When I was in elementary and high school what you wore to school was probably that day’s biggest decision.
Make a wrong move, pick the wrong sleeveless shirt, fuchsia tie or checkerboard shoes and the day could be a total loss. Of course I was in high school in the ‘80s and the variety of hideous clothing choices was massive.
I was thinking about this as the debate currently rages about whether public school students should still wear the uniforms that have been standard for several years now.
Growing up in coastal Mississippi one thing I understand is that uniforms are severely uncool. Where I lived they were like a brand. It meant that you went to Our Lady of Victories in Pascagoula, located conveniently across the street from a factory that made moist, canned cat food. Not kidding. It was like going to school on a planet made of chunky, wet, barfed up fish.
And we had to wear uniforms, which I’m certain trapped the smell and brought it home. That has not been scientifically proven, however.
So I have a knee-jerk reaction of disliking uniforms. They made us all feel dorky and different back then. That’s probably different now, since both public and private school kids have to wear them. But when I was in middle school, wearing a uniform was about the best insurance against teen pregnancy. We poor Catholic uniform-wearing losers felt immediately inferior when we ran into public school kids who could let their freak flags fly with all sorts of groovy duds.
Having been someone who flipped back and forth between private and public school in elementary and middle school, I may be uniquely qualified to weigh the pros and cons of uniforms versus no uniforms. Then again I may just be addled by the tequila shot I had before writing this. So feel free to take this with a grain of salt and a worm.
The obvious pro of wearing uniforms is knowing what you’re going to put on each morning and generally removing the issue of who has more or who has less. Once everyone is wearing uniforms the only way to stand out is to develop breasts before everyone else or to grow a cool mustache. (Doing both at the same time is not recommended, however.) But those are things not easily accomplished through willpower alone.
As much as I hated uniforms, when I attended public school in fifth and sixth grade, I must admit it became a massive chore to wear the “right” clothes each day. If you were going to wear a knit shirt, it’d better have an alligator or horse on it, not a penguin or whale. If your mother would only buy shirts bearing such lesser animals it would immediately relegate you to “spaz” status and mean you would never get to couple skate with the hot girl who lived four houses down. But I digress….
I was the oldest of five kids and my parents were children of those who went through the Great Depression, so getting a lot of cool clothes wasn’t generally an option. My mother favored Sears Toughskins over any other blue jeans as youngsters.
She was right about the fact they basically wouldn’t even disintegrate during a nuclear strike. But they were also kind of like wearing armor. You weren’t going to try out as a dance extra in “Footloose” while wearing them. On the positive side they were completely fire, wind, earthquake and solar flare retardant.
As I got a bit older my mother would buy us jeans made out of actual material, but, of course, those occasionally suffered some sort of rip or tear, which lead to the next issue confronting those who want to get rid of uniforms – patches. When I was in elementary school, it was extra cool to have a “Keep on Truckin’” patch or some other kind of hippie holdover patch covering that hole in your knee.
Unfortunately for me, my mother didn’t really care much about how cool the iron-on patches were, just as long as they covered the hole. I remember her ironing a patch of a bouquet of flowers onto my jeans when I was in sixth grade. Pretty sure the jeans were still bell-bottoms too. It wasn’t easy wearing those pants.
I went back to private school for the rest of middle school, so uniforms were the rule. After having experienced the wonders of dressing the way I wanted, getting into the uniforms again wasn’t easy. It felt like being sent to reform school, although the embarrassing patch issues were over.
As a parent I can definitely see the upside of uniforms. There’s no whining about a specific shirt or pair of pants not being clean, there’s not as much worrying about clothing that may be too tight or short. (Although I do remember that some girls in middle school managed to get in trouble occasionally for having uniforms that were too revealing.)
Then there’s the monetary issue of uniforms. It’s not like they’re really a substitute for kids’ clothing, and expense is one of the main complaints parents have about uniforms in the public schools.
But I look back and think if I’d had to wear uniforms there’s a slight chance I might not have ever worn a sock tie, which ultimately was the gateway to growing a mullet. So maybe uniforms can help protect our kids from making terrible fashion choices they’ll later regret.
Ultimately though the kids are supposed to be at school to learn, not worry about who’s wearing what or distracting one another with their stylistic individuality, so I guess uniforms do make the most sense. And hopefully that also helps keep the mullet from making a comeback.
THE GADFLY BY LAURA RASMUSSEN
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