The school uniform cost debacle
Kim Norton wonders why school uniforms are so dreadfully expensive.
As I sit here labelling school uniforms, taking up kilometres of hems and softly crying about the money I've shelled out for these clothes, I've got a few concerns to raise.

Poor Quality

A school uniform dress costs in the region of R300, depending on the size and the school, way more than I'd spend on a single item of clothing for my daughter.

Grey school shorts cost about R80 a pair, once again depending on where you buy them, which is probably a little more than what I spend per item for my son.

So these items cost more than what we pay for clothing in general, but the quality is significantly worse. Uniforms are made of polyester which can't be pleasant to wear. Polyester is rough and makes you sweat when it's hot.

To my mind, one of two things needs to happen – either the quality needs to improve to match the price, or the price needs to reduce to match the quality

Extra fabric used

Not only that, but uniforms are always so long that you have to cut at least 10cm off dresses and trousers before you can even take up the hem. I can only think that this over use of fabric is purposeful to allow for charging extra per item.

I can understand that children come in many shapes and sizes and perhaps you do get children who are the same weight as others their age but are 10cm taller, but I can't imagine that you get that many extremely tall extremely thin children.

Logic dictates (and growth charts tell us) that most children are around average height and weight with some being shorter and some taller and some thinner and some less thin.

When I buy clothes off the shelf, I don't expect to have to make extensive alterations to them, why do we put up with this with school uniforms?


I realise that costs are related to economies of scale, and that the fewer items there are, the more it costs to make them per unit, however, let's look at school shorts and trousers, grey ones, which are most common.

More of these must be made than any single other clothing item sold for children and teenagers. Except for those that wear khaki or a special colour unique to their school, every child requires two or perhaps three of these each year.

This should mean that the cost of manufacture is rather low and these should be really cheap, not cost the same as other clothing items.

Then school dresses and skirts. These are usually specific to each school unless they are of the gym slip, the A line or darted skirt variety. So on the one hand I can see some form of argument for a higher unit cost than school shorts, but when you consider that each school, depending on size, needs their pupils to buy in the region of 300 to 3000 dresses or skirts for the year, that argument falls away.

Those quantities mean that the unit cost should not be as excessive as it is, especially when the quality is considered, and then the reams of extra fabric that aren't necessary are taken into account as well.

Uniforms in general

Uniforms purport to mean that parents don't have to deal with the excessive costs of normal clothes every day, but when the uniforms cost a lot more than other clothes do, this can no longer be claimed as a benefit.

Dressing our children in the formal fashions of the 1800s for school in 2016 should surely be rethought. Children look no smarter in uniforms than they do in other clothes – sloppy people look sloppy whether they're in uniform or not.

If they must all look uniform, then something a little more practical to the climate and the age we live in might be an option. Just putting that out there.

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