Your starting point, of course, will be the uniform list provided by your school. Camilla notes that the key items here will be any pieces with a logo that need to be purchased from school-sanctioned suppliers. In an effort to keep parents’ expenses under control, state schools are typically required to offer a “generic” alternative without a logo. If you’re looking for details on specific logo uniform pieces, the John Lewis mini-site can provide specifics for a range of different schools all over the country.
More generic clothing, like uniform pants by French Toast or neutral tops, can usually be purchased for much less than their cost in the official uniform shop. Comparison shopping pays real dividends here!
Shopping At The Right Time
Camilla advises parents to start shopping four to six weeks before the start of classes. Shopping earlier leaves you at the mercy of growth spurts, while shopping later can make it difficult to find all the sizes and options you need from a particular store.
If you need to bolster your child’s wardrobe in the middle of the school year, shopping online may be the best (or the only!) way to find the extras you need.
Quantifying Your Needs
When you’re deciding how many garments to buy, you need to balance your overall budget against how much laundry you’re willing and able to do. More duplicates mean fewer mid-week laundry runs, but will obviously be more expensive. Investing in more extras also reduces the odds that you’ll slip up and leave your children without clean uniforms on Friday morning!
We’ve prepared a rough guideline for the quantities you’ll need to strike an effective balance and keep your kids in clean clothes. The first figure listed below assumes you’ll be running two loads of laundry per week, while the second is for assembling a one-load wardrobe.
* Sweaters, sweatshirts, and/or cardigans: 3 (5)
* Polo shirts and/or blouses: 3 (4-5)
* Trousers / skirts: 3 (4)
* Socks: 4-5 pairs
* Gym uniforms: Typically 1 set, but see your school’s uniform list for further guidance
* Gym bag: Check your uniform list; may or may not be required
* Shoes: 1 pair
* Book Bag: Check the list to see if there are any restrictions on your child’s book bag.
* Ties: One tie is sufficient with one backup in case of loss or staining; remember clip-on is always better for younger children
* School coat: 1
* Hat, scarf, gloves, aprons, etc: Any additional garments specified by your school uniform list. You’ll usually only need one of each.
If your budget is slender, inquire about second-hand buying options. Many schools run their own second-hand shops, and even if they don’t they can point you toward good options for used uniforms.
Many parents on tight budgets prefer to assemble a blend of new and used uniform pieces.
Also, if your family’s income is low, there may be assistance programs (federal, state, or local) available to help you with uniform expenses. Contact your local school board for more details.
Label EVERY Piece
It cannot be emphasized enough: You need to put your child’s name on EVERY piece of uniform clothing you buy for them. Garments go missing all the time, and the chance of seeing that new coat again will plummet if you forgot to give it a name tag.
If you don’t have the time or skill to sew in name tags, you have less labor-intensive options. Iron-on labels are fairly effective, but they can fall off after enough wash cycles. Marking the garments directly with a laundry pen works, too. Many school uniform pieces are manufactured with a space for the wearer’s name left on the garment label. Bear in mind that this option may not be too helpful if your child’s sweater winds up in a pile with those of the entire class. Name stamps that use permanent ink are a particularly clever way to solve this problem. The stamps require a little more upfront investment, but their increased legibility is a nice payoff.
If you have a large family and plan on handing uniform pieces down, using your last name rather than your first may be a canny way to save time. Bear in mind this strategy may be less effective if your surname is a common one like Jones or Smith.
You may also want to give some thought to non-clothes labeling at the same time. Lunchboxes, water bottles, pencil cases, toys, binders – there’s almost no end to the variety of different extras you’ll find it useful to identify with name stickers.
* Whenever school regulations give you a choice between dark or light colors, go with the darker option. The darker the garment, the less serious stains will be.
* In any case where the school dress code gives your child an option (skirts vs. dresses, for instance), try to find out which one is more popular and adjust your purchases accordingly. Other parents can be an invaluable resource for this sort of inquiry; you can also drive by and take a careful look at the students when they’re released from school.
* If possible, avoid kitting out young girls with tights. It turns into a gigantic headache for their PE teachers.
* Try to plan ahead for growth. Adjustable waistbands are lifesavers, particularly for children who are rather skinny.
* Embrace technological progress! Non-iron clothes speed up laundry day and stain-resistant coatings generally pay for themselves several times over.