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Buying school uniforms feels like corporal punishment

PUBLISHED: 16:35 04 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:43 04 September 2018

Why is buying school uniform such a pain?  Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Why is buying school uniform such a pain? Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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School uniform buying time is the bane of Charlotte Smith-Jarvis’ life.

I approach buying my daughter’s school uniform with same attitude as when I buy jeans -fraught, red hot and ready for a fight.

I never can find the right kind of denim to cover my ample posterior without leaving a huge gaping hole at my back and more often than not come home peeved and in need of a big bar of chocolate.

My daughter hasn’t inherited my hourglass figure. She’s like her dad - all sinewy and lithe (I admit, I’m a bit jealous). So I didn’t ever expect to have trouble buying her clothes. Surely she could slink into anything?

But the further she’s gone through the schooling system, the harder it’s gotten. And I’m not alone. I’ve heard from dozens of parents who simply cannot get their kids into their school’s uniform of choice.

“My son can’t get his trousers up past his thighs because he’s a funny shape,” said one mum.

“My daughter was forced to change out of her nicely fitting slim trousers into a baggy pair from lost property – they fell down,” another cried in anger.

I get the idea of uniforms – which were incidentally first recorded in the 16th century. They’re to create a sense of solidarity between pupils. To crash down class barriers. To set a bar for smartness that reflects the school.

But I’m flipping glad I don’t have to wear one any more. We just have to be presentable and smart for work – although I do clearly remember once receiving a round-all years ago reminding us that “tops and blouses must comfortably meet your trousers”. I’m not sure who was parading around the office in a crop top! It certainly wasn’t me.

I’ve been equally tickled by various school uniform policies from across East Anglia. ‘No Mohawk hair-dos’.

‘Only one signet ring allowed’.

‘Each child must wear a watch with their name on’.

And my favourite – ‘ trousers must meet the shoe so no ankle shows’. Apparently boys will be titillated and distracted by such a display. Really? Because that’s exactly what teenagers are looking at these days – ankles! Aren’t we a century behind with that one?

My daughter’s uniform policy is for a school branded top and fleece and smart, black, full length trousers - not slim fit.

And here lies the problem that I and other parents face. Children are not one-size-fits-all. Especially pubescent girls. Almost every pair of trousers or skirt my 12-year-old tried on were ridiculously loose. She has no hips, bless her – but she’s not that short. Going down a size made the waist marginally smaller but lifted the trouser leg up above ankle height in a way that looked farcical.

And there was no way to tailor any of them, such was the chasm of space left around her middle when trying them on.

We went to local school shops, M&S, H&M, all the big supermarkets, Debenhams. On holiday in North Devon over the summer a whole afternoon was wasted trawling the streets of Barnstaple with a stroppy tearful pre-teen, worried she’d have nothing to wear when school time came around again.

Our last resort was Primark where we found the size 4 ladies’ trousers in the petite range an almost perfect fit.

“But mum, I can’t wear them,” she cried. “They’re too slim!”

Personally I’d say they were a pipe leg trouser and nothing at all like a legging, or butt-hugging pair so frowned upon by schools.

Quite frankly, by this point I didn’t care. “They’re fine darling,” I promised.

After all, if she turns up back at school with freshly washed hair, a new bag, shiny new pencils, polished new shoes, dressed smartly and with a keen attitude to learning – shouldn’t that be what counts?

Should it really matter that her trousers are pipe legged instead of flared at the bottom?

Does comfort matter at all?

The jury’s out, but if she (like many children) gets in trouble this September for her uniform, I’d like to see what the school suggests she wears. Or maybe they can provide her with a giant bull clip and suspenders to hold up the school recommended bottoms?

Leading the way

When it comes to inclusion and foresight in uniforms, the Brownies lead the way. They do special order uniforms at the same price to fit different shapes and sizes, and cater for special needs such as sensory processing. Come on school suppliers – we need more of the same.

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