When school uniforms don’t pass testThe beginning of a new school semester means the beginning of an old battle between mothers and daughters.
Mothers generally try to purchase uniforms a size larger than needed, expecting their kids to grow into them. Meanwhile, their daughters, who are desperate to look hip, typically want close-fitting uniforms.
“Every time I buy a uniform that is just a bit big, my daughter then self-tailors it to her preferences,” complains a 41- year-old housewife. To meet the latest fad, daughters repeatedly alter uniforms that their mothers bought. A student who will enter high school this month, confesses that she has been making changes in her uniform since her first year in middle school.
For years, all Korean students were required to wear uniforms. Since 1983, the decision has been left up to individual schools.
Students usually first make a few touches on the item that’s easiest to modify -- the skirt. At one point, time, snug, H-line-style skirts were the rage. Even jackets had their waists and sleeves trimmed tighter, and students regularly removed the shoulder pads.
Lately, tauter-in-the-hips A-line skirts have come back into style. “Wearing tighter-fitting clothes is a trend that stresses a sexually appealing appearance,” says Lee In-ja, who teaches the psychology of fashion at Seokyeong University.
Guys are just as trendy where school uniforms are concerned. Narrowing the cut of a pair pants from the calf is the latest fashion look. Just couple of years ago, tight pants from thigh to ankle were seen on every high school campus.
Since only a few guys are interested in sewing, most male high school and middle schoolers drop off their uniforms at a local laundromat on a Saturday afternoon and pick the transformed items that night.
The cost of making a few changes ranges from 5,000 to 7,000 won ($4.10 to $6.20) for a skirt, 10,000 to 25,000 won a jacket and 5,000 won for pants.
“The extremely short jackets for girls or the tight pants for boys’ uniforms are styles conceived on their own, ones that have nothing to do with the latest trend in the fashion world,” says an official of SMART, a uniform manufacturer.
“The trend in reshaping uniforms began when teenagers wanted to stand out and have their own hip fashions, while trying not to be outcasts among their peers,” says Lee Gyu-cheol, a teacher at Sung Moon Girl’s High School in Gyeonggi province.
Uniform manufacturers make changes every year to meet the demands of their teenage customers.
Kids today weren’t the only ones sensitive about their looks. Although in different ways, their parents in the 1970s had their own style going on.
Thirty-five years ago, flaired skirts and white collars stood out on girls’ uniforms. Female students back then believed stiff, clean collars were the coolest. If they wanted to appear like a delinquent, all they had to do was cover one of their eyes with their hair and cinch their waists.
Boys three decades ago wore black, mandarin, lapel-less suits. The hippest knew to unhook a few buttons at the top when walking out the school’s front gate. Even school caps in that ear then bore a certain cachet if they were old and worn out. That meant the student was enrolled in an upper class.
“Students in the 1970s felt pride about their uniforms,” says Kim Hwan-seng, who teaches at a girls high school in Jeonju, North Jeolla province. “Students nowadays don’t seem to cherish their uniforms -- and it breaks my heart.”
by Lee Kyong-hee