After a little tabulation, I’ve realized that I’ve spent about as much of my life in uniform as I have out of it—12 years at an all-girls’ school and a uniformed camp, plus a semester abroad—so I can confidently say that I know a thing or two about dress codes. And yet, everything I used to read in teen magazines about styling a school uniform seemed to apply only to some fantasy Gossip Girl world, where kilts could be Chanel, shoes could be bright red and piling on the jewelry was an acceptable way to accessorize your button-up blouse.
Needless to say, this isn’t most people’s reality. At my school, we wore forest green everything—kilts, knee socks, blazers, tunics—plus black oxford shoes (polished, please) and green-and-gold striped ties. Any efforts at jazzing things up with makeup, nail polish or jewelry were quickly shot down.
And yet, we always found ways to make our day to day wardrobe a little bit more interesting. Unlike some, I wasn’t a rule breaker so much as a rule bender: my oxfords were often scuffed and rarely fully-tied, my hair was never really neat until I discovered CHI straighteners, and my accessory of choice was headbands (which I swear had nothing to do with Blair Waldorf). All three of my favorites were decidedly against dress code: for one thing, they were pink (pastel, magenta and bubblegum), rather than the regulation brown and black, and one had a not-inconspicuous lip print inspired by Man Ray’s iconic painting, although at the time I just liked it because, well, it meant even more pink.
When I went to South Africa on exchange in grade ten, the school had an even stricter uniform (in forest green, yet again!) which included a housemaid-ish dress with white buttons up the front, white ankle socks, and a compulsory white Panama hat. Luckily, as Canadians, we were given a break for our slovenliness, otherwise I would not have fared well with the dress code police. Belts were worn neatly at the waist; mine was slung low around my hips. Long hair had to be tied back; I compromised with a messy side ponytail.
So ok, if you’re looking to stay on the straight-and-narrow dress code-wise, I may not be the very best example, but with time comes wisdom, and looking back, there were certainly better ways to add some individuality while still looking up to snuff. And while a uniform may seem like a death sentence for personal style, it really does eliminate a lot of the distraction and self-doubt that can make navigating school more challenging than it needs to be. Plus, as you’ll see in the slideshow above, there are more than a few ways to add flair to your school-issued duds.