Kiwi girls grow up with uniforms. School uniforms are compulsory. I've always thought that was a good thing. There was no stigma about clothes, no competition, no embarrassment or false pride. We all wore the same. There are some girls I probably only ever saw in their school uniform.
At primary school I wore a dark brown pleated tunic with a white shirt. It’s taken me years to realise that dark brown actually looks great on me.
Secondary school was even worse. The uniform was a "bottle green" tunic with white shirt, and a red and green tie (which is why I can’t face red and green Christmas decorations). That, coupled with my mother’s intense dislike (almost superstitious fear) of green, has meant that it took me years to find that deep greens look great on me too!
Growing up in the country meant that we didn’t need many other clothes. We had farm clothes – warm, comfortable, durable, often patched, frequently hand-me-downs. Good for wrestling hay bales, or for being around sheep and dogs, mud and muck. We didn't go out much - life was school (or after-school in our uniforms) or at home. We had maybe a couple of sets of “good clothes” which came out for visits to town or outings on the weekends. It might have been different for town kids. (And I suspect it is very different for schoolgirls these days.)
Then I went to Thailand. They wear uniforms there too. Long navy blue skirts and little white blouses. They were okay. There was no way I was going to blend in though – standing a head taller than most of the girls at school. The most painful part of that uniform was the footwear. Little black mary jane shoes with white socks. My shoes had to be made to measure. They were incredibly uncomfortable. Wince. In Bangkok I even voluntarily wore my school uniform on outings to the Weekend Market as my schoolgirl status always helped when bargaining for the best price, saving a few baht here and there.
My first ever full-time paycheck was spent on a delicious soft wool jewel green (yes, green) dress, in March 1986. I loved that dress. Sigh ...
By the late '90s, our mortgage was easier to deal with and New Zealand designers started doing new and exciting things. I discovered Trelise Cooper and Kate Sylvester, and Penny introduced me to the joys of a designer coat with a $20 T-shirt underneath. Such excitement!
I am so lucky. I need never look exactly like other women again. Don’t have to be one of the crowd. Don’t have to wear a uniform anymore. The best thing is that no-one does, with apparel duties lifted and a flood of cheaper imports meaning clothing is cheaper than ever before.
So why do so many women stick so slavishly to what is "in fashion" even when it doesn’t suit them? Or so religiously wear black (Wellington CBD looks as if it is in perpetual mourning) even when it washes them out and ages them. It’s so depressing in the middle of winter. Rain, clouds, wind, gloom, black, black and more black.
It’s just another uniform. Why are so many women afraid to be different? To express themselves? To have fun? Was all that crushed at school in our uniforms?