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Everything You Need to Know About Shopping for School Uniforms

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My daughter starts kindergarten this year, which means the back-to-school transition for us is not just to a new location and teacher, but also into the world of school uniforms and all that it entails. We’ll be going from “wear whatever you want” each day into “wear whatever white top and navy or khaki bottom you’d like.” Luckily for us, I’ve been down this road before during high school, so my memories of shopping for uniforms isn’t too far gone! Here are some tips for you to navigate the fun world of school uniform shopping.

What exactly is a uniform?

The definition of a school uniform is different from school to school, so be sure you’re relying on an official list of uniform items and not a friend’s advice! While our school district’s dress code is quite relaxed and only dictates the type of shirt and bottoms one must wear, many others will describe everything down to the type of shoes and socks! Find out exactly what you need and direct your questions to the source, as uniform rules can also change year to year.

How many of what?

If you’re anything like me (a working mom with a kid who has a busy schedule), then you don’t usually get to laundry during the week. Therefore, our plan of attack is making sure we have enough tops, bottoms, and socks to make it through one week, plus one extra. That one extra is the savior for a weekend away, or a torn/ripped/otherwise destroyed item throughout the year. As for layers (sweatshirts/jackets), we’ll get three to last us through the week. 

Here’s what we’re getting:

  • Tops:
    • 5 (+1) Short Sleeve Polos
  • Bottoms:
    • Skorts: 1 (+1)
    • Pants: 2
    • Dresses: 1
  • Sweaters: 1
  • Sweatshirts: 2
  • Coat: 1
  • Athletic Shoes: 2
  • Socks: 10 pairs

Boys have it easy…what about girls?

A boy’s school uniform is usually pretty basic: a shirt and pants/shorts. But then there’s the girl’s side with pants and shorts and jumpers and scooters and skorts, oh my! You can go overboard a bit with the options for dresses/bottoms very quickly. When I asked friends what their child’s preferences were, they all universally said, “skort!” because of the playground-friendly shorts under the skirts. If you’d like to buy a dress, I’d recommend to just buy one and see how it gets used, as it doesn’t need a mid-week wash for multiple wears. 

What do you do when winter arrives?

Depending on the climate, you’ll want to prepare appropriately for the average daily temperature during the school year. If you have an option of choosing between short or long sleeved uniform tops, think about how comfortable your child is in layers and what the classroom climate is like. You may prefer to buy all short sleeved tops and just always have them wearing a sweatshirt or sweater in class on cold days. Or, they may prefer a long sleeved oxford and no layers. Just remember that you can always layer things on, so investing in lots of cold weather shirts might not be smart if they turn out to be uncomfortable in heated classrooms.

Where should I be buying uniforms?

Now that you know how many items you’re buying, you’ll need to split those components into two categories:

  • Items that must be ordered from the uniform store
  • Items that can be purchased anywhere

Buy your mandatory items from the uniform store early to make sure you get the sizes and quantity you want! Remember that it’s not just your school utilizing that uniform store. 

As for the other items, many major retailers have uniform shops in the US and the UK: GAP, Old Navy, Lands’ End, Target, JCPenney, Marks & Spencer

When should I be buying uniforms?

The best time for uniform sales is before the school year starts in July and August. Be on the lookout for sales, and stick to your list! Remember that you can always go back and buy more of the basics throughout the year, so don’t worry too much!

What sizes should I buy?

Always aim to buy the uniforms comfortably loose for the fall so that they’ll last through the spring. Remember that if you do happen to need to buy a bigger size in the middle of the year, that just means your back-to-school shopping for the next year is already done!

See, uniform buying isn’t that scary, is it? Good luck with all of your purchases, and be sure to snap a photo of your child in their fresh uniform on the first day of school!

image: Getty/Klaus Vedfelt

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