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.

 

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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.

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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?