Everything I needed to learn about fashion I learned by wearing a school uniform for 12 years

If you were always wondering about all the little hidden rules of fashion that women appear to intuitively learn, this post is for you. Guys, pay careful attention. The secrets are about to be spilled.

If you really want to learn about fashion, you need to carefully observe Bais Ya’akov-type girls in their uniforms. Just don’t talk to them, because that would be assur. Observe from a respectful distance.


            First is the shirt. At first it may just seem a simple white or blue button-down shirt, but we are not deceived for long. Much can be learned about you by your shirt. First of all, there’s the top two buttons. Are they both closed? That means you’re trying to get into BJJ. Are they both open? You’re either asking for trouble or a borderline risk taker who button her top button whenever the principal passes by. Did you sew in a tznius button? Nice try, we all know that you’re an eleventh grader who wants to frum out but is trying to stay cool. It shows. Same goes for those of you who managed to learn how to fit in the safety pin so that it doesn’t show and doesn’t prick your collar bone either. We know who you are.

Then there is an issue with how fitted the shirt is. The best fit is snug enough to show a basic outline without being too snug to get yourself sent to the office, where you will cruelly and unusually punished by being forced to change into an itchy Oxford shirt about three sizes too large for you. Then there is the shirt’s tuck. Completely tucked out is schlubby, particularly if you get caught. Partially tucked out – a shirttail or so – means you live on the edge. A deep tuck-in – where the shirt is pulled down all the way – means you’re trying too hard. The best is the kind of tuck where the shirt just skims the abdomen but is not pulled too tightly so that there is a slight skijump where the shirt meets the skirt’s waistband.

            Next we have the cardigan or sweatshirt. Wearing a school sweatshirt is social suicide and should be avoided at all cost, unless it is a senior sweatshirt or committee sweatshirt that has a hood and is black. If you are attempting to get away with a regular sweatshirt in between classes (to be pulled off before passing a teacher or principal in the hall), the sweatshirt must have the words GAP, Old Navy, or Polo stretched across the chest. If you’re going for the cardigan, the cut of it is essential. Are you going for a v-neck with buttons? A brave attempt at a cardigan-wrap or one with a belt? Is it ribbed? How long is it?

Now for the skirt. Lately I’ve been seeing girls wearing knee-length skirts, which did not fly back in my day. That length would require tights or – worse – knee-highs. We did the ankle-lengths. If your skirt was more than two inches above your ankle, you had a fashion crisis. The skirt needed to be long enough to just skim the tips of your ankle socks so that standing in one position would completely conceal the leg – for when the principal passes – while standing in another would show off the tiniest strip of flesh between sock and skirt. But not too much flesh, because that’s sloppy.

 I’m not going to even touch the question of shoes, since that is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that when in doubt, go with Puma.

Working our way back up we have your makeup. If you are going to try to get away with light-colored nailpolish, you’ll probably try to get away with just enough makeup to look better but not enough to be obvious to faculty. Concealer and foundation are fine since after all you can always say it’s pimple cream. Light lip gloss might pass for chapstick. Eyeliner and blush are trickier, so go easy on the color.

Let’s move to hair. This is really the break-it or make-it. You’ll probably try getting away with wearing your hair down. If your hair is long, sleek, and straight, you will not get away with this for more than two periods, but you can try anyway. You can also try pulling three strands of hair into a bobby pin and calling it a half-pony. If you are going to do the half- or full-pony, a lot will depend on the way your hair is parted and how it set. It should have some lift – not too much for a bad nineties flashback, but just enough to have some shape. Take care in choosing the clip for your hair. Brown or black is always safest, but you might want to try for a bit of colored rhinestone, particularly if you’re doing colored jewelry. If you are, stick with the small colored chandelier earrings. Don’t go for the big hoops. Your teachers will say it’s too Puerto Rican, especially if you’re wearing lots of hair gel and bangles on your wrist.

Got it, guys? Those of you wearing the penguin suit might take a lesson from us ladies. As you can see, wearing a uniform does not have to make you all look the same. After all, only two items of clothes are being regulated. 


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  1. * Mak says:

    Brilliant post, and so incredibly true. There was one girl in my class who always wore make-up, one day she came to class without any on, and the teacher thought she was sick beacuse of how pale she looked. Yeah, and the shoes would take up a whole ‘nother post.

    Posted 10 years, 10 months ago
  2. * starr says:

    I was in high school in the early 90’s, either it was a more innocent time or I was just a naive and backwards BY girl…. Uniforms were basically just uniforms. However, I did go to an out of town BY, so there were no bans on hairdos, makeup, or nail polish. I think less girls felt the need to try to get away with more risque stuff since they weren’t as limited.

    Of course a few years later (circa my younger sisters’ high school days) things had progressed considerably….

    Posted 10 years, 9 months ago

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