I have been thinking more about this.
We had just as strict rules about hair, makeup, jewelry, piercing, tattoos, socks, shoes, belts, scarves, and sashes as about the clothes. The hair -- there was so little we were allowed. The two african american girls weren't allowed to wear braids unless they were white girl braids. If the boys came in with anything odd, their heads were shaved.
That was wild and free compared to grade school, where the boys could wear any color trousers and a shirt -- even a patterned one! -- with a collar, and the girls had to wear a plaid jumper and a white shirt -- rounded or pointed collars, long or short sleeves, no strange weaving, I remember a problem with oxford cloth button downs -- although the plaid had lots of colors, some genius had decided only white or green was ok for socks and sweaters, jackets and blazers were not ok, and when it was bitter cold, we could wear green pants, under the jumpers.
I remember my mom being relieved I chose to buy my own other clothes as soon as I could, rather than arguing, and previously by the uniform, but also disappointed my sister and I couldn't wear anything she thought was cute. I was chewed out the first day of first grade because I had a white shirt and matching bobbie socks with white lace trim. By high school, I had a closet full of the strangest blue clothes I could find, and was perpetually in trouble. A teacher(?) decided a turquoise shirt I had wasn't blue. Girls had gym uniforms that were really bizarre, and boys had blue shorts and a reversible t-shirt. If girls came in with something questionable, they had to wear their gym outfit all day.
Thinking about your comment brought out how some of this, my exception to conformity and uniform, stems from my rejection of the culture of averageness the religious practice created, an objection to religion itself (which, IMO, except for some liberation theologies, tends to reinforce adherence to a standard, conformity, the status quo, a uniform outlook). I also felt uniforms marked us out -- hey look at the catholic school girls! -- which is the opposite of what many of today's school uniforms do for kids.
I'm also thinking about uniforms for work, the way that the contractors who work for me *never* come to work in coveralls, and just put them on as needed. The way that purchasing the uniform sort of enslaves one to a job because it takes so much money right before you've accumulated any savings. The way that uniforms are now spreading into more jobs -- the most restrictive code I saw recently was for cashiers in AutoZone (posted on the way to the bathroom).
One of the things that I noticed in the investment banks I worked in for a long time was that the higher up the chain of command, at least for women, the looser the uniform code. The female MDs and even most of the VPs didn't really wear suits and business casual (Fridays), they wore couture. But engineers! What a sad group, fashion-wise. And engineering is so creative, even visual. I went to an interview recently in -- it wasn't even an interview suit -- and the recruiter said, "this is a web 2.0 company that is vehemently designer jeans & t-shirts." I replied, this is an interview (I expect to be one of the few women this company had on staff), this is not what I will wear on a day to day basis. I wore a very groovy vintage suit for the next interview. Didn't get the job. But I couldn't stand it. They were just making Barney's Casual Men's Department the uniform.
Next, I think, for me is to thing harder about the benefit of the uniform as the person wearing it. I can see the gender neutrality, the savings & efficiency, but...
We felt that there might be different negotiations of conformity and
uniformity by region and population density. But in a strange way
that more populous cities breed both lemminghood AND development of a
strong sense of individuality, while more isolated areas also -- at
least until very recently -- breed both the uniformity from lack of
access to options (even in consumer goods), and also idiosyncrasy from
looser social controls. We also felt generational bias in favor of
conformity, especially in migrating or mobile (socially, locationally)
groups where issues of assimilation and bias arise very quickly, might
This makes me think more about identity poetics and the "innovative"
or "progress" mindsets.
For example, in situations the majority of "pioneers" or "leaders"
leave ASAP to pursue their individuality, lack of conformity is a
signal -- perhaps one of unreliability or instability. In areas with
the reputation for being "frontiers" of various sorts, lack of
conformity can be conformity, or perhaps "unraveled hem on the
uniform" or "unusual hair color and style" is just expected,
tolerated, encouraged, a similar sort of signal, in a sense.
In most workplaces, and perhaps more so during economic downturns,
while ideas like "outside the box" might be ubiquitous, there's a
strong People Like Us or Not Our Class Dear bias. Doesn't this make
seeming to be uniform an advantage? Perhaps homosexuals are more
likely to wear polka dotted underwear ; )
Part of this discussion -- which included mothers of children wearing
and not wearing uniforms, as well as veterans of uniformed or
quasi-uniformed schooling and employment (Capital One sounded like a
nightmare) -- dovetailed with the content of Judith E Johnson's recent
post on WOMPO as part of a discussion about teaching.