Uniform

Morning sun, downtown New York City, September 2012
When I was a kid, there were other girls in my neighborhood who went to Catholic schools and wore uniforms. From their knee socks and too-short pleated plaid skirts to the cardigan sweaters and shirts with Peter Pan collars, I found these outfits completely intimidating and their wearers scary and incomprehensible. Their clothes were required! And so old fashioned and so ugly! And here they were, parading around like everything was fine– normal, even.  There was a girl my age who lived in the house catty-corner behind us, whose beautiful long blond hair hung down her back in two perfect braids and she had to wear this get-up to school every day. Though she and I shared a mutual friend, her next-door neighbor, my back-door neighbor, I found her terrifying. By 9th grade, we were at the same school, and at long last we became friends. We are friends today.
By the early 80s it was a desirable thing to find a thrift-store bowling team shirt with a name embroidered on a patch on the chest. One would never want one with one’s own name on it, of course, and if the name were old-fashioned (like “Roy,” or “Ethyl,” or “Mildred,”), all the better. Why these are not today a wardrobe staple is a complete mystery to me. I would like to design a Bowling Team shirt for all my friends to wear, and everyone could have a nickname. I might be “Margie.”
One of my earliest memories of being at the barn where I first learned to ride was seeing three specific teen girls in the office before or after their lessons. They were wearing the light tan riding pants which I had been instructed to buy, but pulled up over the legs of their breeches these girls wore knee socks. Clearly this was a way to contain their pants while pulling on tall boots or zipping on a pair of half-chaps over her paddock boots, but they looked very silly to me. Quickly, the silly outfit goes from embarrassing to conspicuous to normal, and even cool. Fifteen years later, I have certainly been seen wearing tall socks over my breeches, and I have been to the grocery store that way.
For a time I worked at a Catholic girls’ high school myself, and while there was no uniform, there was a dress code. One member of the administration was to be informed of violators, and she kept on hand some large and boxy polo shirts and out-of-date high-wasted pleated khakis for students to wear if they were dressed inappropriately. I always wondered if it would have been easier for the students to have a uniform, especially for the faculty. How easy to get dressed in the morning!
My youngest son has begun 9thgrade at a private school in New York City, where they have uniforms and special dress-up days. The first day of school they all wore white shirts with the school logo, navy pants (or skirts) and the school tie. After my struggle of trying to tie a tie around someone else’s neck when I really cannot even do it for myself correctly, I was pleased to see he looked pretty great. As we marched to the subway, and saw other kids in the same uniform headed the same way, there was at least the sense of belonging, even though it was his first day at a brand new school in a brand new city. As we emerged from the subway near school, we could see his school mates funneling towards the front door, and we waved goodbye.

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