When I was a young lad, I was shipped away to Catholic grade school every weekday clad in a starched white-collared dress shirt, polyester hunter green slacks and a handsome-in-retrospect plaid green necktie. Sometimes, in the chillier months, I even wore a forest green cardigan sweater. It was the ’80s and I was adorable.
I have no recollection of complaining about my uniform. Sure, I was a spoiled brat about a whole host of other things, but I had nary a complaint about my stuffy school get-up. The same is not true, however, of my oldest elementary school-aged daughter.
While she doesn’t complain about any of the frivolous things I nagged my own parents about some 30 years ago, she’s grown to detest the khaki skort and green polo shirt her school mandates. She has no problem verbalizing her disgruntlement … repeatedly. It’s only partially about comfort and much more about the shackling of self-expression.
I don’t 100 percent disagree with her on that last point. Well, on either point really. I mean, who would choose to wear scratchy threads over sweats?
I’ve explained to her that I understand what she’s saying, that her points are valid, but that there are also valid reasons for the existence of school uniforms.
There’s a socioeconomic argument — a school uniform helps to ensure a level fashion playing field for all students. This is especially necessary in a schools like hers that draw from many diverse communities.
Not everyone can afford fresh duds every school year and because a lot of kids can be jerks about the clothes their peers wear, a uniform steps in to eliminate the potential for scorn over hand-me-downs or outdated styles. Would it be nice if kids were nicer? Of course it would. Add that to the very long list of societal ills that need a fixin’. In the meantime, put on the khakis and collared shirt and have a great day at school, sweetie.
Uniforms also make sense in schools for the same reason a dress code makes sense in the workplace. There’s always that one person who gets a little too casual on casual Friday and shows up better suited for clubbing than a client meeting. Those people are not helping the greater good who like the occasional option of dressing for comfort at work.
The same is true at school, where there’s always that one 11th-grader who enjoys showing off his armpit hair a little too much in his big brother’s crusty old sleeveless Pantera concert t-shirt. He too, is why uniforms exist.
That’s why, starting again this fall, I will have a dozen more dinnertime chats that begin with something along the lines of, “I understand, darling, and I agree that it would be wonderful if you could wear your favorite clothes to school, but…”