Line them up, cross one side over and tuck through the open centre; weave under the previous fold. Fumbling with the neat points of my school tie, I bunched the polyester into a tight knot before asking my dad to do mine for me. It became a routine; every morning I would hurry downstairs to my father, eagerly awaiting my turn as my older siblings had their collars smoothed and shirts tucked.
The first time I wore a tie, styled with an excessively padded blazer and a skirt that had to be fastened with two hair bands, was a novelty to me. I'd suddenly look all grown up next to my father, who would always colour coordinate his own tie to his work shirt, and the thought was exciting.
Several weeks into my first year of secondary school, at a time when I was already weighed down with low self-esteem and a bundle of body issues, I couldn't help but feel frumpy, unattractive and uncomfortable in my new uniform. The heavy blazer, ill-fitting skirt and smothering tie made quite the difference from the gingham and frills of primary school.
A uniform is designed to standardise the dress of students, ensuring everyone looks the same so there is a sense of belonging to a particular school. It's about looking smart, however, once I had settled into school and had begun to occasionally look up from my shy girl slouch I noticed how the girls didn't just dress smart, they dressed like men.
A typical school uniform defeminises girls; smothering their natural curves and concealing any signs of womanhood. Males set the norm whilst females must attain this standard or risk being viewed as unprofessional. For a woman to be treated as an equal to a man, must she also appear as one?
Heading into my final year of A level studies I have been issued with a revised dress code for sixth formers. These new rules ban girls from showing their shoulders, knees and toes (seriously) along with vest tops, crop tops, off the shoulder tops and tight skirts, shorts and anything above the knee. Even bra straps must not be visible. We are instructed that our attire must always be 'modest'. I'm beginning to wonder if my frilly tops are too frilly and if the solution to visible bra straps is to simply not wear one.
Girls would appear to be penalised more than boys, there is not a single rule on my sixth form dress code solely addressing the male students. Girls are taught that they should cover up, the implication their bodies are shameful. The punishment for dressing inappropriately in school or sixth form is to be sent home resulting in missed classes, sending girls away from an education. It seems to me that school uniform is more for teaching girls about dressing 'appropriately' as a female rather than dressing appropriately for school.
Covering up does not equate to self-respect, how I dress does not signify modesty. I respect my body regardless of what I wear. Schoolgirls told to dress appropriately, to look dignified, and to be role models would be better educated on how to love their bodies. A females body is not a distraction nor distasteful. Whether a girl chooses to wear a mini or a maxi skirt, whether she likes a scoop neck or turtle neck and whether she prefers a thong or big knickers does not determine her worth.
When I was in primary school I imagined that wearing a tie would make me feel grown up. Once I entered secondary school I realised a tie bound me to a male standard that women must conform to. Now, as I approach my last year of school, I may be free from the compulsory school tie but I am still tied to those who insist on telling me what is appropriate for a woman to wear.