As with many things in life, the grass is always greener on the other side. This has never been truer than when it comes to school uniforms. Although preppy school looks have been admired and copied within popular culture, á la Gossip Girl, there were actually many struggles of wearing a school uniform while growing up.
School uniforms were spotted on the coolest young women who we idolized in the '90s and early '00s, from Britney Spears in her music video for “...Baby One More Time” to Kirsten Dunst in All I Wanna Do and The Virgin Suicides, and Sarah Michelle Gellar and Reese Witherspoon in Cruel Intentions, to name a few. If your school didn’t have a dress code, you likely hoped that one day you would receive your invitation to Hogwarts, just so you’d get to wear a uniform of sorts. After all, being made to wear a mysterious cloak was better than not having a uniform at all. Or so it seemed.
The reality of wearing a school uniform was very different to its portrayal in popular culture, however. As someone who attended a Catholic school in England, I wore school uniforms for over a decade. Although my uniform changed from elementary school to high school, I was still stuck in the same styles for many years. When you’re wearing almost exactly the same clothes five days a week, for over five years, you’re bound to come up against some issues. So here’s a little peek into the struggles of wearing a school uniform.
1. Feeling Like A Soulless Robot
Depending on how strict your school's dress code was, there was likely little you could do to stand out from the crowd, which sucked. Especially if you were into fashion or enjoyed showing your personality through your wardrobe choices.
2. Trying To Shorten Your Skirt, But Always Getting Busted
Teachers were the fashion police and brown-nosing prefects were their sniffer dogs. Even if you made your skirt just a quarter of an inch higher, they would somehow know and you'd be forced to take it down again.
3. Attempting To Get Away With Wearing Makeup
You probably tested the waters with different teachers and different types of makeup. You could easily get away with foundation and concealer, but eyeshadow and lipstick were out of the question. A blind eye was turned to mascara, as long as you didn't wear it with lashings of thick, black liner. If you did, you'd have to take the whole lot off with a baby wipe.
4. Hair Accessories Being Everything To You
As long as your hair accessory served a function and didn't impede your learning, you could usually wear whatever you liked. Chances are you had a whole drawer (or more) dedicated to these babies, because they were practically the only tool you had to help differentiate yourself from everyone else in the class.
5. Finding Jewelry That Didn't Violate The Dress Code
Your standard jewelry allowance was literally a pair of stud earrings. If you got caught wearing anything else, the item(s) would be confiscated until the end of term. So you had to be really sneaky if you wanted to wear your favorite necklace, ring, or bracelet, or risk being without it for the next few weeks or longer.
6. Not Being Able To Wash Your Uniform As Often As You Wanted
If you spilled something on your uniform, then had extracurricular activities and your mom was working late, chances are you'd be turning up to school in your stained uniform the next day. This did nothing for your already super self-conscious tween self esteem.
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7. Trying To Show Which Subculture You Belonged To
Being forced to wear the same clothes as everyone else, with no unnatural hair shades and no makeup, meant that it was really tricky to highlight your interests. At least you could always get changed as soon as you stepped through your front door, unless you went to boarding school. Then you were doomed to a life of vanilla style until college.
8. Having The Same Backpack As Someone Else
One thing your school likely had no power over was your backpack. You spent the whole summer debating which style would be the coolest, only to have your dreams shattered when someone else had the same one as you. Was there no reprise from this bland world?!
9. Getting Your Uniform From A Specialist Store
When your school had a uniform, there was only one place to buy it: The school uniform store. Going on a trip to one of these establishments usually took the fun out of shopping. However, if you were a rebel, you might have purchased your trousers or skirt from somewhere trendy, only to be reprimanded on the first day of school and instructed to acquire the standard style.
10. Being Teased If You Didn't Make "Cool" Adjustments
There was a bunch of stuff you could do to your uniform in an attempt to make it look "cool." Such customizations included unbuttoning your collar and wearing a big, fat tie or sporting subtly-patterned tights. If you were a goody two shoes, you probably left your uniform alone, which made you a huge target for teasing.
11. Finding The Perfect Pair Of Sensible Shoes
School shoe shopping was a battle of wills between you and your parent. They liked the ugliest styles that made you look like a teacher's pet, whereas you wanted footwear that helped you appear at least two years older than you actually were. The mammoth shopping trip often ended in tears with the weakest willed opponent giving in. It was almost as bad as shopping for jeans.
Although there were many struggles of wearing a school uniform, at least it took the hassle out of deciding what to wear in the morning. I guess.
Images: StudioCanal, Relativity Media, Working Title Films (3); Ealing Studios, Fragile Films, UK Film Council (3); American Zoetrope, Muse Productions, Eternity Pictures (1); BritneySpearsVEVO/YouTube (1); Original Film, Newmarket Capital Group (1)