It is no coincidence that in the biological world, members of the same species look alike.
This is, of course, genetically determined, but also can contribute to enhanced mutual recognition. Significant differences, such as albinism, for example, set individuals apart, possibly even leading to dire outcomes for their survival.
Of course, people are immeasurably more sophisticated and all-embracing than this and in society we value and respect diversity, in all its forms.
We spend time instilling understanding in our girls of how to embrace and celebrate uniqueness, so why is it that we still prize and take a pride in wearing a uniform?
The word uniform means consistent; the same. This invariance carries importance within civilisation - always has done: from Boudicca’s woad, to African tribal markings and even fashion trends, sections of society have sought to emphasise through uniform to which group they belong.
Warring factions really brought about the rise of the uniform, developed for the military so that soldiers in close-fought combat could recognise the enemy quickly and spear the right fellow.
I wonder if any ever found the need for an ‘away strip’, if on the battlefield they suddenly discovered that their main colours were confusingly similar? Colours matter: I know of City fans who would never dream to wear the colour red, with United condemning blue.
Uniforms are more than just colour; that’s far too simplistic. Neither are they all about battling with others. By design, they make the social interactions of that group more harmonious. Soccer fans wave their scarves in unison, or at least they used to do so in the days when I stood on the terraces.
Lifeguards’ clothing is suitably impermeable and quick-drying. Modern police wear is not only distinctive but also protective. But what of school uniform?
There are moves in some schools to be more gender neutral in what pupils are asked to wear. Certainly, a reasonable cost is important to most parents, whilst exclusivity in some establishments, with tailcoats, boaters and such like, stating bold claims.
When wearing a uniform, each person looks like another and yet by wearing it, there is nowhere to hide! At school and wearing pea green, I was informed by my teachers that I must never be seen eating food on the streets when wearing the noble vermillion; eating in public was seen as uncouth and I should not bring shame to the establishment for which my uniform stood. Uniform ensures that we behave in ways expected of our affiliation. Uniform sets a standard.
When a uniform is seen, it instantly gives meaning for the onlooker. Volunteering as a Street Pastor at weekends, my blue waterproofs, light and dark, are often mistaken for that of a traffic warden.
I have even seen cars wheel spin and hasten away, as I saunter along the pavement just to say hello.
So what of the changes to uniform at Farlington this academic year? We have moved from a predominance of green to a majority navy attire. I rejoice!
Soft navy knitwear pales into insignificance, however, when compared with the donning of the compulsory blazer. Older girls have jackets with a waist, for goodness’ sake. Stylish, yet business-like at the same time. These jackets speak volumes about being purposeful and determined about learning. The jacket adds gravitas, along with style. Younger girls, too, don their blazers and are already finding them practical, as well as dapper. The blazers have most wonderful pockets into which all manner of interesting objects are squirreled: this morning when on break duty, I noticed that for one girl this meant keeping safe a fir cone, a conker and a very useful piece of transparent plastic!
Uniforms can incorporate secret signals - the Knights Templar cross or the early Christian ichthus, for example. Our new blazers are adorned with a logo depicting the School’s clock tower, an iconic piece of architecture, which is instantly recognisable both to the visitor and established member of the school alike. This has come to be a badge of honour for our students.
On the first morning of the uniform change, there was a feeling of spring in the air, rather than autumn. Spirits were lifted. Girls had been so excited to dress in the brand new garb that many had leapt out of bed at 6am and were ready to leave soon after.
Parents commented at how smart their daughters all looked. Isn’t it strange that such small changes are not only significant visually, but also make us feel so energised?
Changes to the Farlington uniform have been such huge a success. Looking alike and feeling close- knit and caring through uniformity, it also enables a freedom to express individuality, focusing on the non-uniformity of what is inside, as girls develop into creative and successful young women.
By Frances Mwale