child development

Why Am I So Conflicted About My Daughter’s School Uniform?

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Next year my daughter begins Junior Kindergarten at our parochial school. We are so committed to this school that we actually moved from our longtime neighborhood in Washington, D.C. across the river to Alexandria so that we could be closer to it. Both my husband and I served on this school’s board before we were even married. This is the school of our dreams. It’s been a diverse neighborhood school for 65 years and offers a Lutheran and classical education with a liberal arts curriculum for Junior Kindergarten through 8th grade. It even offers Latin beginning in the 3rd grade! The school is known for its high expectations for academics and behavior. We don’t know where we’d be without it.

It also requires that a uniform be worn every day. And that’s where I’m struggling.

It’s not news to me. I mean, I served on the school board for years and I had to review the policy as part of my oversight. I bristled against it then. I worried that children might get confusing theological messages by being told what to wear. I grew up Lutheran and the daughter of a pastor and while we were one of those families that talked about our faith throughout the day, we also talked about music and television shows and our favorite dance moves. My parents permitted us to have our own style and their groans about my choices didn’t have to do with our religion so much as my mother’s competing aesthetic desires. It probably didn’t help that I had goth tendencies.

And now I have a daughter who will be wearing a uniform every day. She’d have to wear a uniform even if she went to the public schools in Washington, D.C., I should note. So there’s not really any escape from this requirement.

But my daughter is an unbelievably creative dresser and it crushes me that she won’t get to express herself through her fashion at school. This little girl, age 3, wakes up every morning and dresses herself in some funky combination of tights and skirt and shirt and sash and hair accessories. Then she dresses her just-turned-2 sister, too. I mean, she loves clothes. She asked me this week who Stacey London was and when I explained what she did for a living, she said that’s what she wanted to do someday.

When I told her a few months ago that for school she would be wearing the same outfit every day, she responded surprisingly well. But an hour later she came downstairs in a new outfit and announced that this was the outfit she’d picked out to wear every day. “See momma? This skirt, with these leggings, and this tank top and then this button down shirt and this sweater.”

I almost cried.

The school sent out its uniform policy last week and it said that “the uniform also helps to inculcate a sense of harmony within the school, and frees the students and their families from concerns about style so that they can focus on the goals of our school: ‘Cultivating the intellect, refining the character, confessing the Christian faith.'” A list of approved vendors and items followed. She can wear a plaid, knee-length jumper or a cute navy blue skort. There are blouse, cardigan and turtleneck options. She’ll have to wear black Mary Janes every day.

I went to the Land’s End web site and one for another vendor and started navigating the whole process, each confusing click making me a bit sadder.

Who knows. Maybe this will help her refine her sense of style. It’s not like she can’t come home and put on her own outfit each day. In fact, with how much these uniforms cost, I’ll probably force her to do it so they don’t get too dirty. And I do have to admit I appreciate the simplicity of knowing what she’ll be wearing each day.

Being part of a community means working with others on shared values and rules. It’s a small price to pay to be part of this wonderful school. But I sure hope that her unique sense of style continues to develop during these uniform-wearing years.