Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Woman in Uniform.

Both my post for Rosie (below) and starting work again has had me thinking about uniforms. Partly uniforms in terms of things we have to wear; school uniforms, work uniforms etc. but also in terms of our every day uniforms- day wear, evening wear, what is and is not appropriate. In school, in the UK anyway, we are taught that wearing a uniform stops jealousy and competition; we wear a uniform so we're all the same, so we aren't divided by the labels on our jackets and price of our jeans. It encourages conformity, but also stunts our self expression. My school was particularly strict about uniform and as a sulky teenager I tried to push the rules as much as I could- badges on my school blazer, short skirt, wristbands and eye makeup. Although I left high school over 4 years ago now, I am now back to working in a uniform. My uniform on the counters section of Asda is made up of a white and green shirt, Asda black trousers, a lime green tabbard, hair net, net trilby hat and plain black shoes. I cannot wear any jewellery or nail varnish and my hair has to be tied away in a hair net. There is no place for self expression. This is entirely practical.

I find this understandable, of course, but incredibly frustrating. There is no part of my uniform that I can customize. And often it kills my self expression for days. Occasionally the fact that I live in this uniform means that I cannot wait to dress up on my day off, but more often than not it kills my creativity. Clothes become boring and practical. Clothes lose their fun.

I have more freedom of expression with my other uniform at my bar job. Our only compulsory item of uniform is a black polo shirt, which I find a fantastic challenge. I'm always testing out new ways to feel unique in a uniform where I look like everyone else. Bandage skirts, shorts and floral bubble skirts break up the standard uniform of jeans and ballet pumps. My uniform gives me a chance to express myself while still representing my company. I don't feel constricted at all, in fact it's inspiring and liberating. Often a sort of variation-on-a-theme outfit is a great challenge.

But my Asda uniform is frustrating. Even my bright pink hair, my trademark, is covered up under a hat and hair net. I hate blending in, I hate looking like every body else. This was something that never really bothered me at school- I looked forward to own-clothes days to really express myself and the weekends, and enjoyed not having the agonizing decision over what to wear that I heard was frequently the morning ritual of girls in American high schools.

Some sociologists argue that uniforms are unnecessary and "demean and humiliate the working-class" and "It is another subtle way for the ruling class to assert their power over the working-class: dress them up in clownish clothing". While I don't believe a uniform can possess this much power, it is interesting how some jobs (usually the lower paid jobs in the service industry) have set uniforms and others do not. Yet, is a shirt and tie "business casual" not a uniform in itself?

Perhaps there is a time and a place for self expression. Perhaps this is the reason why more creative industries seem to demand less of a uniform, and the service industry requires less as there are lots of people doing the same job.

Some days I appreciate the fact that I don't have to think about what I have to wear the days when I'm working, but I do miss feeling nice when I leave the house in the morning and knowing that I've put something unique together myself. I guess I'm just one of those people who likes to express myself through my clothes, and I find having that liberty taken from me distressing but interesting. A uniform forces me to express myself in a different way, and self expression is new ways is always a great skill to learn.

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