Back To School 1 - Page 12 - Accessorizing takes the uniform out of school uniforms

Back To School 1
- Page 12
Accessorizing takes the uniform out of school uniforms
By Linda L. Esterson,
Contributing Writer

The use of school uniforms is documented to go back centuries. Today, many American schools have implemented the mandatory attire as a way to improve school climate and spur academic success. The parameters defining school uniforms vary greatly, and students go to great lengths to modify the uniform, as permitted, to differentiate themselves.

“The uniform is the great equalizer,” says Ricky Herman, owner of Herman’s Discount in Baltimore. “It brings everybody to the same level.”

According to Herman, school uniforms generally consist of a shirt with an embroidered or printed logo, usually a polo or button-down, and some schools add a blazer.

The “bottoms” is often where students express their individuality, as they can choose their style, Herman notes. At some schools, girls can choose from skirts or even tighter fitting bottoms, like jogger pants, while still conforming to color requirements. Loose fit, he says, is “out.”

Skirts, for instance, can be an of the following: pleated, kick front, straight, long or short, conforming to color but available in a variety of styles. Shirts, too, in modern day are available more tapered, in ladies’ cuts.

Depending on the school’s requirements, Herman offers tops in 18 different colors, while bottoms are more standard in khaki, navy, black, gray and sometimes green, burgundy or plaid.

“Most schools share accounts with (several) vendors,” Herman says. “Parents have lots of options.”

In addition to the required attire, most schools offer what is called “spirit wear,” items designed to promote the school and are optional additions to a child’s wardrobe. This can consist of outwear from quarter zips, fleece, and hoodies to rain jackets and varsity jackets and even bow and cross ties.

“Outerwear is synonymous to tennis shoes,” says Herman.“They want to stand out.”

At Baltimore City College, students may choose a logoed vest or sweater as well as a hoodie or quarter zip to stand out, says Cindy Harcum, school principal.

“They move with the times,” Harcum says. “Kids like to be in fashion.”

City College, like most city public schools, requires a standardized tan khaki bottom (skirt, pants or shorts) and a top adorned with the school logo. The most popular are polo and oxford shirts. Acceptable is any outside covering – jacket, sweatshirt or sweater – with any logo or décor, as long as the logo shirt is worn underneath and the collar is visible, Harcum says. Students accessorize with the covering and other items like socks, tennis shoes, leggings, tights, ties, scarves and headbands.

“They have fun with it,” notes Harcum, who mentions a young man who wore a tie and blazer with his uniform shirt and khaki shorts every day for four years. “It’s what they like. It helps families control the cost of clothing. Parents like that a lot. At the same time, it helps kids feel comfortable in their individuality.”

Some schools may not opt for official uniforms, but instead provide a specific dress code to maintain sameness. More than 15 years ago, Krieger Schecter Day School (KSDS) in Pikesville implemented a “uniform style” dress code, says Wendy Gelber, KSDS Lower School head. Students wear uniform-style shorts or pants that are black, navy or khaki, and girls may choose plaid patterns as well. Shirts can be oxfords, polos, turtlenecks or sweatshirts but must be solid colored, unless it includes the school logo. On Fridays, all students, faculty and staff members wear white tops in preparation for Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, that evening.

The consistent look is designed to meet all budgets and fit all body types, Gelber says.

“Students can dress easily, be neat and be ready to learn,” she explains.

Personalization still occurs at KSDS. Decorative kippot or yarmulkes (head coverings), for instance, can be seen in all styles from crocheted to scenic, demonstrating Minecraft, Pokémon or professional sports teams.

“They express their interests and feel comfortable wearing them,” she says of the customization, some of which are decorated on both sides.

Girls in the lower school choose headbands and cat or unicorn ears, and older girls in the middle school opt for sequined Ugg boots that change color, light up shoes, and decorative leggings under their skirts to show their style. On any given day, there are a variety of stripes,
rainbows and patterns around the school halls.

“The goal is that children are comfortable, able to concentrate on learning in school and it’s easy and affordable for families,” says Gelber.

The way students accessorize says a lot about them, according to Erica Vincent, school store manager for Springdale Preparatory School in New Windsor. Vincent has seen students accessorize beyond the required polo shirt and khaki pants or skirts through their shoes, backpacks, and even hair styles.

“You can tell a lot about a student based on what shoes they wear – are they athletic? Do they love color? Are they into skateboarding or soccer? Which brands do they gravitate to?” says Vincent. “All of these decisions help express individuality in our student body.”

Some Springdale students mismatch shoes purposely or even match shoes with a partner to show they are friends. The type of book bag – backpacks, satchel, roller bag or duffle – also demonstrates style.

“Students can choose a backpack with or without color – they can put patches on it or write quotes. Students can hang things like keychains, ribbon, all sorts of self-expressive items to give their friends a bit of their personality and interests,”Vincent explains.“Or, some student opt for a shoulder bag instead which looks a bit more grown up.”

Students also accessorize with their hairstyle, often generating nicknames as a result. Others ask barbers to shave shapes or designs into their hair or even get a new hairdo each month.

“A student who takes care of their appearance and puts thought into their presentation says they are diligent, creative, and proud,” she adds. “I think it’s important for teenagers, especially, to have an outlet of self-expression.

School uniforms can get monotonous, and although they have many perks, self-expression is an important part of forming your identity. A student who feels comfortable showcasing their music likes, hobbies, style, and even ethnicity through their accessories seems more confident and sure of themselves than their counterparts who feel uniforms are a hindrance to their personality.” •