Thursday, 3 June 2010

The true awfulness of my various school uniforms

has almost certainly upset my dress sense for life.
There was no uniform in the infants section of my first school but my mother made one for me anyway. I do not know where she obtained the material. My paternal grandfather was a tailor but he would not have given her the piece of men's suiting my mother turned into a pleated skirt with cross over straps. All the other little girls wore tartan or grey skirts with bodice tops over which you put your school shirts and cardigans. To add insult to injury my mother also made me two grey dustcoat like garments "to keep your nice skirt clean". She borrowed the pattern for these from a mother a couple of doors down. The kids in that family went to the Catholic school and I endured hell at school because of those dustcoats. "I'm sorry dear but your mother says you have to wear it," the teachers told me. I think they felt sorry for me too.
By third grade you were expected to wear uniform. In winter you were supposed to wear a grey box-pleated tunic affair if you were a girl. It was the sort of garment you can see in illustrations from the school stories of the 1920's and, although I may be in my ninth life as a cat, I am not that old. Even then however I was marked out. I had grown enough that the pleated skirt no longer fitted. (It was always on the skimpy side.) My grandfather would willingly have made me a tunic. We could have bought a secondhand tunic. Instead my mother obtained a piece of dark brown wool from somewhere and made a tunic. It was the wrong colour and it was not well made. I had to wear it anyway. What is more I wore it with the navy and grey tie that was part of the real uniform. The tunic was too big to begin with, too big and too long. I was supposed to 'grow into it'. I hated it but I wore it because there was nothing else to wear. I was still supposed to wear the dustcoats too. In summer I wore one of two checked dresses, also made by my mother. I am certain she could have bought the right colour check but mine were different.
When we moved to the bush even my mother could no longer pretend that the brown tunic fitted. The new school had grey tunics for winter and nylon shirt-waist dresses for the summer.
My mother found a secondhand grey tunic for me and my sisters and I wore the vile nylon in the summer. My brother had to wear nylon shirts. In temperatures that often soared to the old 115'F nylon was hot and gradually rotted. It is just as well we did not stay in that location too long.
After that I had a succession of school uniforms that were, more or less, what everyone else was wearing. My mother could no longer get away with dressing me differently because my father was now the school principal. That is, until my last school. Rural schools finished at the British equivalent of the third form. If you wanted to go on you had to go away to school and away I was sent, so was my brother and (eventually) one of my sisters. At my last school there was a uniform list. I was back to a secondhand brown tunic. The blouses were mustard yellow. My house tie was brown. All of that was vaguely bearable because everyone else had to wear the same. along with brown check shirt-waist dresses in summer and white garbadine shirt-waists on Sundays if you had not been confirmed in that particular faith - those who had been confirmed wore white robia spot voile dresses.
There was however something on the uniform list that caught my mother's eye. It was the gym costume. Now I knew I would not be doing gym whatever my mother said but she insisted that I would be. The uniform list said, "Gym bloomers, brown. Pattern to be obtained from school."
My mother asked for the pattern. I think she was almost certainly told that these were no longer worn. The uniform list had not changed in twenty years at least, possibly longer. The pattern obtained she went ahead and made me a pair of gym bloomers. They were, quite literally, knee length bloomers like some elderly women still wore back then. My maternal grandmother wore them. My paternal grandmother had long since graduated to something more comfortable.
I went to school with these things packed in my case. The gym teacher took one look when I showed her and said, "You most certainly do not have to wear those things. Give them to me. Now, take yourself off for a walk or ride your tricycle around the block or something while the rest of us are busy."
I pedalled off gratefully. My sister attended the same school two years later. My mother made no mention of bloomers. My sister, never backward about coming forward and considerably more interested in clothing than I was, redesigned the school uniform. Bloomers did not appear on the list - and neither did box pleated tunics.


Anonymous said...

It's amazing how our mothers didn't understand. Surely they were children once! ~Miriam

catdownunder said...

My mother was a teacher Miriam!

Frances said...

Oh, I do feel for you, Cat.
I went through much the same: this unwilling propulsion, by dress or accessories, into a freakish entity, that was not at all of one's choosing.
Maternal egotism, that what she wore mattered, and nought else?

Maternal ignorance? Mine was full of cliches such as "children are happy" etc. Later, she did wonder why we didn't morph into the confident adults that she had expected, but had failed to cultivate.

catdownunder said...

I already stood out in the crowd. Correct school uniform would have helped me to retreat...probably one reason why I do not (despite recent comments about my plain blue top) dress in anything that makes me stand out!