A horrible hat for starters

We remember our school days, from favourite teachers to disgusting dinners…

The cost of school uniforms regularly hits the headlines, but nothing changes. In 1966,1 was mortified when my father suggested that, as my High School uniform had cost him so much, I should wear it to my cousin’s forthcoming wedding.

The list of items we were required to have was long and very detailed. Our feet were well looked after, with white plimsolls
for indoors and black for outside. Shoes, which also had to be changed on entering the building, were chosen from a list of specific brands and styles. Then there was the tie, blazer, horrible hat and, a particular demon, a six gored (panelled) navy skirt with a bib. This skirt was the bane of our lives because it was supposed to touch the ground when
kneeling – such a lovely length when the mini was at its height. With that blessed bib you couldn’t roll it over at the waistband once you were off the premises.

All of this had to be bought from an expensive department store some ten miles away from the school, and I was so ashamed when we discovered that, to get a skirt big enough to go round
my middle, six inches would have to come off the hem.

Strictly speaking, you were meant to have the bib on the skirt until the fourth year, but I was the envy of my friends when my figure blossomed and I was allowed to remove my bib a year early. This allowed all sorts of disguises to be used to make the uniform more stylish, and was particularly useful as I had started going up to London after school with my mother to attend concerts at the Royal Festival Hall. Turn the waistband over a couple of times, put a large brooch over the badge on the blazer, and you almost had a nice little navy suit.

The summer dress was a really unflattering shape for anyone with puppy fat; a pale blue fitted shirtwaist dress, with a zip in the side seam and a full skirt. However, a fancy cardigan or a pretty scarf in the neck soon disguised that.

Then there was that hat. It was a ‘detentionable’ offence to be caught without it, but my friend Marion and I took great delight in playing football with ours on the way home from the bus stop. We lived far enough out for all the prefects to have got off before us. It was navy velour and a bit like a pudding basin because the brim was not turned up – most peculiar.

When we went into the fifth year, the uniform was changed and the hats abolished. Several girls made a funeral pyre and sent theirs burning across the pond on the common. I painted flowers all over mine.

That uniform change meant another expense, and many parents were not at all happy about it. The white shirt and tie were replaced with a blue and white checked nylon blouse. I rather missed my tie because the new blouse was cold in the winter, but no vest could be allowed to peep above the open collar. It was supposed to be easy to wash, and didn’t need ironing, but had the same problems of all nylon clothing and I used to get undressed in the dark just to see all the little blue sparks.

The summer dress was a far more flattering shape, but had a distinctive pattern in the material which made it impossible to cover up, so I had to rely on no one seeing in me in London who would recognise it.

Uniform blues

Sixth formers were allowed to wear anything blue. This was stretched to the limit so a colour chart went up in the art room and, if there was any doubt, you
were hauled along to be matched against it. The ingenuity of some of us had to be seen to be believed, and it was amazing to see what a variety of not-quite-green and not-quite-purple we were able to come up with.

I had a wonderful civil defence greatcoat that came from the Army and Navy Surplus Stores. I changed the buttons and added a bit of fake fur to the collar and the hem. By then, the midi had replaced the mini so the rules about hemlines had a maximum as well as a minimum – mid calf to mid thigh.

I know that the idea behind having a uniform was to identify pupils from different schools in the hope that it would stop them getting up to mischief. It was also supposed to help avoid discrimination between those who could afford expensive clothes and those who could not. Neither of these ideas seem to be very good ones.

I was so grateful that my parents didn’t expect me to do make with second-hand, but many girls did and it showed. As to making us behave ourselves – well, I was, of course, a paragon of virtue, but I know some who weren’t and being in uniform didn’t seem to stop them.

Janet Foster