These days, I find myself wearing the University of Edinburgh uniform. Even though I don’t wear the classic puffer jackets and headbands, you’ll find Depop dungarees, an oversized shirt from Armstrong’s and floral Doc Martens amongst other delights in my wardrobe. I realised towards the end of my first year at Edinburgh that, whilst accepting and later enjoying the fact that I didn’t fit the multitude of Edinburgh stereotypes, I had diversified my tastes considerably to match those around me. Perhaps, as university students who are caught up in an all-encompassing world away from home, we embrace a uniform as a mark of comfort, unity and pride.
At primary school, I wore the crested school jumper whilst the majority of people around me flaunted (very desirable) Hannah Montana t-shirts or a GAP hand-me-down. I was frustrated that I couldn’t join my friends in wearing my favourite top for all to see and equally that they weren’t joining me in wearing the school jumper. As fashion was not working in my favour, I instead ended up channelling all of my creativity and personality into stationery.
However, as an 11 year old starting secondary school, our uniform was exciting and a welcome equaliser. As long as we kept our blazer on and our top button done up, we had a bit of freedom to wear jazzy socks or a badge. Everyone wore their uniform with a different flare. We were artificially brought together by school policies, and uniform was for us a silent but significant reminder of the community we were a part of as well as the common enemy to unite against.
Like almost everything else in this world, uniforms can have problematic and complex consequences. It can be argued that they instil compliance, conformity, old-fashioned gender roles, and that they can cover up social ills whilst costing absurd amounts. However, they can also encourage collaboration, cooperation, unity, and rebellion. I think that uniforms are an investment worth making, particularly since, at the 2013 Liberal Democrat party conference, the original Labour party idea to put restrictions on overpriced single supplier uniform shops was introduced.
In hindsight, the first few weeks of university were much like non-uniform-days at school. You can’t help but notice a few unspoken and often well-intentioned looks from everyone around you, trying to deduce who you are as a person. It seems that, whether consciously or not, we gravitate towards those who wear the same uniform as us. When the uniforms of others and ourselves are accepted, they bring out the best in our individuality and steer us towards unity and belonging.
*Illustration by Isi Williams*