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Friday, 12 January, 2001, 11:06 GMT
What the blazers! School uniform is back
EastEnders
"I thought I told you to wear the straw boater today"
School children from poorer families are getting into trouble for not wearing the right uniform. Is there anything to commend the old school tie in the dress-down 21st century?

Blazer cuffs which stopped at your fingertips, trousers which halted at your shins, and those itchy polyester shirts. Such were the "delights" of the school uniform.

As any adult with even a modicum of fashion sense will recall, the trusty school uniform would never have cut it on the catwalk.

Britney Spears
"Oops, sorry Miss. I forgot my tie"
But many Britons - including an alarming 88% of school boys and 77% of school girls - wouldn't want to see the end of the school dress code.

Yet despite its continued popularity, the school uniform is being put out of the reach of poorer pupils as local authorities cut financial assistance, says the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux.

A report by the association says some pupils have faced exclusion from the classroom because they are not wearing what is expected of them.

But the problem may not be entirely down to cost-cutting councils. Some say schools are getting more picky about their pupils' appearance.

Revival underway

While most private schools have always maintained a rigorous dress code, uniform manufacturers have witnessed a revival of interest in the state sector.

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Barbara Scates, of Stockport-based uniform maker Banner Ltd, says this is partly down to increased competition between schools.

"Schools want to reinforce their identities and that means having their children looking smart and well disciplined."

According to David Goldwater, managing director of the Distinctive Clothing Company, it is partly a reaction to the "labels culture".

"The designer fad has got out of hand. Parents have discovered that if you shell out 90 for a pair of trainers, and do the same again in six months, there's not a lot left for anything else."

Out of fashion

Uniforms first started to fade out in the 1960s and 70s and many of the old grammar and secondary modern schools mutated into comprehensive.

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But it was not all about an anti-authoritarian backlash. As children became increasingly fashion savvy and keen to express themselves, school uniforms began to look hopelessly out of date.

Pupils resorted to customising their staid outfits and often the result just looked messy.

Girls took to shortening their skirts, while boys folded their ties into fat knots so only a small tip poked out the bottom.

Some years ago schools switched to a more pragmatic course, replacing woollen jumpers with sweatshirts and polo shirts.

Today, firms like Banner act as little fashion houses. The company has its own designers who keep a keen eye on High Street styles.

The long and short of it

"The style in school uniform is about a year behind that which you see in the shops," says Mrs Scates.

There is no such thing anymore as a standard school skirt. Banners do them short, long, straight or flared.

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And some primary schools have replaced the trusty school blazer with a more practical, and less formal, zipped fleece.

But, according to Mrs Scates, by far the biggest change in school uniform in recent memory, has nothing to do with the fickle whims of the fashionista and everything to do with a plucky schoolgirl.

Last year, Jo Hale - then aged 14 - won a three-year battle with her school to overturn its dress code that banned girls from wearing trousers.

The dispute was settled out of court, but followed the threat of legal action against Jo's school, Whickham School, Gateshead, by the Equal Opportunities Commission.

It seems the publicity helped opened the floodgates for girls who were fed up with having to wear skirts.

Growth area

"Within about 18 months, the demand has just taken off. They're extremely popular and it's by far our biggest growth area," says Mrs Scates.

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Pupils are getting bigger
And there's nothing half-hearted about the way girls have taken to their trews. Mrs Scates says the demand is definitely for a fashionable bootcut leg that is wider than the more traditional straight leg.

Boys though, seem to be less worried about such details. Trousers tend to still be straight, and shirts are, as always, blue, white or grey. Ties remain a school staple.

Sizes, though, have changed. Boys are getting bigger, says David Goldwater.

"We used to make blazers up to a 40-inch chest. That was large. Boys are bigger now, not always fatter, often they are broader from rowing, or playing rugby of working out in the gym.

"Now we make blazers in 42, 44, 46 and even 48-inch chest measurements."

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See also:

11 Jan 01 | Education
School uniforms 'too expensive'
10 May 00 | Education
Uniform rule for pupils
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