt over over a pair of cut-off shorts. ''A lot of girls told me I looked really good in it,'' he said.