Just last evening, my daughter returned from her school re-union celebrations. Apart from many changes she said she noticed in the school, the most prominent was that the school had introduced uniforms for students.
That set me thinking. Uniforms, probably originally came into being through the military route. Obviously, the purpose behind the same must have been a combination of providing a unique identity to the troupes and standardizing the war attire that was geared (pun intended!) for convenience. However, another factor—perhaps more important, could have been to inculcate ‘pride’ amongst soldiers, by symbolizing uniform as an expression of profound loyalty.
I don’t even know if my imagination above will stand any historical scrutiny. But, it at least sounds plausible to me.
Uniforms, over a period of time, seeped into many other spheres of the society. And they took different names and forms as they evolved.
A formal party invite invariably specifies a dress-code—a black tie and an evening gown, or in a typical north Indian wedding, male folk wearing a particular type of turban to signify their close relationship with either the bride or the groom family. To me, even these are the examples of uniforms. Of course, here the purpose of wearing them is a little different.
School uniforms are another genre of uniforms. I remember, as a child, I used to get absolutely bored with wearing the same clothes to school every day, which led me to question its importance. What my aunt explained to me then, left a significant impact on me — to the extent that I virtually stopped questioning the validity of uniforms. She said, “Schools have students drawn from many economic classes of the society (which was actually the case, when we went to school) and uniforms are designed to break these class barriers and bring all students to one ‘uniform’ level. Absence of the same, will lead to affluent students flaunting their riches — creating an unwelcome inequality among students.”
My respect for uniforms has its roots in the rationale provided by my aunt, especially because she did it at a time when my rebellious thoughts on any subject could be countered by only a logical (I decided if it was logical or otherwise!) explanation. Today, when I look back, it wasn’t logic alone. If the emotion behind her explanation had not reached me, no amount of plain logic would have convinced me. I must add that I was from a (relatively) higher economic class throughout my school years and proudly wore my school uniform. Here I want to make a confession: Although I wore the mandated colors, the fabric quality I eventually started wearing was significantly of the higher order. In fact I met a school friend after a good three and a half decades, who remembered how the quality of fabric I wore stood out. I feel bad about it today, especially when I had readily bought into my aunt’s logic and yet went ahead and carried my,( so called) class, shamelessly. Just so that I’m not too harsh on myself, I probably wasn’t even conscious of the fact that I was flouting my aunt’s guidance.
My next encounter with uniforms started much later, when I became a part of the corporate community. I came across many organizations where everyone from a Managing Director to a lay workman wore same / similar uniforms. And again, I, in my hearts, started to admire them for their efforts in creating class - free workplace cultures. Even here I later realized that my naivety prevailed.