Even With Seemingly Limited Options, Individuality Can Reign
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
As this school year began, I loaded up numerous shopping carts with everything I would “need” for college. From new blue pens, to sticky corkboards, juice glasses, new towels, and pretty much everything else that Target sells, I came to school quite prepared. The best part of going back to school for me, though, is clothes shopping. But as much as I love the new wardrobe additions that come with a new school year, with each imminent September I get nostalgic for my 13 years spent in a school uniform. Plaid or solid, jumper or skirt, Peter Pan collar or oxford, knee socks or tights—even though small choices existed, my mornings were far simpler.
I often look back longingly on the days of rolling into my uniform, throwing my hair in a messy bun, slipping into my uniform shoes, and heading out the door in 10 minutes flat. Although always a lover of fashion, I am a lover of nothing at 6:30 in the morning, so being able to have my school make fashion decisions for me at that point was A-OK with me. (You know what’s not okay though? My uniform shoes—seriously, ew.) On the other hand, there is something so simply beautiful about the combination of a kilt and polo. Simple, classic, standard—except when it’s not.
The ways in which each girl made our utilitarian uniform so uniquely her own never failed to amaze me. That’s really what fashion is—taking something so mundane, ordinary, and standardized, and making it your own. Although it defeats the purpose of said uniform, no two girls ever looked quite the same in them. I miss the ridiculous headbands, from the simple tartan to the more outlandish ones adorned with miniature bird’s nests—yes my friend actually wore this regularly (can’t you see why we are friends?!). Adorning one’s super ugly uniform shoes with custom laces or ribbons, tying these laces into intricate patterns, and adding maybe a touch of Wite-Out graffiti onto them was all the rage. Stepping on the back of these lace up shoes, in essence turning them into slip-ons, was both forbidden (don’t ask me why), and utterly cool at the same time. When fashion choices are few and far between, every detail counts.
Some girls just really knew how to work these limited choices to the best of their abilities, leaving me with some serious envy. There is a true skill to looking like you just rolled out of bed, and looking really cool while doing it. That natural attitude of not caring was what I craved, and struggled to attain. There were always those girls in high school whose uniforms looked so much more effortlessly cool. Maybe it was the way their knee socks slouched with such defiance, but I could never quite grasp this. Or how their hair managed to look both perfectly cool and undid at the same time. Maybe it was the illegal, tie-dyed undershirt that poked out from beneath their uniform polo in a rebellious fashion. Whatever it was, I could never quite find a middle place between being pulled completely together, and actually looking like a zombie. And for those girls who struck this delicate balance, I hated them all—okay maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.
So much stake was placed in the accessories, which ranged from the extravagant to the simple. Whether it be F. Gerald New’s wildly popular St. Christopher’s metals, available in a range of sizes, colors, and shapes, or matching friendship bracelets that you and your 12 closest friends made on vacation together over the summer on LBI, each made a clear statement about exactly who you were and who you hung out with. And then there was “service fashion,” as I like to call it. Do you organize a club on campus that helps underprivileged women in a foreign country? Then you better have a beaded bracelet made by a woman in a far away place to show for it. Do you care about Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Carelessly tack a pink ribbon askew on the hem of your skirt, that way everyone knows. These accessories constantly defined us—they defined our socio-economic positions, showed who could afford the new, expensive jewelry, and also acted as a sort of resume, stating allegiance to club membership.
I will always miss my uniform-clad days. The way that breaking the tiniest rules would get teachers so fired up, and how getting away with these gross transgressions was just so cool. How on some days, you could roll in looking like a disaster, and no one said a word, and the next day, it could be a fashion show. The uniform is the great equalizer, but not always. It is the perfect blend of convenience and opportunity. It is what you make out of it. If this all sounds a little much to you, you clearly never had to wear a uniform. You never knew what that sort of blank canvas could do to inspire your fashion choices.