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.
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