Four Reasons For School Uniforms

The main official justification for the uniforms of the English public school was democratic equality, that the children – and the parents through their children – not be permitted to compete with one another in expensive clothes. It is hard to quarrel with this idea, especially as the end-state of the alternative is 13-year-olds selling sex in the mall in order to keep up with the school fashions. A second official justification was the ubiquitous concept of “discipline”; wearing the clothes of the institution certainly makes harder to oppose it, and the school can also ensure that much of the pupils’ free time is spent on what soldiers call bull, that is, maintenance of uniforms and accoutrements to hysterically exacting standards. For example, cross-country running in shoes that must be perfectly white prior to the muddy run. In addition, uniformed schoolboys are immediately identifiable and apprehendable in the same manner as convicts in their bright orange. The third reason for school uniform is corruption; the official School Shop of the town has a monopoly and can overcharge as it pleases. One cannot help wondering whether some of these gouging profits make their way to the governors or headmasters responsible for designing said uniforms. The fourth reason is unstated; namely to satisfy parental snobbery. The sprogs are walking advertisements for the ability of the parents to pay the fees; this is Veblen’s conspicuous consumption.

In the school that I attended as a day-boy, the uniforms were not all that elaborate. Jackets were simply dark with the school logo over the breast pockets, ditto caps. In the same town, however, there was a private school that sported far more elaborate uniforms, replete with braid and frogging, so that the boys looked like comic-opera hussars. Their only headgear was a custom “boater”, an article that is very easily damaged and thus requires frequent replacement. It followed that the uniforms were vastly more expensive, as were the fees. Now, this school existed to cater to the academic rejects from my school, which was itself fairly comprehensive (being a mixed state-private affair). Consequently, the pupils of the expensive school were all as thick as a docker’s sandwich, and I never saw much sign that they were actually taught anything either. It was like a sink school, but with faux-medieval buildings, Ruritanian uniforms and ruinous charges. So what was in it for the parents? They could not reasonably hope that their offspring would amount to anything in the wide world, but in the meantime the silly clothes advertised their financial clout.

But perhaps I am being unfair. The combination of dim intellect with the advanced grooming and boundless self-confidence instilled by these schools used to open many doors in Britain, and for all I know still does — above all in the Army and merchant banking.

Posted on February 7, 2011 at 13:41 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: PARENTAL STATUS TECHNOLOGY, Hugo Grinebiter's Schooldays

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