Jess Goodwin
September 10, 2015 10:37 am

Over the past few months there’s been a rash of teen girls stepping up and calling out their schools for taking minor dress code violations (apparently, girls’ collarbones and knees are extremely distracting to young boys and male teachers), and it’s got me thinking about my own high school experience. There’s only one time in particular I remember being reprimanded for my outfit: I was wearing a tank top during finals week and my bare shoulders were out of control; luckily I had a sweatshirt in my locker so I wasn’t sent home, but taking a two-hour test in an unconditioned classroom in June wasn’t fun. Looking back I wish it had occurred to me to ask the teacher how my shoulders were going to distract a bunch of teenage boys whose own skinny, bony shoulders looked pretty similar to my own at that point, but live and learn I guess.

It was also one of the numerous occasions on which I wish the school had a uniform. How simple my high school days could have been if only I could have woken up, thrown on the closest clean (or at least semi-clean) shirt and skirt-or-pants combo and be ready to go. Not only would I have been spared the wrath of the school dress code, I could have saved who knows how many hours over the course of four years and wouldn’t have had to consistently feel anxious about the fact that my clothes, well, sucked.

There weren’t a lot of wealthy kids in my school, per se, but many of my classmates’ parents could afford to buy them clothes that were considered trendy. My mother could not do the same for me, and it bothered me. To wear trendy clothes was to blend in, and even though I doubt any of the other kids even gave a second thought to my wardrobe, the thought of them doing so weighed pretty heavy on my mind.

I think about it now and wish it didn’t bother me so much, but I guess that’s how a lot of people feel about their teens. You walk down the halls of school, trying to hide the acne that no one else notices, praying they don’t see the weird bowl-cut the family barber gave you, hoping either to stand out or be invisible.

I flipped back and forth between the two. Years and many accumulated allowances went into assembling any sort of personal style that might set me apart from my classmates, including a dizzying array of ringer tees adorned with bespectacled puppies and kittens (anyone else remember those?), camouflage bottoms (my dresser housed not just camo pants but camo shorts and a camo skirt), and a variety of other Fashion Bug discount rack finds.

For my senior year yearbook photo I wore teal rainboots, the aforementioned camo skirt, a Ramones t-shirt (I didn’t even listen to the Ramones), and a denim jacket covered in many, many pins. Despite the fact that half the outfit was ripped from the pages of the Fall 2004 dELiA*s catalog (speaking of burning through my allowance), I spent hours putting it together, hours I could have spent, I don’t know, studying or applying for summer jobs or writing Harry Potter fanfic.

There were just as many times when I wouldn’t have minded a little invisibility, something a school uniform could have certainly helped with. Uniforms have been accused of stifling creativity and making it impossible for students to express themselves, but I would have loved to have an excuse not to express myself. No more worrying about what my classmates might think of my dorky secondhand clothes, no more trying to figure out why nearly everything I tried on laid so strangely on my awkward teen bod, no more anxiety about my wardrobe topped onto the anxiety I already felt about my grades and friends and boys and life in general.

Plus, I finally would have had a reason to wear my Avril Lavigne-prompted necktie.

[Image via Walt Disney Pictures]

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