School is out, summer vacation has begun and that signals the potential for about 11 weeks of unstructured time for the nationís youth. The school uniforms have been hung in the closet until fall. Students not encumbered with school uniforms are out from under the constant nagging from school officials and the scrutiny of the dress code police. The season for self expression has arrived. I donít know about you, but I am not particularly looking forward to the scenery that lies ahead.

Fashion has historically been an element of culture where expression can be diverse and run the spectrum, from the attractive to the absolutely awful, from tasteful to borderline offensive, and at times, even over-the-top repugnant. A number of school districts during the past school year tried to stop the fashion statement being made by male students by banning the wearing of baggy slacks that fall below the waistline and expose underwear. In Riviera Beach, Fla., they passed a local law imposing a $150 fine for a first offense and $300 for a second. It didnít take long for the law to be ruled unconstitutional by a Palm Beach, Fla., district judge. However, just because it is not illegal doesnít mean the practice should continue. The off-the-buttocks look even drew the attention of President Barack Obama during the election campaign when he told young males to pull up their pants because some people do not want to see their underwear and he was one of them.

I am not sure if the practice of guys having to hitch up their pants was influenced by young girls who have been doing the same for several years, but it may. The low-slung look created by short-waist slacks that barely hang onto a girlís hips has been popular since they were introduced by young pop stars like Brittany Spears. Walking in them does not pose the same problem for females that it does for guys, but bending over and sitting down can be an entirely different matter. I am all for gender equity, but really, is it stylish for young girls and women to try to imitate the caricature of plumbers?

If one community went to the trouble to pass a city law to try to regulate long pants and the exposure of boxer shorts, what is likely to occur when modern fashions shift to beach wear this summer? That may be what Riviera Beach had in mind with their municipal action. The city is located on the Atlantic side of the state where the beach scene contributes to the tourism industry along the coast and is an important part of the local culture. If swimsuits adopt the same baggy design and are worn with the same disregard for public modesty ó well you get the picture.

Dressing to attract the opposite sex has always been a part of our culture. Perhaps the current styles merely suggest the limit one has to go in todayís society to attract attention. This is the era of reality television where contestants are willing to stoop to incredible depths of bad taste to get their 15 minutes of fame. Sartorial good taste once conjured images of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. It didnít seem to matter if they were in formal wear or beach wear the statement was subtle not blatant. Parents taking kids to the beach used to have to keep a watchful eye out for the off color messages on T-shirts or unknowingly encountering a wet T-shirt contest. One has to wonder if there will be T-shirts at all this summer. Given the popularity and proliferation of tattoos, piercings and other body art, making a statement this year may require displaying a new canvas.

I understand that fashions change and old styles move out only to come back into vogue years later. However, what I think we are seeing currently is a different phenomenon. What seems to have changed is an understanding of decorum and good taste. According to Wikipedia encyclopedia, business casual started in the 1970s in response to the energy crisis. Raised thermostat settings in offices led managers to dispense with coats and ties that had long been part of expected business attire. In lowering the style bar in the business and the professional arena, we have systematically lowered it throughout our culture. I think I will just stay home this summer.

Robert Brincefield is vice president and publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at bob.brincefield@brownwoodbulletin.com.