Debate over the hooded sweatshirts pins the teen attire with crime.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
LONDON -- These days, teenagers need only wear a hooded sweatshirt to send shivers of fear through the heart of middle-class Britain.
Young people wearing "hoodies" have become a symbol of low-level vandalism and petty crime. Since last month, about half a dozen shopping malls and schools in Britain have banned hoods and other clothing that can hide one's face.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, as part of a larger effort to create what he calls a culture of respect, endorsed the clothing ban that began last month at the Bluewater Mall in the southeastern city of Kent.
"People are rightly fed up with street-corner and shopping-center thugs," Blair said at a news conference. Such misbehaving, he added, "makes our town centers no-go areas for respectable citizens."
Bluewater's ban and Blair's endorsement of it have ignited a public debate about personal freedom, preventing intimidation and the place of youth in society.
"It's as if the streets and the malls are to be swept clean of anybody who might give you a little bit of difficulty," said Tom Wylie, chief executive of the government's National Youth Agency, who has been critical of the focus on hoodies.
Some have noted the garments keep wearers warm and dry -- something not to be dismissed in Britain's climate. And some have complained that young people were being stereotyped.
"When we make assumptions about [the young] because of the clothes they wear, we should try to remember the uniforms of rebellion we wore when we were their age," said Chris Paling, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph.
For about a decade, the hooded sweatshirt has been perceived by some as intimidating. Some malls and schools have implemented informal bans on hoodies for years. But only recently have national politicians begun talking about the garments as a criminal threat, used by young thugs to conceal their identities from security cameras.
With Blair having launched his social campaign, hoodies are no longer being tolerated in many places. Last month, a court barred a Manchester teenager convicted of delinquent behavior from wearing a hoodie for five years.
After the widely publicized Bluewater ban, the Elephant & amp; Castle Shopping Center in south London and several schools followed suit. Other malls announced that they were already enforcing informal bans.