Up until high school, I was a pretty fashionable kid. My mom has a funky, artistic sense of style, so I was the first-grader wearing flashy pink rompers and the fifth-grader in mod geometric sweatshirts and headbands.
In grade eight, people paused in disbelief over my exquisite taste. I did grade eight like a boss. I wore shift dresses, lariats, knee high socks, trousers, overalls, bodysuits—I was Tavi Gevinson on a Reitman’s and Suzy Shier budget. I was basically on my way to sitting front row with Anna Wintour in our matching bobs and scowls when Catholic high school and its mandatory uniform came along. Then, as quickly as my hips and acne spread, my budding fashion sense all but disappeared.
Here’s the thing about Catholic (and private) high schools: you wear the same thing. Everyday. Year after year. Tucking shirts in becomes more important than achieving good grades, and a girl’s sexuality is measured by the shortness of her kilt (I wore pants most of the time, so, you do the math).
Adolescence is for figuring shit out and distinguishing yourself. This includes developing your own sense of style (without looking, you know, TOO different). Having to wear pleats and plaid day after day makes forming one’s individual panache, well, difficult. But there are some positive attributes to wearing a uniform, like being able to sleep in until you basically HAVE to be on the bus. Below, the pros and cons of wearing a school uniform.
PRO – Uniformity: With everyone looking pretty much the same, I wasn’t concerned with or distracted by fashion trends, like jelly shoes or babydoll dresses, or style status symbols (Airwalks, anyone?). Less focus on fashion meant more of my attention was going to writing my “X-Files” fan fiction in class. You know, being creative and shit.
CONS – Accessory Overload: With everyone looking the same, the only way you could stand out was via shoes, accessories, and/or hair. My addiction to shopping at Claire’s was worthy of an intervention. Butterfly clips, dangly earrings, mood rings, metal headbands, you name it, and I wore it. Sure, I can blame the ‘90s for my tacky fashion touches, but not being able to express myself with my own clothing definitely meant I overcompensated with the rice necklaces.
PRO – Breezy Mornings: When there’s no question about what to wear everyday, mornings are a breeze. Without Pinterest boards to consult and fashion mags to help choose your weekly outfits, you don’t even have to USE YOUR BRAIN! It’s the one time when you can say, without fibbing, “I woke up like this.”
CONS – Confusing Nights Out: Weekends were the only two days when I could be completely unique and free with my fashion choices, but I was stumped. Wearing dress pants and a starched shirt daily turned me into Melanie Griffith from Working Girl. I wore pinstripe pants and dress shirts to birthday parties; palazzo pants and cardigans to the movies, and long skirts and turtlenecks to family reunions. I was the reversed version of Big: a thirty-something woman trapped in a fifteen year old body. Actually, scratch that. I’m a thirtysomething woman now and I don’t even wear that shit. Bottom line: wearing a uniform messed me UP. When you don’t wear the fashion forward clothing that’s best spent on the youth, you end up a 31-year-old woman wearing hot pants and making up for lost time like it’s her (my) job.
PRO – It’s Cheap: Well, the initial cost of the uniform is pretty expensive, but once you buy the bulk of stuff the first time around, each year gets cheaper. By my last year of high school, I didn’t even have to buy any new clothes. And you know what they say: Happy dollar, happy father.
CON – You Have to Rebuild Your Wardrobe: Sure, you have four (or, in my case, five) years of clothing taken care of, but what happens after high school? You have to rebuild your wardrobe basically from scratch. Because I didn’t know what my sense of style was (Prepster? Old lady? Andrea Zuckerman?) I spent a lot of time and money trying on different “looks” for many years until I finally came into my own, style-wise (I call it Minimalist with Occasional Flair). It’s been almost twenty years in the making, but I think I’m finally doing my eighth grader-self proud. Although, I do still have a fondness for dangly earrings.