British school uniforms: a follow-up post

D. tells me that the dowdy little dresses I said the youngest British schoolgirls are stuffed into are voluntary. They’re for summer, she says. They’re cooler. Some girls (or their parents, which is not at all the same thing) prefer them. Furthermore, at least in some schools the boys don’t have the option of wearing shorts in hot weather, which some boys consider discrimination. In 2011, a twelve-year-old boy wore a uniform skirt to school as a protest. A loophole in the rules meant that he was still wearing an acceptable uniform, the clever little devil.

You may be interested to note that if you follow the link to that article, the end disappears quickly and you can’t read it unless you take a phony survey designed to prove that some brand of shampoo is better than chocolate and a sunny day all rolled into one. It will also make you so sexy you’ll give up chocolate voluntarily. Which does seem contradictory, but what do I know about marketing? I’m just the sort of contrarian who wouldn’t take their alleged survey and as a result I don’t know what the rest of the article says, so I can only hope it doesn’t say April Fool. Probably not. The date is May.

Wildflowers, celandine

Irrelevant photo: celandine, a wildflower–one of spring’s early ones, but still in bloom.

16 thoughts on “British school uniforms: a follow-up post

  1. In my secondary school days (1968-1974) only those whose family had a higher income had the option of ‘the school dress’. I didn’t get to wear one – I just left my duffle coat off in the summer. Nor could we afford a school blazer. And before I entered the lower sixth form, I had to make my own uniform which consisted of a skirt and matching waistcoat in the school colours (maroon & grey) to be worn over a white, pale pink or blue nylon blouse. The alternative was a grey pinafore dress. It cost me £5 to make my uniform – buying the pattern and material – paid for from my Saturday job of £3.50 per day.

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    • One of the arguments in favor of uniforms is that they’re equalizers–everyone wears the same thing. But as you point out, they don’t. And I’ve read of schools that pick students from well-off families by demanding expensive uniforms. So at best they strike me as an imperfect solution.

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      • I think it’s easier now when the basics can be bought in any local supermarket. We had to make a special trip to the only shop that stocked the uniform, which meant the minimum we could get away with – one pleated grey skirt (and I had to tack the pleats every night to keep them in), two white drip-dry nylon shirts which gave me a static charge every time I touched a door handle, and a grey pullover hand knitted by my mum. I was the picture of style :-)

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  2. I find it very annoying that you can buy the childs polo shirt in the supermarket at a bargain price but the school demand one with a school logo which costs four times as much. You stated that uniform is set but underwear is your own choice, well a few years ago, a school had to pass a regulation that parents did not send primary children to school in g-string knickers or padded bras as they were inappropriate in school. It amazes me they would ever send 5 – 11 years olds in such things but the parents were furious that they were being dictated to. What a strange world!

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    • About the shirts, you have to wonder if they do that on purpose or if they just don’t think what impact it has on the kids’ families. As for the underwear, I agree it’s batty that anyone thinks sexy underwear is a good idea for primary school kids, but you also have to wonder if the school isn’t doing more damage by getting involved. I remember the years when some schools set themselves up as hemline police, and the endless measuring must’ve been humiliating. And they lost the battle anyway: Hemlines went up. Then they went up further.

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  3. When I was at High School, I challenged the uniform policy by wearing black trousers to school. I refused to do the subsequent detention as I pointed out that the rules did not specify to which gender the “black skirt or trousers” applied. My parents were called in. They supported me and allowed me to continue voicing my protest. Walking in the snow in winter in a skirt was impractical; running to safety in a pencil skirt was impractical – we had just been given self-defense training so that was my angle with that argument. I won. They probably wanted my parents and me out of the office and out of their heads. A year later I then mounted a similar protest about being made to wear a tie – it did not specify where I had to wear it on my person.

    I agree with a previous reply also that uniforms are not a social leveler. Where uniforms are so specific you can only purchase from one shop, they tend to be expensive and the poorer kids are dressed in second hand clobber. Where the uniform is left vague, the wealthier kids wear high end stuff and the others wear supermarket clothes. We received vouchers for uniform as we were poor enough to receive free school meals. My uniforms were consequently from Woolworths.

    As a teacher, the one advantage to uniforms is that it makes your students easier to spot in a crowd.

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    • You must’ve been one wonderful and fascinating kid. I love the mind that notices the loophole: the rules don’t say where the tie has to be worn. I love that.

      Given how hard I find it to recognize people, having everyone dressed the same would drive me to despair. They all basically look alike to start with. But I can rely on noticing the difference between, say, red and black. So day by day I can tell people apart, even if I’m likely to have to start over again the next day.

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  4. In my Primary and Secondary school days in Hong Kong, there was only one school uniform option: the dress. I found it very limiting to our movements and wished that we could wear pants.

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    • When I was a kid, we didn’t have to wear uniforms but the girls in most schools had to wear skirts. I was lucky that my school allowed us to wear pants (trousers, if you’re British), and I did a lot of the time. But there was a lot of pressure to wear a skirt. Anyone who romanticizes the 1950s wasn’t there.

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  5. Just enjoying your blog. I have several similar blogs that I enjoy – a French lady living in Denmark, an Australian living in Germany, a British lady in the US, and even a South American lady living and teaching in China. I always think blogs like this are so interesting because you get to hear about all the unusual customs and daily activities in all these different countries. I think that’s the fun part of blogging, you get to have a little peek into daily life for all these other people.

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