Amid the filling out of forms, organizing notebooks, sharpening pencils, and other such school prep trivia, I have also been buying Beans and Peach uniform shirts (talboshet achida). It seems Education Minister Gideon Saar has issued a proclamation that all kids in elementary and middle schools must wear uniform shirts: solid color t-shirts with the school insignia silkscreened on the upper left of the chest. (Pants and skirts seem not to be an issue with the Education Ministry at this time.)
Having worked in schools for many years, I am aware of the many issues around children’s clothing. There are the economic differences between wealthier and poorer students. There are the fashions and fads that come and go. And there are the clothes of questionable taste (slutwear, shirts sporting innuendoes, etc.). Uniforms offer a low-tech solution to many of these problems.
As it happens, I am not thrilled at having to buy special shirts for my girls for school. In the past few years, I have bought them beautiful long-sleeved cotton dresses to wear in the cooler weather that are more comfortable worn with pants and leggings than skirts are (with their two waistbands bunched together). And the style of these uniform shirts is very little different from the shirts I normally buy for them, so now they have a closet brimming with two wardrobes worth of short-, ¾-length, and long-sleeved t-shirts, some with and some without insignia.
But even I can see an advantage in these uniform shirts. I’ve never bought the argument that children (i.e. anyone under university level) MUST express themselves through their clothing. (On the contrary, I think it leads to stereotyping and cliques much more than everyone wearing the same clothing but being viewed much more as individuals.) And good riddance now to the phone calls from the rav at Peach’s school about the length of Peach’s sleeves. Beans’s school, with characteristic ditziness, waited until I’d already bought short-sleeved shirts for the warm weather and long-sleeved shirts for the winter to email the parents and request that we buy only long-sleeved shirts for the girls. At least the shirts are inexpensive, and I bought both girls at least a size or two bigger than what they really wear to avoid buying new ones every year. They’re not of the highest quality, though, so we’ll see how long they last. I heard one parent lament that the silkscreening is poor quality and that the insignia will wear off quickly. Who cares? I answered. They’re still the uniform shirts. If they want me to bring them in and have the insignia reapplied, I’ll do it (as long as it’s free). If not, I won’t, and they’ll wear them as they are.
So while I don’t necessarily share the Education Minister’s concerns about inappropriate clothing (at least where my own children are concerned), in principle I am supportive of uniforms. In my last two years of high school, I attended a girls’ school where we wore uniforms. We looked like 1960s hospital nurses during the warmer months and—with our red-and-green Dewar plaid kilts—like Christmas trees in winter. But still, I loved not wondering what I would wear every morning. I loved that while the rich girls may have had cashmere or lambswool sweaters compared to the other girls’ cotton or acrylic, at least from a reasonable distance we weren’t really distinguishable. Geeks looked like the drama queens, who looked like the debutantes, who looked like the field hockey jocks, who looked like everyone else. And I like the notion that kids should not judge others or be judged themselves by what they wear, and should express their individuality through their middot (positive character), talents, strengths, interests, and promise.
After all, uniforms don’t impose any roles or expectations on kids, do they?