Sunday, 31 January 2010

School Uniforms Should Be More Beautiful

Children are made saddest by  their appearance. The Observer reports that almost a fifth, of both sexes, were unhappy with how they looked.  We shouldn't be surprised.  Children spend much of daytime, throughout the year, in school uniform.

The outstanding characteristic of school uniform is that it is ugly.  It isn't meant to be ugly (is it?) but it is the result of criteria that would make anything ugly.  It must: not look like any other form of dress; it must be 'practical'; it must identify by colour; it must be cheap to buy and cheap to maintain; it must be 'smart'. And all these desirables draw on the lowest common denominator of opinion on how to achieve them. 

The criteria that might be used could be: it must draw on successful models for clothing for similar activities in the non-school world; it must be practical in being warm, without adornment, simple to wear, easy to clean; it must identify by consistency not colour - uniform means what it says, and colour should be natural and restrained, not unusual and chemically bright; it must be cheap in the sense of  accessible to family budgets, not  cheap in the sense of costing as little as possible considering that these clothes are worn much of the time, and quality in materials and making can be sacrificed only so far; 'smart' is not something to be obtained from distant echoes of high-maintenance dress (starching, ironing, polishing, pressing) with easy-care substitute materials.

Arguments that children in school should have uniforms are powerful and well-rehearsed but is there any reason why such uniforms should be so poor that they make children feel ugly?  This is what we wore as our day dresses at school (surprisingly it appeared at the Berlin Fashion Week); we came in all shapes and sizes and none of us felt ugly. We all had our hair tied back from our faces and above our collars, lisle stockings, flat laced shoes. No jewellery,  no make-up, short nails.  But we did feel like young women preparing for going out into the world; the only time we wore shirts was for games; we never ever wore ties or v-neck pullovers, (or cardigans).  Warmth was supplied by the uniform underclothing, but I won't go into that.

Of course this kind of dress is no longer what the world wears (though cf Berlin above) but school uniforms need to be rethought to make school children content with how they look for much of their youth.  


Raedwald said...

Dark grey worsted wool two-piece suits in Autumn and Winter, blazers from Easter, white cotton shirts and the school's woven silk tie, with polished black shoes.

Pretty much what I've worn ever since, really, but with a more eclectic choice of shirt and tie these days.

sackerson said...

UK schools open 190 days/year. If uniform worn 8-4 (8 hours) and child sleeps 8 hours/night, school uniform is worn c. 26% of waking time.

Not to argue with your main point. I'd love to get them out of bl**dy (and bl**dy expensive) trainers and into good shoes.

hatfield girl said...

As you say, more or less what you wear today and so do most men if not in specialist work gear for particular undertakings, R. School wear leading into adult life. But while men do wear ties for work mostly, even now, and boys might be reasonably expected to for school wear, how strange that girls are required to wear them, with shirts! when at school.

S, your upbringing is showing. School children don't change when they get home any more; after the revelations of 24 hour jama-wearing by their mothers, perhaps they even go to bed in their uniforms.

As for shoes, a small HG reported that extra changing time was being given after PE so that everyone could do their docs up.

Anonymous said...

It once was or is that certain elite schools had terrible but distinctive uniforms. The child was meant to join the club and addapt not the other way round.

lilith said...

hmnm, scratchy tweed on chapped thighs, v-neck sweaters with white shirt and house tie, brown socks with no elastic and lace up brown shoes. I have barely worn the colour green since.

I was struck by how beautiful Calfy's schoolmates looked without a ghastly uniform but they all wore the same as each other anyway: baggy tops, leggings or jeans and waterfalls of hair on the collar.

hatfield girl said...

It's not just the clothes people at school have to wear, L. It's the buildings in which they have to pass so many hours. And they've been awarded prizes!