Kids’ School Uniforms

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As my daughter enters grade 1 this year, we are reaching a big milestone – the uniform years. Since preschool days at the private school she attends, she has looked forward to the “Grade 1” skirts that mark the transition to “real” school. She’s too young to know that most kids don’t look forward to uniforms and doesn’t at the moment spend a lot of time seeking self-expression through dress (she self-expresses just fine with her voice, thanks).

school-uniform-adviceI’ve been looking forward to this milestone too. While she doesn’t care right now what she wears, it hasn’t always been this way. We have had the summer of purple – where nothing but purple (including underwear) would do. Then the great pant strike – which saw many a pair of pants with tags still on them gifted to others while she shivered through in nothing but dresses & tights. And, of course, this was followed by the age of the turtleneck, which stretched well into July. Yes, we have had our clothing battles. The idea of having some externally imposed limits on dress is awfully appealing – the great pant strike was indeed ultimately broken by the gym teacher who insisted on shorts for class.

Then the back-to-school catalogues started arriving and I felt a wistful pang. I’ve always loved fall clothes: kilts, crisp shirts, tall leather boots and checked blazers… Even better when they are kid-sized and I’ve gotten to buy a whole new wardrobe each and every year. So, I turned to the school catalogue to comfort myself on how much money I’ll be saving and have to now invest in her weekend wardrobe.

That was a mistake.

While the colour scheme and styles are limited, it’s fairly amazing how many variations of the white shirt and gray/tartan bottom you can come up with. The short-sleeve golft shirt, the long-sleeve golf shirt, the short-sleeve blouse, the long-sleeve-blouse, the turtleneck… That’s a lot of arguments in the morning for the upper body – and we haven’t even discussed the tie vs. none or blazer vs. sweater debate. There’s clearly plenty of fodder for dissent.

It so happens that uniform clothes, while boring, are not any less expensive than the clothes I’d normally buy. Moreover, they’re not quite as flexible for making it from everyday to playtime to dinners out. And with the notable exception of the tartan kilts and clip-on ties, they have none of the cute appeal that will usually justify the cost of an extra piece (or six). I’m not convinced it’s going to be the money-saver it’s cracked up to be.

Here are a few tips on saving money:

  • if uniform rules allow, stock up on staples like white shirts or cords when you see them on sale (some schools require monograms or specific vendors)
  • be aware of how strict the uniform enforcement is: you won’t save any money if you buy “unsanctioned” shirts, then have to buy a bunch more after a note comes home from the teacher
  • take advantage of uniform sales and swaps, especially for the bigger ticket items like blazers, kilts and tunics
  • if you’ve missed the formal sale/swap, try emailing other parents at the school: informal exchanges can be the best way to snag those harder to find items

In the end, our back-to-school shopping bill is higher than it has been in past years, though I suspect that the cost has been more front-end loaded than in the past: I wouldn’t normally buy both shorts and turtlenecks on the same shopping trip. All these clothes will see us through this year and a few will hopefully make it beyond that. It’s an investment that will hopefully pay back more as the unisex pieces mean that we’ll have some rare hand-me-downs in a few years. (Anyone on the PTA trying to make changes to the uniform between now and my son getting to grade 1 will have to get through me first!)

And, yes, she looks smashing in her tartan tunic and little black Oxfords.

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