Mandatory Uniform Personality is Optional

The building was a sea of plaid dresses, white button down shirts, knee socks and ties that always seemed to yearn for a bit more length down the torso of boys who seemed constricted by the very fabric draped around their pencil thin necks. During cold winter mornings, on the short walk to school I yearned to add color to an otherwise gray morning. Clothed in layers of dark and dreary colors, I would steal glimpses of the public school kids in their bright cheery winter coats, and envisioned their layers of color beneath, believing each piece was somehow responsible for the bounce in their step, the smile on their face, the halo of light around them. I was happy too, but it was hard to see my smile as it was smothered in darkness beginning right below my chin with the navy tie that held my neck hostage, to the dark plaid jumper in hues of grays, hunter green and navy, down to the navy knee socks trapped in black leather school standard shoes.

As I walked in the brightness of the freshly fallen white canvas of winter I felt like I was letting it down, unable to provide the bright hues which it so desperately seemed to crave. Approaching the schoolyard, I wondered what higher powers deemed it necessary to stifle any semblance of individuality and in anger pushed my knee socks down until they bunched at my ankles leaving my skin exposed but welcoming the chilling sting. Yanking my tie off my neck and shoving it into my pocket, even with the knowledge that it would only be a matter of time before one of the nuns would notice and I would be forced to retrieve it, I breathed a little easier. I found ways to embrace my individuality from the way I wore my hair -short and curly boy cut- to that year’s lunchbox selection or the keychain characters I hung from my backpack. There were ways…there were always ways.

Those days seemed so long ago until this past week, when I found myself shopping for school uniforms for my own children. The dreary uniform colors hit me along with a sudden wave of nausea, but I kept my cool as I helped them find the right sizes in hunter green polo shirts, and khaki bottoms. As we approached the endless racks, I heard someone’s high-pitched voice tell them how great they had it not to have to worry about selecting a different outfit each day. We rounded a corner and that same voice cheerfully directed them to the hideous plaid uniforms pointing out how lucky they were to walk past that rack.  As we approached the fitting room arms weighed down in dull tones, that same voice had the audacity to tell them even if they didn’t love the color, they should be comforted to know everyone else’s attire would be the same.

Then something strange happened. Just at the moment I realized that voice full of false enthusiasm was my own, a small voice called from inside the fitting room. “Mom, can you come in here?” One look at my daughter’s face took me back to the little girl who bunched up her socks and stuffed her tie in her pocket desperate to hang on to some semblance of herself. As I looked at her, I remembered a tiny note I came across a few years back while cleaning her room. It is just one of many snippets of poetry I’ve come across scattered on her desk.

olivia's note

Maybe another mom would have continued to try to convince her child of all the benefits of wearing a uniform.

Maybe another mom would have recited the reasons it is important to neutralize differences such as income level, avoid cliques, and provide an inclusive environment for students.

I’m not that mom.

Instead, I helped her find ways to hang on to a little bit of herself, secretly wishing that little girl of yesteryear would have had the option of leaving rainbow clad Converse footprints in the snow.

What is your stance on school uniforms? With more public schools enforcing a uniform policy they are no longer limited to private schools. Do you believe they are necessary?

27 thoughts on “Mandatory Uniform Personality is Optional

  1. What’s interesting is that mine did the striped socks and made friends doing it. Something to rebel against. It’s always useful in distracting them from the problems they’d normally obsess over. Oddly useful if you think about it.

    • Mine did the striped socks last year and made friends at her new school. This year, it didn’t seem to help because she’s in a public school for the first time. You just never know. I continue to encourage her to just be herself!

    • Oh my gosh! He did? That’s priceless! I totally encourage my kids to express themselves in whatever manner they are comfortable. I believe in doing so, it also opens a line of communication for them. They seem more comfortable expressing themselves to me (for now anyway) no matter the topic. Here’s hoping it continues!

  2. Leah, of course, you’re NOT that kind of mom! Kudos to you! So proud of you for encouraging your daughter to find a way to embrace her individuality even if she has to wear a uniform.
    I’m certain your kids will quickly learn that “clothes do NOT make a man.”

  3. In Australia it has always been compulsory school uniform though some schools are stricter than others. I like that it requires no decision making and that there is no distinction between the kids that can afford the “cool” labels and the ones who can’t. Every now and then they have mufti day and it takes my daughter days to decide to wear (she’s 11) and I always say a silent prayer of thanks it’s only once a term! The colours are awful and the design is dated but they don’t seem to notice. I think wearing pajamas everyday sounds like the most sensible option!

    • Pajamas is definitely the way to go! Ha! I do understand the impetus behind the uniform policy, but I think kids always find some distinction among them and still face the reality of real clothes in the real world in their future. My daughter is 11 too, and though she’s not necessarily into fashion (not really a girly girl) she does have an opinion on what she likes to wear. Imagine that! LOL

  4. Pingback: Uniform Mandatory: Identity Optional | The Blop...

  5. I wore uniforms in Catholic school from 1st-8th grade. After I started public high school and had to pick out clothes everyday, I missed not having to figure it out all the time. But I did like getting the freedom to choose what to wear. Now, I get nostalgic every time I see black-watch plaid.
    A mom in my son’s kindergarten class made it her pet project to get uniforms in our school. (Luckily, she wasn’t very motivated to actually do anything about it other than bug me.) She felt that kids wouldn’t make fun of each other’s clothes if they were all wearing the same thing. I assured her that in my experience this was NOT the case. Kids will find something to make fun of. The wrong shoes, the wrong socks, the wrong hair tie. In my school it was all about the sweater. There is good and bad. As a parent, not having that fight about what to wear every morning seems like a nice idea 😉
    Again, good luck on the big adjustment.

    • For me, it was Catholic school from K-8! I definitely agree that it’s easier not to have to think about one more thing in the morning, but I’m with you on kids finding something to make fun of whether it’s shoes, socks, hair, etc. I like that my kids have the option to show a little of themselves in some way at this school. They even allow the boys to wear their hair long if they so desire. Thanks for the well wishes. We start on the 7th!

      • Of August? Wow! That’s more than a month before we start. It’ll be good. I sort of miss school being in session sometimes because I like the community of our school and miss seeing everyone everyday. I hope it’s all good for all of you.

  6. I love that little snippet of poetry! It says a lot.
    I hear you on the uniforms…I see the advantages to both sides though. I think we all want and need to be individuals, but at the same time, clothes shouldn’t define a person. Too many people judge other people based on their outfits, which isn’t fair AT ALL. So at least having uniforms should help with that issue. I don’t know. I didn’t wear uniforms, but I almost wish I did, cuz back then, man did my clothes suck! Lol.

    • I love your point on how clothes shouldn’t define a person and that’s just what my husband and I were explaining to the kids when they asked why there was a need for uniforms etc. Vernette in this comment thread, referred to it as “leveling the playing field” and I can see where that would be the case. Truth be told though, that’s not the real world once they graduate. Btw, I think if we all look back we would ALL agree our clothes sucked back then!

      • You’re absolutely right about that not being the real world after high school. So when you look at it that way, they really aren’t accomplishing much with these uniforms. The real solution here is for people to stop being petty and judging others based on their looks! Different is a good thing. Kids can be so mean. 😦

  7. coming from Australia where every kid wears a uniform, public and private, I don’t have the same feeling. We all found ways to individualise ourselves and now as a mum I am so happy for our public school to be a uniform school. It makes the mornings so much easier. There are never any fights about clothing.
    Thanks fo hooking up to the Hump Day Hook Up

    • I definitely agree about making the mornings easier in that no one is trying to find a favorite shirt at the last minute or arguing about what to wear etc. And, I can definitely see the benefits in other ways. The US schools, both private and public are embracing uniform policy as well. I think I would hold something like casual Fridays to give kids at least one day a week to choose their outfits. Although, as we both agree there are always way to show your individuality. We went with Rainbow socks and high top Converse for now! 🙂

  8. While it helps with making outfit choices in the morning, I hate the same old thing every day for my daughter because she is such an individual and I love how she rocks her put together outfits in the morning. Sure, being 4 years old it might be stripes with polka dots and mismatched socks, but hey- it’s HER. I will be looking to go against the dress code in small ways…socks, leggings….something to show her spirit.
    Until then, I will be looking at navy blue jumpers and white button down shirts….

    • Ha ha! I love the mismatched socks because my kids have been wearing mismatched socks for years. They love it although it drives my husband crazy! I’m all for it since it makes laundry easier. Those are the things that show bits of their personality too, and I have a hard time stifling that too.

  9. Leonor, as you know having child just like yours ( having their unique individuality and personality) I can’t help but remember when Aidan was in pre-k private school that required uniforms and the first day I picked him up I asked the question we all ask first day of school, “How was your day and did you make any new friends?” Aidan’s response to me at the young age of 4 was ” How the heck would I know Momma we all look alike!” It was such an eye-opener for me as a Mom to realize at such a young age our clothing can make us stand out and show our individuality! He always hated the uniform I guess the feeling it was making him try to be someone he wasn’t but after awhile he learned his humor and personality was still there! Good luck this new school year, need to catch up!

    • I actually remember that Aidan story as though it happened yesterday! We do have children with unique personalities and it takes them a little time to adjust to an environment where they can’t always express themselves. The rainbow socks and Converse I think will definitely help! lol We start the 7th!

  10. Leah, I understand your point of view and having grown up all my life with uniforms from pre-school to 6th Form, I see the value in them. Here in Trinidad & Tobago, private or public all schools have uniforms. Of course children find ways to express their individuality and most schools tolerate it as long as it isn’t too extreme. For me uniforms level the playing field.

  11. Great post! You know, when I was a kid…I refused anything that could border on conformity and since I went to public school, I wore whatever I wanted. Then when it was my kids’ turn, my oldest was out before his public school implemented dress codes, and I started home schooling the two youngest before they got old enough to require dress codes in the schools they went to. Part of me hated the thought of them having to wear uniforms, but the other part that sees some of the advantages of the dress code, especially with the problems that kids deal with nowadays. Have a great week!

    • I can definitely see both sides to it, and was glad to have the option of helping my daughter find a little something that shows her personality. We are coming out of a year of homeschooling where they wore pajamas some days! It will definitely be an adjustment!

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