By Angela Dondald
Rome - In a country that loves low-rising jeans, one high school has launched a minor uprising.
A school in Avezzano, central Italy, asked students to stop wearing low-slung trousers that expose navels, underwear, and sometimes much more.
The call for restraint has unleashed a nationwide debate among parents, teachers and kids, and at least one other school has followed suit.
Throughout Italy, a nation enamored both of kids and edgy fashions, the question is whether Vitruvio Pollione Scientific High School overstepped the boundaries of student freedom of expression - or whether school wardrobes in Italy have grown a tad too free and expressive.
The letter, which was read out loud to Avezzano students this month, singled out "low-rise pants, which expose parts of the body that would be better off covered up, for good manners, in the school setting".
Deputy Principal Nazzareno Desiderio elaborated in a phone interview: "It's a piece of advice, for their educational reflection."
The school's principal came up with the idea during a class trip, when he saw one boy's baggy pants slide to his feet.
The letter has sparked a sea of Internet blog entries and letters to newspapers. A parents' group called Moige applauded the appeal for good taste, while the consumer group Codacons advised principals to stop worrying about fashion and fix up dilapidated school buildings instead.
Though attention has focused on Avezzano, other school officials have made similar requests - including one principal in the Alpine town of Ortisei who reportedly was worried that exposed bellies would make students vulnerable to stomach aches.
Despite the hullabaloo, the measure in Avezzano was not a strict, American-style dress code, just a suggestion. Dress codes and school uniforms are all but unheard of in Italian public schools.
"We didn't want a spirit of prohibitionism," Desiderio said. Besides, "you can't put a ban on fashion, you'd have to be joking."
Italians, known for being at ease with their bodies and always on the forefront of sexy fashion trends, seem to have embraced low-rise pants more than many other Europeans. Two of the hottest brands of jeans -Diesel and Miss Sixty - are Italian-run, and offer countless low-slung styles. High schoolers are big fans.
At a prestigious Rome school whose alumni include atomic pioneer Enrico Fermi and Pope Pius XII, teenagers stream out of the heavy wooden doors at lunchtime exposing their midriffs and the waistbands of their underwear.
Inspired by the decision in Avezzano, the principal of Rome's Visconti High School drew up a notice last week recommending that students show less skin and proposing a debate on the matter. In an interview, he lamented the lack of mystery of the modern young woman's wardrobe.
"Today, boys are less tickled by such visions of skin, because there's no more big effect in seeing a girl's legs or shoulders, lower back and navel," principal Antonino Grasso said.
Most kids have simply ignored the school's request. Ludovica Gaudio, 14, wore ultra-low pants, orange cotton underwear and a bare midriff to class. It was chilly, so she accessorised with a matching orange scarf.
Another 14-year-old suggested she would probably respect the request, simply for practical reasons.
"I don't really feel at ease" in low-slung pants, said Sarah Lattanzi, who covered up with a hooded sweatshirt. "In winter, when it comes down to it, it's freezing." - Sapa-AP