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Why I (kind of) miss my weird school uniform

Secondary school’s a tricky time, right? Especially if you have to wear uniform.

Uniform says everything has to be in its right place, but the growing parts of your body throb and scream ‘What’s a right place anyway?’ Also, what’s so bad about dressing how you like?

Now, there’s no tiny violin to play when I talk about my secondary school; I was super lucky to be able to go there. But. The uniform was really weird.

Apart from the black or blue coat for those cold mornings when I waddled into school like an overstuffed teddy in my puffa, everything in my uniform had to be school-approved. The blazer was great. I could stuff its pockets with twigs, tiny toys, money for the vending machines or a payphone, a couple of schoolbooks, an apple, a bottle of water, chewing gums, crusty tissues, pens, pencils, erasers, a Tracker bar and a list of all the people I fancied, like a walking locker.

The rest of the uniform, though… not quite right. Shirts were see-through white, which sometimes we’d get told off for, like our bras were our fault, and then, the skirt… which was a kilt. As far as kilts go, it wasn’t the worst – if I’d had to wear a red one with my ginger hair, the jokes about bagpipes would’ve bleated on longer than a real set of bagpipes. And green would’ve made me look a leprechaun who’d jigged over to Scotland. Blue it was. But with a hefty great pin in the bottom flap – in case this wraparound skirt, fastened at the top with flimsy pleather buckles, caught a gust of wind – it was definitely a kilt.

The positives? The pin doubled up as a cuticle tool, so I could scrape out muck from under my nails during slower lessons. And in the summer, I had a portable picnic blanket around my waist!

It’s so telling, though, that on the last day of school, when we no longer had to wear our old fraying uniforms and could muck them up, not only did we get our white shirts signed by our whole year group, but all us girls had spent the night before slashing our kilts to six inches. It wasn’t about being provocative by showing more skin, it was about no longer having to lug about such a heavy wad of cloth all day. The air was rich with freshly cut grass and intense relief of having finished our GCSEs, and finally our legs could feel it.

There was a navy school-branded jumper, which I loved, but more often than not so big I was swimming in it. Wanting and needing to save on money, my mum would buy massive hand-me-downs from older kids’ parents, so it’d take longer for me to grow into them. I’d get told off for this too.

PE-wise, there were similar highs and lows. A hockey shirt was so comfortable it’s still in my wardrobe, but in Year 7, on our first swimming lesson, it was pretty shocking when we girls discovered that our costumes’ pale vertical stripes going over up our torsos and over our nipples went transparent once wet. Once the teachers realised why we were all holding our arms to our chests in-between the pool and the changing rooms, or ahead of dives, the costume was swiftly updated.

I’m sure a lot more has changed at my old school, but when I look back at its uniform list, it looks like girls still aren’t allowed to wear trousers. I’ll get in touch with them to remind them it’s 2017 now – and to tell them how useful a good uniform can be. No, I’m serious.

Because still, at my ripe old age, with this experience of uniform, I get comfort from repetition: every day I’m working, I wear trousers/jeans, a t-shirt, maybe a jumper, and a jacket. I know I’ve got endless freedom to wear whatever I want and express myself in whichever way I please, but if I’ve got a uniform on, the trickier choices of the day are out of the way by 9am. Maybe I’m traumatised by my school mufti days – intense competitions, where everyone was desperate to show off their best outfits while I trampled in in my sisters’ hand-me-downs. Or perhaps I just feel a little bit smarter in a uniform of my own design.

Not suit-and-tie smart (although I loved wearing a tie by the time I got to Sixth Form and was finally allowed) but a ‘I know what to do today’ smart. If only my adult clothes just had a few more pockets…

@sophwilkinson

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