Seth Chumley, a senior at Benilde-St. Margaret's High School, hasn't given the slightest thought to buying a class ring.
"Didn't even consider it," he said. Nor did any of his friends. "It's not a necessity," he added.
That doesn't mean that he's opposed to trumpeting his school pride. "Pretty much all my apparel is from school," he said while sporting a school sweatshirt. "Everything in my closet is BSM."
His attitude is typical of most high school students, counselors said. The class ring, once considered almost as essential a symbol of graduation as the diploma, has lost much of its luster. In its stead, students are increasingly turning to other forms of memorabilia to commemorate their high school years.
"I've been here for six years, and interest [in class rings] has been dropping every year," said Charlotte Landreau, senior class adviser at Highland Park High School in St. Paul, who estimated that only a dozen students from this year's 325-member graduating class will leave with rings.
George Mountin, a counselor at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, also has noticed the change. "When I went to high school back in the 1970s, a class ring was a big deal," he said. When he does hear from students ordering rings, the move often is driven by their parents, who fondly remember their own class rings. "These days, the kids don't even talk about class rings," he said.
With prices starting at $100 and going up to $1,000 (most are in the $150 to $300 range), the cost is a hurdle, but it's not the only reason sales are lagging, he said.
"When you look at the socio-economic profiles of the families, there are plenty of people who can afford them," Mountin said. "They're just not buying them.
Landreau said that in her experience, if a student is given a choice between having his or her family spend $250 on a ring or the same amount on a piece of electronic equipment to take to college, "they'd rather have the money go toward the laptop or iPad, because it's something they can use in the future."
Indeed, some students say one of the reasons they're eschewing a ring is because its future likely is limited. Many students quit displaying it once they become college students.
"I could never see myself wearing it," said Megan Berens, a senior at St. Louis Park High School who will graduate ring-less. Classmate Hannah Broderson agreed. "I just don't have any interest in one," she said.
Minnesota-based ringmaker Jostens Inc. does not release specific sales figures, but it did issue a statement saying that "the difficult economic period has had an impact on our overall sales." While the company believes that the rings "remain an important high school tradition," it also is focusing more energy on its sports championship rings -- it has produced 29 of the Super Bowl rings -- a newer line of "affiliation rings" that commemorate a specific group, such as a choir, band or theater troupe.
The company also said that sales of its college rings remain steady.
Clothes make the student
Like Chumley and his closet full of clothes, both Berens and Broderson have an abundance of school-related clothing. "Hats, T-shirts, sweatshirts, warmup suits, shorts," Berens said. "We have it all."
School officials point to the clothing as an indication that slumping ring sales should not be construed as a lack of school spirit.
"I've never seen so much school spirit as I have at Southwest," Mountin said.
The popularity of letter jackets has grown by leaps and bounds. Once the sole province of the handful of male athletes who qualified for varsity sports teams, the jackets now are available to male and female students who contribute to a wide array of school activities, from working on the yearbook to singing in the choir. Most schools also offer letters for academic achievement.
T-shirts commemorating school events (like homecoming) or class benchmarks (senior skip day) have exploded in popularity the past few years. And while wearing a high school ring in college is frowned upon in some circles, wearing an old commemorative T-shirt apparently is considered trendy, according to the reports Landreau is getting from former students. "They actually have become chic on some campuses," she said.
As the school year progresses, there's also a change in students' attitudes about what they want to emphasize to the rest of the world.
"Once they've decided on a college, you start seeing a lot of college sweatshirts and T-shirts," she said. "It's more about broadcasting where they are headed."
And, to top it all, the class ring has lost what used to be one of its most important functions: serving as the ubiquitous indicator of "going steady."
"Kids who are dating don't trade rings anymore," Landreau said. "Now when they want to indicate a change in their relationship, they just go on Facebook."
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392