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I Love a Kid in School Uniform — and You Should Too

One of my favorite parts of going back to school is seeing my kids with their fresh haircuts and crisply pressed uniforms. We're not parochial or prep school people. We are very much a public school family — both my husband and I are products of the California education system — and our kids are enrolled in the neighborhood schools, too. But when it comes to dress codes, the nuns knew what they were doing.

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Back to School shopping, circa 1979

My mom and I would go to the Sears or J.C. Penney to inhale the scent of fresh popcorn and try on pink Toughskins and corduroy culottes. I particularly remember a pair of burgundy cords I had during my fourth grade year. I felt like a million bucks in them. Until I moved to my new California school in the middle of the year and met my new classmates, with their cheeky running shorts and rainbow shirts. Multiply that awkwardness exponentially on the evening of our class performance, when I was the only one wearing Stride Rite Mary Janes in a sea of wedge sandals. Instead of concentrating on long division and state history, I was embarrassed that I was the only fourth-grade girl with her bum fully clothed.

This little bit of childhood trauma helps explain why I am a die-hard fan of school uniforms. Replace the Jordache jeans with Hollister sweatshirts and toss in a few "Girls hate math" T-shirts, and things really haven't changed all that much. Luckily, my own children have never experienced this kind of sartorial joy and agony of shopping for that first day of school outfit, because they attend a public school that requires uniforms.

Back to School shopping circa 2014

After the kids are in bed one summer evening, I pour myself a glass of Pinot Grigio and log onto the Internet. I click around Lands' End and the Gap and load up my virtual cart with chinos and polo shirts. Done! Because I order a year's wardrobe at one time, I usually earn some kind of reward points or rebate, so I feel like I'm practically getting paid to shop.

Uniforms are a way to keep the focus on learning, not fashion, and a way to blur the lines between the haves and have-nots.

In this day, school uniforms conjure up images from opposite ends of the spectrum: We picture Hermione Granger buttoned-up with her Gryffindor necktie or (somewhat less buttoned-up) Britney Spears with her plaid skirt and midriff-baring top. But what if uniforms were just a way of life … for all school kids? In many countries, all students — public or private — wear uniforms. When we visited Taiwan last year, the museums and landmarks were crawling with field trip kids, all of them in school colors. Not just Sailor Moon lookalikes with pigtails and Peter Pan collars, either. There were sporty types in powder blue track suits, others in orange sweat shirts, and the really traditional ones navy blazers. Nobody was running around in cut-off shirts or "I'm with stupid" tees.

Uniforms are also a way to keep the focus on learning, not fashion, and a way to blur the lines between the haves and have-nots. For some families, the struggle in getting dressed is not just in keeping up with the latest fads and brand names, and how short jeans cut-offs should be to be decent (no pockets showing, please). For those families, it's a challenge just finding affordable clothes that fit and aren't worn out. I love the way the simplicity of the public school "uniform," which doesn't require going to any special stores — although if you like, you can go to the musty Olde Uniform Shoppe, with its poly-blend slacks and plaid jumpers. The bottom line is that the kids need to wear navy blue pants or skirts and a polo shirt in the school color. Ralph Lauren makes them and so does Target. And guess what? Unless you're close enough to see that little horse logo, the clothes pretty much all look the same.

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A caveat: My kids are also allowed to wear school t-shirts. Each year, the PTA sells a new design, featuring a festive student's drawing of the school mascot. My boys love these tees, and their drawers are filled with them. I must confess that I sometimes let the laundry pile up so they will run out of those T-shirts and are forced to wear a polo. They just look neater and stand a little taller when wearing a shirt with a collar. What can I say? I love a kid in school uniform.

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