October Is Uniform Season

Theresa in 5th grade in ugly green and brown uniform jumper

Theresa in 5th grade in ugly green and brown uniform jumper

Now that I no longer have children in school—not even college!—I don’t mark the passing of the seasons as much as I used to. I look out the window at my magnolia tree, knowing it will soon lose its leaves, but that doesn’t mark the coming of autumn for me nearly as much as Back to School Season used to.

My children started school in late August. This year in Kansas City, many schools started in mid-August. Even Back to School Season is more flexible than it was in the past.

Back in my day, school never began until after Labor Day. That last long summer weekend sped by, and all too soon it was Tuesday morning and children throughout the land headed off to the classroom.

It was still hot in Richland, Washington, in September, or so the theory went. Because of the meteorological assumptions, we didn’t have to wear uniforms in September in our unairconditioned Catholic grade school. We didn’t wear our uniforms until October 1.

Of course, Richland could still be quite warm in October. In fact, I remember many cool Septembers, only to have the thermometer spike to ninety degrees on October 1. Nevertheless, ninety degrees or sixty, come October 1, we shifted to scratchy wool uniforms. The rule might not have been part of canon law, but it was certainly part of Mother Superior’s rulebook.

I hated our school uniform. I thought the green and brown plaid the girls had to wear quite ugly. But I wore it from third grade (when the new fabric was adopted) through eighth grade. Except in September.

And again in May, when the same theory of warm temperatures applied, even though April could be hot and May return to cold.

The boys just wore brown cords and white shirts. They were lucky. In the 1960s, girls were not allowed to wear slacks to school. Shorts under the jumper for P.E. were the closest we could get.

I confess that uniforms made my life easier, even if I hated the fabric. There was never any question about what to put on in the morning—plaid jumper and white blouse. Until seventh grade. The seventh and eighth grade girls wore skirts instead of jumpers.

Two jumpers and three or four blouses lasted the full school year. The jumpers usually lasted more than a year, because they were cleverly constructed so that the top could be removed and reattached at the appropriate point to hit one’s waist. Then the skirts could be rehemmed to hit the appropriate number of inches above the floor. And the top could be totally removed to convert the jumper into a skirt.

(Yes, the rumor is true. The teachers—both nuns and lay teachers—were known to have girls kneel on the floor, and the skirt could not be any more than three inches above the ground.)

When I hit the ninth grade and switched to a public school, it was a shock to have to decide what to wear each day. I had to get up ten minutes earlier, unless I had laid out my clothes the night before. When did I last wear that skirt? Which blouse did I wear it with? Do I have enough clean clothes to make it through the rest of the week? Who gets which days of the week when my friend and I have the same outfit (never a social dilemma with uniforms—we all had the same outfit)?

I was delighted when my children chose to attend Catholic high schools. They wore uniforms from kindergarten through their senior years. They had far more “jeans days” and other exemptions than I had as a child, but life still was simpler than if they had not had uniforms. I didn’t worry about what they wore once they went to college.

How do you mark the seasons in your life? Is it different now than when you were a child?

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  1. Theresa this post brought back memories for me. I went to Catholic school from 7th grade until I graduated high school. I don’t think the girls at my school minded too much having to wear a uniform. It was a no brainer deciding what to wear and I for one really enjoyed dressing up after school. And your clothes lasted longer !
    Now that I have little ones at home I mark the change of seasons by going hiking and seeing how the foliage is changing and try to instill in my son a love of nature. And of course going pumpkin picking and blueberry picking is also a fun way marking our seasonal changes.

  2. We didn’t start school until after Labor Day either. Some schools in our area go back in mid-August and some are now year around. I love to decorate the house as the seasons change. I fill our front porch with yellow mums and pumpkins. Love the photo, Theresa!

  3. Spring and summer are marked with my excitement for everything new and budding, fall means a trip south to admire colorful foliage and pickup apples and cider, and winter I prefer to skip. Thanks Theresa, always enjoy your posts, uniforms were a time and tantrum saver with my children but I never wore them. Had a few closets to raid of my sister’s which helped though.

  4. Pingback: Memories of Green and Orange on St. Patrick’s Day | Story & History

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