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Fashion fight makes me flip out

By RUTH MARCUS Washington Post
Published May 11, 2007


WASHINGTON - This is the time of year in our house for the Flip-Flop Wars - the perennial battle between my husband, who believes that wearing flip-flops to school is disrespectful and inappropriate, and my 12-year-old daughter, who believes that the Founding Fathers, if they had any fashion sense whatsoever, surely contemplated an inalienable right to flip-flops.

I am - or I've tried to be - a noncombatant in the Global War on Flip-Flops, the Switzerland of Shoes.

On the one foot, I understand my husband's position - what ever happened to saddle shoes? Mary Janes? - if not the depths of his anti-flip-flop animus. And parenthood is by nature a mutual defense pact against a common aggressor (children). It's my pledged marital role to back him up in the event of attack.

On the other foot, as my daughter notes with the calm demeanor of your typical sixth-grader, What is wrong with you people? Have you been to the middle school recently?

And so I have tried to broker what I think of as the Nordstrom Accords.

To wit:

- Party A (Emma) agrees to give up the right to wear cheap plastic flip-flops of the classic beach variety. This concession applies only to school and is not to be construed as an admission of inappropriateness.

- Party B (her father, Jon) allows Party A to wear certain flip-flops of a fancier - or, as Party B would put it, "less trashy" - variety. Said flip-flops are to be worn to school (a) only in the months of April, May and June and (b) only when the weather forecast, as determined by a mutually agreed-on meteorologist, calls for a 25 percent or less chance of rain.

- Party C (me) is to make the initial judgment about whether a pair of flip-flops selected by Party A meets the test agreed to by Party B, although in no case will any footwear featuring rhinestones be considered acceptable. In the event of a disagreement, an appeal may be made to a higher authority, Party D (Grandma), whose ruling shall be final and unreviewable.

- Party B agrees to underwrite the cost of Party A's flip-flops, subject to limits imposed by Party C.

No sale. Jimmy Carter had an easier time at Camp David.

There is a certain irony to my husband's emergence as Chief of Fashion Police. Jon is - how to put this politely? - not exactly renowned for his attention to sartorial detail. The only time he was involved in buying Emma a pair of shoes that weren't soccer cleats produced a pair of pointy-toed aqua high heels more suitable for a ... put it this way - they were not suitable for a child.

Of course, he's got a point about flip-flops. The near disappearance of the dress code in American schools - in American life, really - is lamentable. When members of the Northwestern women's lacrosse team turned up at the White House wearing flip-flops, I was appalled.

Is thwack-thwack-thwacking off to school that way a step down the slippery slope to Oval Office dishabille? Did the Northwestern athletes have permissive mothers who set them on this slovenly path?

I believe, also, in the benefit of parents setting limits and in not negotiating with preteen terrorists. Having an adolescent child is being sentenced to years of hearing the age-old refrain: "But everybody's wearing that/doing that/seeing it/going there."

There is a value to the counterpoint: "In our family we don't (insert arbitrary family rule of choice here)." One couple we know has imposed a ban on butt-words - clothing with writing on the backside - on the sensible theory that their daughter's derriere is not a proper advertising venue.

Parenthood is also, though, about choosing battles. For me, I'd rather let my daughter show too much toe and less, well, other. I worry, frankly, that my husband may be fighting his war in the wrong hemisphere.

But with the failure of the peace process, I am braced for the seasonal outbreak of hostilities - and tears. I am prepared for the predictable efforts by the party who believes herself to be the target of unfair sanctions to find a way to evade them. Emma, take those flip-flops out of your backpack.

And I am hoping against hope that saddle shoes are poised for an unlikely comeback.

Ruth Marcus is a member of the Washington Post's editorial page staff.