When looking through my old photos for the father’s day post I came across one of my brother and I on the first day of the school year in 1975. It got me thinking. Chances are high that if you schooled in the British system (or a derivative thereof), you wore a school uniform for 12 years of your life. Greg and I did and it had its ups and downs. But the more I think back to those days, the more I appreciate the fact that I had to wear one. Here’s why:

  • Uniforms create… uniformity, but in a good way. They create an even playing field and eliminate the dressing competition that often arises between kids.
  • Uniforms contribute to a sense of discipline, which I don’t think is a bad idea.
  • Uniforms help to unify the school and give students a sense of identity and belonging. There’s also something visually and spiritually rich about seeing everyone in the same clothes at a school event.
  • Uniforms make dressing for school as easy as it gets. No difficult decisions in the morning about what to wear.
  • Uniforms are cost effective. Kids who wear school uniforms need fewer clothes. The uniforms themselves are generally quite affordable.
  • Uniforms make dressing in normal clothes, or “civvies”, extra special. It was like a sacred ritual getting dressed after school, over the weekend, or at night. You really appreciated the clothes that you wore and took dressing very seriously. So even though I didn’t get to experiment with fashion at school, I certainly made up for it after hours.

But there was also a downside. Wearing the same thing 5 days a week for years on end gets very boring. There were absolutely times that I loathed my school uniform and wished I could put on normal cool teenage clothes in the morning. And to this day I refuse to wear woolly tights. They were part of our Winter school uniform and itched ridiculously. Bad memories of awfully itchy woolly grey and brown school tights have put me off them for life.

The uniform also removed a valuable form of self expression during school hours. On the other hand, we kids were extremely creative about creating a unique look and reflecting the trends within the constraints of our uniforms. When stovepipes were in, Greg and all his friends took in their trousers. When the mini was in style, my friends and I hemmed our dresses. When fingerless gloves were all the rage, we cut holes in our school jumpers so that out thumbs peeked through the hole. Of course, the teachers were soon on to us and these modifications were banned as fast as we could come up with them.

If you didn’t wear one when you were growing up, a school uniform probably sounds torturous and repressive, but that’s all we knew. What’s your perspective? Are they beneficial, or an unnecessary form of regimentation? Did you wear a uniform at school? Do your children?

School Uniforms

That’s my brother (10) and me (5) in our Summer uniforms on my first day of the school year in Hong Kong (1975). On the right is Greg and his little sister in his Winter Primary School uniform at age 6 (Cape Town). Quite the naughty little dodger he was, while I was as good as gold. The third picture is Greg (extreme left) and his crew at high school in the 80’s. Look at his altered stove pipe school trousers. Such a rebel.