Every single day of every single year of school until college I wore a uniform. When I’ve mentioned this to people, I receive a mix of reactions ranging from shock to straight to pity.
Looking back, wearing a uniform made getting dressed every day a breeze. I never spent any time wondering what I had to wear or worrying about repeating outfits, because half the student population only owned two or three khakis or skorts and wore them for multiple days in a row.
At my private school, the uniform was different based on the division you were in, as the school had four separate divisions. Primary school was Pre-k through first grade, lower school was second through fifth grade, middle school was sixth through eighth grade, and upper school (aka high school) was ninth through twelfth. Until middle school, girls were permitted to wear jumpers, a plaid dress, or either a plaid or khaki skirt. The gents were allowed to wear khaki pants (lucky them) but after primary school, all boys were required to wear oxfords with a tie. To match the clothing, we had to wear either black or brown dress shoes — never sneakers. Not having much choice in what to wear had its perks but also downsides.
I had to make sure I followed the extensive dress code. We could only wear clothing bought at the school store located in the upper school (high school) next to the gym. They sold anything and everything, with stock changing quicker than Forever 21. But if it was cold in the classroom, you couldn’t put on the coat you wore to school, only school sweaters or vests from the school store.
The main issue came with the winter time, and girls not wanting to bare their legs in the skorts. There are barely any shorts sold that aren’t super short and skirts were a bit easier to find at a long enough at the knee. Some girls would buy sweatpants, tights, or leggings from the school’s store, but only the tights were allowed to be worn during the school day. Instead, girls were relegated to wearing sweatpants into school and then changing after they made it to the warmth of the building. Especially since our music and chorus classes weren’t taught in the same building as the rest of the classes, we had to walk outside. Many girls would run to and from the buildings and trailers because of the cold gripping their bare legs. Other girls wearing skirts, who forgot their spandex on windy days, would so much as skip chorus or band just to not risk exposure
Back in middle school and high school, there were a few days a year where we could practice dressing ourselves outside of the strictness of uniforms. About once a month, we would be able to dress in regular clothing on ‘tag days’. Each tag day cost $2 (you could donate more) and went to a different charity or cause someone was passionate about. If you didn’t have the $2 you had to change, and if you didn’t want to participate, you just wore your uniform like it was a normal day. This actually became a very passive aggressive display; if someone you didn’t like or a charity you didn’t align with was hosting the tag day, you’d see a handful or more of students wearing their uniforms proudly.
There were a few other ways to work around the strict dress attire and express yourself. For guys, they often demonstrated their personality using their ties or socks. The school was often at its most lenient when it came to socks. Technically, all socks were supposed to be a solid color: either black, brown, or navy blue. But as I got older, the guideline became less and less enforced. I remember being in middle school, and buying two pairs of knee-high socks during a basketball tournament, hot pink peace signs and lime green lightning bolts. Not only did I wear them to school, but after the first time wearing them and not being reprimanded, I pushed my luck and wore them mismatched the next time, one pink, one lime. After that incident, I stuck to wearing wacky socks, a habit I continue to this day. The giant bottom drawer of my desk in my dorm is overflowing with patterned socks from dinosaurs to starry nights. You won’t find any solid white or brown socks no matter how much you dig.
When high school came, things changed. Like the majority of my classmates, I tried to find any opening for self expression. Makeup became the most common way of standing out from the uniform crowd. Girls experimented with elaborate eyeshadow colors, eye-catching eyeliner, false eyelashes, bold blushes and loads of lipstick. Sometimes someone would start a trend, and you’d see a smokey eye imitation for the rest of the week. Even now, I find doing my makeup much more satisfying when it’s as close to perfection as I can get it, and sometimes I even go so far as to match my makeup with my outfits.
While I had an easy experience wearing a uniform and wouldn’t go back in time to change a thing, now that I don’t have to have a uniform, I wouldn’t want to go back to wearing one.