Sunday, 15 September 2019

Clothes line

Just about every week there's a new row about school uniforms. A pupil is sent home for breaking the school's code, or the school has a new code that parents object to. There seems to be a lack of flexibility and common sense all round, be it from pupils, parents or school staff.

Pupils are being ticked off for having corn rows, afros, dyed hair, the wrong length of hair, make-up, too-short skirts, the wrong colour of tights, the wrong kind of shoes, the list is endless. And school staff seem increasingly strict about minor breaches.

It was all a lot simpler when I was at school. There were uniform codes the same as now, but in general, however daft they seemed, everyone stuck to them and didn't kick up a stink over something they weren't allowed to wear. Getting an education was thought more important than arguing about the uniform.

My uniform code was short hair, trousers, jacket, shirt and tie, and smart shoes (no trainers in those days!). The girls' code was shoulder-length hair, below-the-knee skirt, opaque blouse, jacket, plain bra, plain stockings (or tights in the sixties) and smart flat shoes.

I don't remember anyone ever objecting to the uniform, or insisting on their own choice of clothes. It was just accepted that the uniform was adhered to.

But now more and more pupils demand the right to choose their own clothing and uniform codes are often seen as repressive and old-fashioned. Why shouldn't a girl have corn rows or patterned tights or scarlet lipstick? Why shouldn't a boy have long hair or jeans or sneakers?

It gets even more fraught when pupils call for gender-neutral clothing, including what's normally confined to the opposite sex. Transgender boys demand to wear skirts and dresses and make-up and take legal action when they're denied.

Well, why shouldn't kids wear whatever they feel comfortable in? As long as it doesn't interfere with their studies, what's the problem? If a boy wants to prance around in a Laura Ashley frock, so what?

Pic: Very smart pupils at Truro High School for Girls, Cornwall.

And some wonderful news. According to my latest prostate scan, the tiny trace of prostate cancer that I've had for 2½ years has completely disappeared. I'm officially cancer-free!


  1. Congratulations on your "wonderful news", Nick.

    When I went to school there were no uniforms. You could turn up any old way. I wore mini skirts so short they earned me several mentions in our school magazine, one of my friends wore maxi skirts, a lot of the guys had long hair. Jeans were obligatory. All that counted was your performance in class, on the page. That's the motherland for you.

    Fast forward to the Angel starting school in the fatherland [England]. Dear dog in heaven, Nick. Considering that the British have a reputation for being eccentric (you know, nobility loafing about in their worst clothes on a Sunday and in public) they sure are prescriptive. I couldn't believe when I was handed a sheet with "uniform" regulations and where to buy them (and, as an aside, why do the British send their children to school as soon as they are out of their nappies?) Anyway, I told the Angel that if he didn't want to conform (key word) that I'd take it up with the school. Alas, he couldn't care less. To him it wasn't worth the hassle. Length of hair was never an issue. That's when I would have gone onto the barricades. It's one thing to be asked to wear something which you can take off once you are back home. Hair is personal.

    As a matter of interest: Where do you get your information on this from?


  2. Thank you!

    I take it you're referring to your upbringing in Germany. Sounds like they were a lot more laid back about clothing and appearance than the Brits. Yes, my mother also got a long list of uniform requirements, involving a lot of spending when my parents weren't very well off at the time. Interesting that your son couldn't be bothered to fight the regulations. And I agree about hair being a special issue because it's personal.

    My information is from the usual media sources. Such as a ban on corn rows (BBC September 13), ban on boys having long hair (Plymouth Herald April 17), boy wearing wrong type of shoes (The Express September 11), trousers for all pupils after concern about short skirts (BBC September 6). Etc etc.

    1. I hope you don't mind my leaving a second comment in reply to yours. Your sources are interesting and varied. Needless to say that my hair stands on end by the examples you give.

      The whole subject raises so many questions. Not least, what's a society which imposes such "discipline"; discipline being a much misunderstood concept? I think it important but it has to come from within, not imposed. In my experience those who are most "disciplined" (by their teachers and/or, of course, parents) are often the ones who are more likely to temporarily lose the plot when left off the leash and to their own devices.

      As to dress codes in general, and veering slightly off your topic, don't you think it interesting that so many offices have a "dress down Friday" or, as in my son's case, also a WHOLE dress down summer only to return to (relatively) formal closing (no ties) as autumn arrives? As it happens, the Angel doesn't mind because he feels work clothes mean there is a distinction (psychologically) between his working hours and his private pursuits. Also, apparently, means where there is little choice in what to wear there is little options paralysis. A shirt is a shirt - not all T-shirts are equal. Made me laugh.


  3. So pleased to hear your good news, Nick.

    There are regular reports in my local paper about students being sent home, often for minor infringements of exceedingly strict uniform rules. It's mostly sponsored academy chains with corporate identities that want to stamp out individuality, whether at school or pupil level. Of course, some students and even parents like to push the boundaries, but it can tip over into authorised bullying by heads. It may not be the child's fault that the parents have bought cheaper shoes, for example, and they shouldn't be singled out. As for actually sending them home, that's disgraceful.

  4. Dress codes here are lax. When my kds were in school, yoga pants and sweatpants were forbidden, but it's anything goes now. I think teachers have better things to be concerned about, like vaping in class.

  5. Z: Thanks! Academy schools do seem to be much stricter than other schools about uniforms. As you say, heads can get carried away and slip into habitual bullying. And why should parents who simply can't afford the stipulated footwear (or other clothing) be penalised for buying the cheapest option?

  6. Only yoga pants and sweatpants? That doesn't sound too bad. They would certainly be banned over here!

    Vaping is a big issue in the UK as well, especially now it's linked to a number of deaths.

  7. Very good news about your health.
    Today's school student v my old headmistress on the subject of uniforms, hairstyles, make up, etc. would be worth a sight. In her view how you presented yourself at school was part of the preparation for your later life at work.

  8. Fly in the web: I can imagine my old headmasters would also have some trenchant comments on the more laid-back uniform policies of some schools today. But I don't think you really need to spend over a decade preparing your appearance for work!

  9. I guess I can understand the school uniform concept up to a point. It does prevent the whole one-upmanship thing, especially when it comes to the haves Vs the have nots, but some schools certainly seem to be particularly draconian about it. It's a useful tool to level the playing field, so to speak, but every so often it does get taken too far.

  10. I am SO happy for your good health news Nick!
    you must be doing something right. that's just the best news I could hear.
    as to school uniforms. I'm all for it. then a person can simply concentrate on whatever they're teaching.
    although like you and Ursula... NOBODY has the right to tell me how to wear my hair! I would fight them over that. it's a matter of ease and comfort and lack of messing with it that's primarily the reason for me.

  11. Captain Custard: You're right that it reduces one-upmanship, but it's very hard on parents who struggle to find the money for all these compulsory items.

  12. Tammy: Thanks. I haven't quite adjusted to this sudden all-clear yet! I remember the case of a young boy with very beautiful, very long hair who was told he had to cut it all off. He was quite distressed for a while but did eventually give in. What a pointless dictat.

  13. When i was in high school the dress code was very strict. A girl was made to kneel on the floor and if her skirt didn't touch the floor she was sent home to change it and we could only wear slacks if it was a Friday with a football game right after school. And they were slacks not jeans. A few years later, Dave's siblings went to that same school and we had to go there to pick up a house key. Imagine my shock to find both sexes in blue jeans!

  14. Great news Nick, very pleased for you.

    As to uniforms. My daughters wore them, granddaughter didn't, I did. Conclusion: uniforms remove the competitive nature of label/designer clothing from the educational system. But kids will invent new ways of defiance.

    How to control that?

    End of.


  15. Great news for you! Hold the challenges to a minimum now, hear?
    I've never had to deal with uniforms, except that of expectation of looking decent. It was expected of me, and then of my daughters. My daughters had to deal with slashed jeans.

  16. That's great about your health news!

    We didn't have uniforms but girls had to wear dresses (or maybe skirts and blouses?) They all came below the knees, but I don't remember a rule about that. Andy (in Montana )says girls were allowed to wear slacks but only to keep them from freezing if it was super cold.

  17. Linda: The kneeling-on-the-floor test sounds pretty ridiculous. Yes, it must have been strange seeing everyone in jeans after the strict regime you had to follow!

  18. www: I agree, uniforms may curb a competitive tendency, but people will just find other ways to compete with each other. There was plenty of competitiveness at my boarding school!

  19. Joanne: Slashed jeans in school is quite a big leap from ultra-smart uniforms! I wonder if schools now allow piercings and tattoos?

  20. Congratulations on your good news, Nick!!

    No school uniform for me after the age of 13 - so only 2 years of uniform in my lifetime. I went to a ropey comprehensive, they didn't want pupils identified when we nicked stuff from Woolworth's.

  21. Jean: Well, at least they made a concession to cold weather! The schools in our neighbourhood still have strict uniform codes and the girls always look super-smart. But the boys invariably go around with their shirts hanging out.

  22. Ms Scarlet: "They didn't want pupils identified when we nicked stuff from Woolworth's." Brilliant!

  23. To start off, my congratulations on your becoming free of the trace of cancer. Must be a big relief.

    One of the great things that I looked forward to when in school was to leave school so that I could wear whatever I wanted instead of the dreary uniform. It was not the case where NCC or Boy Scout uniforms were concerned but, to wear the school uniform was somehow demeaning.

  24. Ramana: Thanks! I never thought of my uniform as demeaning. People were often impressed that I was going to that particular prep school, which was highly thought of. I did have a cub scout uniform as well, which I rather liked because it was very colourful.

  25. Congrats on being cancer free!!!!

    I have mixed feelings on school uniforms. Some of the rules you hear about seem overly strict, but then again some businesses enforce dress codes, so it could be seen as practice for adult life. I'm just glad I don't have kids to navigate through things like that.

    I hope you do something fun to celebrate your good news!

  26. Danielle: Thanks! We did start a bottle of wine. And I think we'll have a joint celebration of my good health and Jenny's birthday in a few days' time.

    It shouldn't take very long to adjust to a firm's dress code. I don't think that needs an entire childhood of preparation!

  27. First, good news on the prostate cancer - I'm sure that's a relief.

    We didn't have much of a dress code other than not being allowed to wear shorts or short skirts. Then in boarding school we had to wear pants that weren't jeans, shoes that weren't sneakers, and a collared shirt with no writing on it.

    Question: If the girls' shirts were opaque, how would anyone know if the girls' bras were plain or fancy?

  28. Thanks! That was my question as well. How would you know what type of bra it was? Just petty rules for the sake of it.

  29. Good news about your scan! This is terrific! And, as for uniforms, I seem to remember it was explained to me at an early age that it was better to have a uniform than show up kids who could not afford decent clothes. That made sense to me. I am not sure it entirely stopped me trying to defy the rules, but we did it in a very small way, and never got away with it for long.