Why Are School Uniforms So Awful?

14/08/2014 16:53 | Updated 22 May 2015

Why are school uniforms so awful?

It's that time of the year when we have to crowbar our children into stay-pressed trousers and ties, scratchy fabrics and stiff collars. £3 a pop at the supermarket, with not an interesting colour or natural fibre in sight. Yes, school uniform is back again, and it's as boring as ever.

But why does it have to be this way? When they leave school, kids will have plenty of time to be conventional and sit at a desk at a call centre, weeping softly into their lunchboxes. When they're young, why not let them wear their own clothes? Express themselves! Be children! Instead, we dress them up as little accountants, equating being smartly dressed with 'being smart.' We all hated our uniforms when we were at school. When I was at secondary school, I despised mine. It was oatmeal and brown.

It itched, it made me look fat, and I felt like a giant bowl of porridge for five miserable years. I'm sure it damaged my self-esteem - especially when I had to choose between ripping my customised, tightened, shortened school skirt and falling off the stage during a rehearsal of Bugsy Malone (I chose the latter).

I'm not the only one who had an awkward relationship with their school uniform. Take mother of two, Jane. "In my primary school we had to do PE in our VESTS and KNICKERS. To add to the horror, my mum refused utterly to buy the clingy navy blue nylon pants and instead made me wear bulgy cotton ones that bagged round my seven-year-old arse making it looked like I'd pooed myself."

"My school uniform also included pants," says Annie. "Big brown interlock flannel knickers you had to wear over your ordinary pants. And sometimes a nun would check we were wearing two pairs.

"And they wonder why so many strippers are convent girls! Excessive pantage in childhood."

As well as the horror of gym knickers, there are the colours. Always the same: navy, grey, burgundy, look like they're going to a Round Table meeting in the 70s.

Polo shirts and sweatshirts may have come along in recent years to ease a bit of the pain, but even so, traditional uniform seems lost in the dark ages, somewhere between St Trinians and The Office.

Why have uniform at all?

Well. It turns out the big issue isn't anything to do with the starched collars and regulation shoes – it's the meaning behind uniform that divides parents. In fact, it's a subject that could cause a fistfight at a PTA meeting.

"I love school uniforms. Introduce them in a school that doesn't have them; attendance and results go up, bullying and exclusions go down," says Colin.

"They're expensive and pointless," says mother of one Juliana. "Any pros I have so far heard are easily overthrown like: 'Kids don't judge each other by the quality of the clothes if they wear uniforms.' The issue doesn't go away as they'll always find a way to single out others (hairstyle, school bag)

"If anything, the uniform teaches them that they need to conform to get on. Bonkers. Being German I never wore a school uniform in my life and I'm grateful for it!"

But Donna is all for uniforms. "When I was growing up we were totally skint, my out of school hours outfits largely consisted of my big brother's hand-me-downs - not good when your older brother is two inches smaller than you! So although people at school can still accessorise their outfits, it does level things out a bit so that the economic difference isn't so painfully obvious."

OK. OK. All valid points. But what do the KIDS think?

"I work in a school and have used this as a debate topic with the older kids a few times," says Angie. "The kids say they quite like the sense of belonging they gain from wearing similar stuff, and the safety they feel. It's like wearing a team strip, if you like.

"They always say how uniforms stop people being 'labelled up' with designer stuff and that their mums like it because it's cheap to supply and easy to wash and dry. Most argue they would like to wear a uniform they designed, though. What about cooler casual gear? Tees and trackies? Personally, I don't care as long as they turn up."

While I understand that uniform brings a sense of unity and belonging, I still don't understand why it has to look so bloody awful.

Why not let the kids design it? Or get Gok to overhaul the iron-in creases and gathered grey pants and stripey ties of old. Introduce some patterns! Textures! Bow ties! Neon joggies!

It's the 21st Century –we don't need to dress them like interns at Morgan Stanley. In between birth, school, work and death, can't we at least have some fun?

Suggest a correction