Much like squishing three kids into the two-person backseat of a car, middle school is the awkward man in the middle. He's pushed and pulled every different direction the entire trip just to try and find a comfortable spot along the way.
Many of those "middle men" find their only sense of expression through clothing. However, the public schools have strict dress codes and private school usually have uniforms.
So in this constant wardrobe battle, whose fault is it if the dress code is not enforced? Some point fingers at the parent, while others blame poor school action.
"For the students that consistently break the dress code, I would have to say no, the parents are not enforcing the dress code. I'm not sure if all parents are aware of what their student wears to school since many parents work and may leave for work before their student is dressed," said Shelley Bauer, a teacher at Diablo Vista Middle School.
The inappropriateness of an outfit is subjective to an extent, but there are some specific errors that are definitely wrong. Teachers say short skirts and short shorts are always red flags, and exposed bra straps lead to immediate punishment.
If a student is caught wearing inappropriate clothing, is her permanent record tainted for life or is the impending punishment bearable?
"They make the kids go change into their P.E. clothes for the day," said Tamara Jones, the mother of a seventh-grader at Los Cerros Middle School.
This is a large price to pay for a young fashionista. Many middle school girls despise their baggy physical ed. clothes of bland color.
On the other hand, "I'm not sure the girls mind that punishment so much - so I think they wear the skirts anyway. Even if they do get caught, it's not a big deal," said Jones.
She says the biggest problem is the girls trying to look like what they see on TV. Shows like the OC and the Hills exploit young women as sex symbols.
"All the trendy stores seem to want even young girls to dress sexy," said Jones.
Brands like Abercrombie, Lucky and Juicy specialize in making average people look like celebrities, although parents may not approve.
"I don't want my daughters running around in those skirts but it's hard when everyone is wearing them," said Jones.
Perhaps this is not so much a form of expression but a way to fit in. If this is true, then a simple fix is uniforms to eliminate any competition.
Lori Fonzi is the parent of a pre-teen at St. Isidore School where uniforms are required, and she is positive they are a success.
"My daughter never has to worry about what to wear. She never worries about what designer jeans she has on," said Fonzi.
But maybe the shrinking skirts and low-cut tops are, instead, pleas for a little attention in a time when the middle man seems to be a bit lost in the chaos.
According to some administrators, self confidence levels are low at this age and sometimes dressing inappropriately is a way to feel more comfortable.
"My guess is they are attention seeking and/or maybe just experimenting with different types of clothing as their bodies change," said Bauer.
Although it may not be for the best reason, the kids certainly do get attention for dressing incorrectly. Bauer described the process for actually nailing a student for unsuitable dress, which in itself can be controversial.
"Male teachers will not enforce the dress code on female students since a student could easily misread their 'viewing' their attire as inappropriate," said Bauer. "For the most part a male teacher will inform a female staff member to report the student for a dress cut."
There seems to be such a focus on female dress issues, what about the boys? One teacher said girls are more of an issue due to what's out there to buy, while boys aren't expected to wear anything inappropriate. Really, the only penalty they fault is wearing a baseball cap inside the classroom, and that's just etiquette.
After three years of hassle, the pre-teens turned teenagers should have learned their lesson, right? Add raging hormones, high heels and development to the mix, and they're just learning how to dress for high school.
Summer Dashe is a senior at Monte Vista High who is editor of the student newspaper, The Stampede, and who dresses appropriately at all times.