Uniforms and uniformity

U2020It will seem strange in some countries that our otherwise obstreperous country is not averse to uniforms in schools. (Mind you we also don’t venerate those who wear uniforms either).

I’m very grateful that when I went to school, both primary and secondary, I wore a uniform every day. State run primary schools didn’t always have uniforms, though they do more often these days. State high schools were much more likely to require a uniform to be worn. As I went to a private Catholic school, we were only allowed to wear uniforms and to a proper standard, at that. What did uniforms offer us?

Pauleen at primary school c1959
At primary school, perhaps about aged 9 or 10. I can still feel the texture of that tie. Can you see my right eye has two shades?
  • A sense of solidarity (and the obverse, the alienation of others, isn’t something I favour)
  • No opportunity for status plays by labelled/expensive clothes
  • A uniformity of style and identity among those who wear the uniform
  • No need to think about what to wear every day
  • A sense of pride in your school, its history and its achievements
  • And when travelling on the bus you knew which boys went to which school <smile>
  • Our school had a fairly modern uniform, for the time, and responds to changing fashion unlike some schools which have maintained the same uniform for generations.
  • The downside was that past pupils recognised your school and if you were not wearing your gloves or hat, or were generally being unruly, you would be reported quick smart – these days I sometimes roll my eyes when I see how current pupils are dressed but I’m not into dobbing them.
  • These days, my school offers what they call ‘plain clothes days’ and the girls who choose to do this have to pay a gold coin donation ($1 or $2) towards a particular charity. Sadly, there are always those girls who want to display their designer wear on these days, or at school fetes.

Think of all the other places were uniforms are worn: military, police, doctors, nurses, sports, clubs, some shops and restaurants, men in suits at conferences….

When I was 13, I would come visit my aunt and uncle in New York. I decided I wanted to live with them after seeing my cousin’s school. Honestly, I just wanted to go to a school where I didn’t have to wear uniforms, and my mom said okay. Priyanka Chopra, Indian actress.

Here is my photo journal of some uniforms that have been worn in my families.

My dad at primary school, aged about 9 or 10 and (right) in his railway uniform as a young man. He had to wear blue serge trousers and jacket throughout the year, with a blue shirt. He would have funny anecdotes about how drivers would suddenly behave on the road because they thought he was an off duty policeman.

Uniforms weren’t required at his primary state school. It wasn’t uncommon for kids to not wear shoes – it was the sub-tropics after all and it was also the time of the Depression. Grandma made sure dad was spick and span in a white shirt (back row). Kelvin Grove state school c1930.

Kelvin Grove State School children c1930
Kelvin Grove State School children c1930

As you can see below things were different at my primary Catholic school not far from Kelvin Grove…a fair degree of uniformity evident, with minor variations. St Joan of Arc, Herston c1956.

St Joan of Arc
This photo includes at least two classes from my primary school. c1956

My mother’s First Communion class had a certain uniformity – they were plainly required to dress to a certain standard. She made her communion at St Mary’s Church, Townsville on 18 June 1933.

Joan McSherry 2nd girl rt front

By the time mum was at high school at St Pat’s in Townsville, the uniforms were plainly rigorously enforced. It struck me looking at this, how much my cousin looks like my mother as well as her own. Mum had blonde hair here while my Aunty Bonnie had red hair.

Joan McSherry St Pats TSV back left

When mum moved to Brisbane from Townsville, she attended the same school that I would late attend and subsequently our daughters. Interesting to see the change of uniforms.

Joan Kunkel AHS 1941
All Hallows’ School, Junior (Year 10) Class. Mum is 4th from right in second front row.

At high school: I did occasionally change my hair, and look demure. Unlike boys’ schools we all wore the same uniform and didn’t have honour blazers for sport or prefects. 1966

Pauleen a prefect at AHS

I went to a Catholic school, so of course we had to wear uniforms. My only form of expression was in shoes and the style of my hair. Camille Guaty, American actress.

Actually we had no choice in shoes, and our hair had to be above the collar, and above all, tidy.

I even wore a uniform at the weekends when I attended the Girl Guides at Newmarket.



We have no photos of Mr Cassmob’s primary school classes or uniforms, but this is one from when he attended Nudgee Junior as a young lad.

43 Peter Cass Nudgee uniform Jan 1960 at Essendon

Before the family moved to Papua New Guinea, Mr Cassmob’s father was an educator with the Royal Australian Air Force. I think this photo of him sharing his uniform cap is so cute and plainly so did the small boy while his sister looks a bit indignant.

My mother-in-law’s school plainly also had stringent rules for their uniforms.

63 prob Kaye Edwards 3rd fm Left 1940s

While the war years were confronting, they also had some side benefits. My O’Brien/Garvey cousins in Sydney got to meet their Garvey cousins from the USA when the US troops were stationed there.


Well, the thing about my high school, which I loved, is that we had uniforms. But whenever we had a free dress day, it was prep-ville, with sweater vests and polo shirts and khakis and Dockers. Vanessa Lachey, American entertainer.

So what’s your vote? Are you in favour of uniforms or not? Do they make daily life easier or suppress individuality?











18 thoughts on “Uniforms and uniformity

  1. I really enjoyed your coverage of different uniforms. At my country primary school, we had no uniforms, although our dress was common to most students. But going to High School in town, meant wearing a uniform. Summer uniform of blue check dresses and white collars, and straw hat when out. Winter was a grey box pleat tunic. I remember ironing it wit brown paper to make the pleats look smart. We also had a sports uniform of navy tunic with coloured cord belt for the ‘House’ you were in. Thank you for all the memories you brought back.


    1. Glad you enjoyed it Flissie. I’ve not heard of ironing with brown paper…we used to use a damp cloth under the iron and over the pleats. Isn’t it funny how one person’s memories can trigger our own.


  2. I never went to a school with uniforms. Everybody seemed to dress pretty much the same. Although I do remember two girls who wore blazers in elementary school. Their families were better off than the rest of us. We moved and the high school I attended, everybody pretty much wore the same type of clothes.

    You have so many uniforms through the years.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved all your photos of uniforms. It certainly makes life easier dressing children for school. My one teacher primary school did not have a uniform but my high school had navy box pleated tunic with white shirt, blue and white striped tie and navy blazer. At the end of 4th year we were involved in designing our Senior uniform. We had the same white shirt and tie, a navy skirt and collarless jacket. The material was a light prestalene. What were they thinking! It was Bowral with near zero temperatures in winter. I wore a wool jumper, black tights and navy gloves but It was soooo cold.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds decidedly unpleasant! Nothing worse than feeling so cold. Our school overlooked the Brisbane River and while no doubt not as cold as Bowral, it could get pretty chilly when the wind came up the river.


  4. Great post on uniforms. Love the First Communion photo.
    We wore uniforms at school and I loved it… no trying to decide what to wear, just get up and put on your uniform! After school I changed right away into jeans.
    In elementary our tunic was the box neck. It was a milestone when we got to grade 7and were allowed to wear the vee neck tunic! High School started in grade 8 and our uniform was grey skirt, white blouse and navy sweater or blazer. In grade 10 we could buy and wear a school sweater (white with green trim, or green with white trim, and school logo). In all cases navy blue socks and brown or black oxfords. In last couple years of night school we could wear a pastel coloured blouse. Boys in all grades wore grey pants and white shirt.
    When mini skirts were the rage you were sent home if you wore one to school. I can imagine my old principal’s face if she saw what the kids are wearing to school today!
    I was in Guiding also… a Brownie, Guide, Ranger then a leader for Guides and later Pathfinders. The Guiding uniforms have changed drastically since those days!

    I wished my kids had to wear school uniforms. As a single Mom of 4 teen girls it was often a challenge keeping them in school clothes!


    1. It sounds like we had similar experiences with school Dianne, apart from the option to wear coloured shirts (gasp!). I’m very thankful my daughters also wore uniforms. You were much more engaged with Guiding..I gave up as high school progressed.


      1. Three of my four girls were in guiding, they mostly quit after Pathfinders in high school. When I switched from being a guide leader to a Pathfinder leader all the kids in third year Brownies ready to fly up were disappointed! Oh well, I got them in Pathfinders later haha!
        Two of my granddaughters are in guiding and one of those is also in army cadets, like her older brother was.
        I remember proudly wearing my Guide uniform to school on Baden Powell Day.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Being Catholic it took some consideration before Mum let me join Guides but our group had a Catholic leader so she took us to amass when we were away camping. You really were “all in” with Guiding. I had a few pen pals from the USA through Guiding.


  5. I am in favour of school uniforms for all the reasons you stated. It was not compulsory at my primary school, but I was desperate to wear a gymslip and a coloured girdle to be like the girls in the boarding schools stories I loved to read – this was the 1950s. My High School uniform was much more formal – white blouse, navy skirt and tie. However I ended up wearing a uniform for the major part of my working life in the Scottish Tourist information Centre network – tartan of course and I liked it and was proud of it.


    1. Ooh a tartan uniform would be one I’d like too. We didn’t do gym…not deemed to be appropriate for young Catholic ladies. We did however have a sports uniform that was cool and comfortable and modest enough to wear in public.


  6. Uniforms are a great social equalizer — and a significant cost savings for parents. Wonderful selection of photos! My public school did not require them, but my younger siblings wore them to Catholic parochial school. However, I did have a Brownie — and later a Girl Scout — uniform and badge sash that was fun to wear to troop meetings. And we had blue one-piece short-suits that we wore for gym.


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