I like to think that I am a bit of a quirky dresser. I take pleasure in looking outrageous in an attempt to attract attention. When I am back home, I make a point of dressing up as flamboyantly as possible- just to make people stare. It’s good to be shocking, to be an individual, to be identifiable. Yet, despite all of this, the only thing I wanted to wear when I was growing up was a proper school uniform.
Naturally, there was some sort of a ‘uniform’, at my school. The founding garments were a polo-neck, covered by either a sweatshirt or cardigan emblazoned with the school logo. It could not of been duller or drabber. Indeed, the most exciting thing to ever happen to it was when the polo transitioned from bright, tomato red to sky blue.
The lack of effort and visual appeal of our uniform invited children, and their parents, to flaunt the rules. My friends turned up to school in whatever they wanted, whatever was clean in the house. Jeans, t-shirts, fairy-princess dresses, anything and everything went. No one was forced to wear the standard. A teacher might have told a girl to take off her non-uniform hoodies, but would take no mind to follow up on it five minutes later when she put it straight back on. It was total aesthetic anarchy.
Knowing where this thought fart may take me, I feel it necessary to address the arguments in favour of this fabric freedom. On a purely economic level, not everyone could afford to buy the set uniform, or have a spare set which could be alternated to avoid the mud, snot and food stains that decorate children’s’ clothes within five minutes of wear. This is a completely understandable and justifiable argument. Had the school been wealthy, I am sure provisions would have been put in place to avoid this. On a more, political level (if it can be called that), why should children have to wear school uniform! Let them run wild and free, embrace their cotton creativity! If they want to wear yellow tights and their nighty to school- why the hell not! Far-fetched, but you get my point.
The issue I take with this argument, however, is that the older we get, the less we are embraced for our unique outfit choices. Bullies start to pick up on the fact that you look a bit strange, not like everyone else. Even more, they start to notice that the lad sat next to them in maths has worn the same, non-uniform t-shirt three times that week. The comments quickly take a dark turn, with children as young as five remarking on the financial status of their peers without having any real understanding of what they are saying. And, more often than not, these perceptions stick. At least with a dirty sweatshirt, the immediate explanation of a stain is not obvious and the questioning of its origins can be easily diverted.
The lack of a ‘proper’ uniform, however, especially in Secondary School, does come with one perk- dress your best days. Once or twice a term, students were expected to come into school in real, non-uniform clothing, bringing in a pound for the pleasure. It was always fascinating to see the style troops emerge on these days. Boys and girls, self-identifying as alternative- known to everyone else as scene kids, started to embrace their all-black ensembles, showing the odd flash of purple, electric blue or green- but only in their hair.
Popular girls donned skirts, or on-trend blue skinny jeans, accompanied by some kind of frilly top, catching in the breeze, and their male counter parts. Of course, there was always the kid who forgot it was dress your best day, and wore the uniform. It became quite a sport to spot them and be the first person to point out their mistake. For me, these days were the peak of excitement. I would spend days before looking at my clothes and deciding what would best represent me on the day. Sometimes, sensing my excitement, my mum would buy me a new top, just to make me feel special.
But, for me, the biggest reason for flouting the uniform code was the fact that we couldn’t take pride in wearing it. No one if they are honest wants to wear a scratchy, starchy polo. It’s not worth the effort to subvert it, make it look cool. What’s the point in finding a new, edgy way to wear a polo- it’s a waste of energy. A blazer, however, is full of potential.
Decked out in a suit and tie, I would’ve looked so cool and professional, felt privileged, like I could compete with the kids at nearby, posher schools. It would’ve been something I could have taken pride in, a composed uniform demanding respect. Even for delinquents, it could have been at least entertaining! There are endless ways to wear a tie just to piss off your teachers. Blazers also double up as excellent wings when you feel the need to pretend you can fly, or transform into a plane. All the coolest characters in books dressed smartly too! You wouldn’t catch James Bond dead in a hoodie. He would always be wearing a blazer. The wonderfully versatile, clean cut jacket that can make you feel powerful, respected, listened to and stylish all at the same time.
Ahh, the secondary school blazer- if only we would have had a chance to meet.