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School Uniforms: A Morning Savior or Crushing Individuality?

By Kelcey Kintner

When we lived in NY, my daughters attended a non-uniform school with a very casual dress code. Which meant each morning we got to mull over questions like… Are leggings considered pants or more like tights? Do you need to wear a skirt over leggings? If no skirt, how long does the shirt need to be covering the leggings? Is this shirt too short? Is this shirt too tight? Is this a school outfit or glorified pajamas?

It was very exhausting.

I tried to make rules. For example, I told my girls: No leggings alone. You must wear a skirt over leggings. But they wore me down with their daily pleadings and I eventually let them wear leggings with long shirts (as long as the shirts covered their tushes).

But even that didn’t always work because sometimes a shirt was right on the line of appropriate or inappropriate or I’m not really sure and the only thing I know is that WE ARE GOING TO BE LATE FOR SCHOOL.

School Uniforms

So I was quite relieved when we moved to Florida and my daughters started at a school which required uniforms.

They could choose from five different collared shirts… in white, pink, blue, red or blue stripes. And it had to be paired with navy or khaki bottoms (skirt or pants).

And it was GLORIOUS.

No more school clothing debates. No more attending school in outfits that were borderline sleepwear. No more worrying about what brand of clothing other girls were wearing. There was just…

Misery! Wait, what?

My younger school-aged daughter (now 8) actually doesn’t mind wearing a school uniform. She wears her uniform every day without a complaint. But my oldest daughter (now 10) can’t stand uniforms. How would she put it exactly? That it crushes her creative spirit and denies her happiness. She often wears a shirt under her uniform shirt so as soon as school is out, she can remove her collared shirt and be free.

I do get her point. I hate being told what to wear. I still shudder back to days when I had to wear blazers and pantyhose to work. I just felt so uncomfortable. So not me. I love putting on an outfit now that looks good and feels like me. I think for many of us – when we like what we are wearing, we feel better in our own skin.

But I also understand the benefit of school uniforms. It creates a respectful atmosphere for learning. It removes a lot of the peer pressure to wear certain clothing brands. It can even speed up the getting dressed process during those precious morning minutes.

But I no longer view uniforms as this magical solution to all tween fashion issues. School uniforms certainly work for some.  (There are kids who even wear their uniforms on the weekend!) And uniforms don’t work for others – like my creative free spirit child who makes eclectic fashion choices and sews her own clothes. A simple school dress code would have been a far better fit for her.

But I tell my daughter… sometimes in life you just have to follow the rules. And, at least she isn’t wearing pantyhose.

Kelcey Kintner
About the Author

Kelcey Kintner

Kelcey Kintner, an award winning journalist and freelance writer, is a fashion critic for US Weekly, created the humor blog 

Kelcey Kintner, an award winning journalist and freelance writer, is a fashion critic for US Weekly, created the humor blog The Mama Bird Diaries and writes for the Huffington Post. You can follow her @mamabirddiaries or on Facebook. She’s still trying to fit 5 kids on a Vespa. 

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  • Claire

    February 6, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Uniforms are the norm in the UK. I always wore a tie in school – even at 5. Though that seems to be dropping out of favour now for polo shirts. Tie and blazer is still the norm for 11+

    As an aside I have used that picture before in a descriptive writing slide show. It made me smile to see it again!

  • z

    February 6, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    I have found uniforms don’t save us any time, because there is the extra effort of making sure uniform clothes are available to wear, rather than just putting on whatever’s clean.  Maybe less of a battle with kids, but having to keep track of the uniforms is extra work for me.

  • Tasha

    February 7, 2015 at 8:09 am

    I love uniforms!!!  I only need five tops and 5 bottoms and they save money and I can get two years out of the clothes. Now, next year we will have NO uniforms for my girls.  I have one in HS and my youngest will be entering MS so the clothes drama will be two fold.  “Does this outfit look good” and the trendy clothes that “everyone” is wearing.  UGH.  Im already dreading that shopping trip.

    It doesn’t matter how many times I tell the kids that the labeled, trendy clothes wont make a difference in how people treat you or make you better. Somehow, my  high schooler feels like a” less than” for not having them.  We have made trips to the new goodwill by my house to find those clothes so I don’t have to spend so much money for her to feel “in”.

    For me, life is simpler with uniforms and kids can express their “individuality’ a thousand other ways then with their clothing. 

  • Tiffany

    February 7, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    I had a uniform in high school, after coming from a public middle school where we could wear more or less whatever. 

    I felt really stifled in middle school- I was girl-bullied a lot, especially about my clothes- and felt the need to not stick out as much as possible. 

    In high school, the school’s culture was, “Whatever it is that you do (model rockets, play guitar, sports, dance, whatever) we’ll celebrate it with you. Because that is how you will express yourself while you wear this uniform that we require.” I felt amazingly free.

  • Leeann

    February 7, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    My kids wear a uniform in middle and high school. It is a pretty broad one- there are a ton of different colors and types of polo shirts, button downs, sweatshirts etc plus you can wear khakis, navy chinos, skirts etc. Shoes and all the other stuff is whatever you want it to be. 

    My kids are all fine with the uniform and I love it. Super simple. It also avoids pressure about clothes and the expenses of clothes etc. 

    For us, it’s the easy way out.

  • Cheryl S.

    February 9, 2015 at 9:56 am

    As a parent I LOVE uniforms. So simple. And, tell you daughter that she can dress the way she likes on the weekends!  I tell mine that she’s there to learn, not be in a fashion show.  Plus, it helps with the haves/have nots stuff that goes on.  

    Honestly, as a student in Catholic school years ago, I hated the uniform.

  • Judy

    February 9, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    I never had to deal with uniforms, but from a friend who did: Uniforms are a godsend for poor children because there is no longer that brand recognition factor or being caught in long gone fashions.

    I could tell when the local school district adopted a uniform because the children at the bus stops suddenly started looking like students waiting for school instead of a bunch of hooligans loitering around. I’ve noticed the older girls accessorizing more to show creativity, hair embellishments, scarves, jaunty hats, clunky fashion jewelry.

  • Dana

    February 9, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    I like school uniforms.  My son is still too young for this to be an issue but I had a school uniform up through 8th grade.  I didn’t mind mostly, but I am really happy that times have changed and more options are acceptable now for uniforms.  When I was a child the girls had to wear skirts in the fall and spring (outside of daylight savings time) and could only wear pants in the winter.  As a tomboy I hated that rule!  Now the same school allows pants any time and even navy blue shorts for boys and girls.

    I think it looks nice and takes away a source of conflict between parents and kids and some of the peer pressure between the kids.  

  • Natalie

    February 13, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    I would have given ANYTHING to had a uniform in school while growing up. I had a mother who refused to buy the trendy clothes (rightfully so) and middle school was HORRENDOUS for me…kids are vicious and especially girls. Why give kids any extra reason to make fun of others or for those who can’t afford the “cool” clothes, have them feel left out or embarrassed. That whole period of life is hard enough…plus it teaches life lessons about clothes not defining who you are AND that sometimes you have to wear uniforms or designated attire for work/job. Life isn’t always fair and I get so tired of hearing other parents complaining about how such and such requirements/rules/traditional behaviors are “breaking their kid’s spirit” sort of thing. I will be very grateful if my childrens school has a designated uniform in the next couple years when they start 🙂

  • MP

    February 13, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    yeah, uniforms are great… If you have the kind of normative body that they’re made to go on. 

    Try being the 5’0, women’s size 22 who has to wear them.

    Polos and those awful skirts are only made to fit one body type- thin and flat.