How To Dress Up A School Uniform

How, indeed? School uniforms are ugly, unflattering & a violation of rights. I wore a uniform for my entire school-going career, so please believe me when I say that I feel your pain.

There are various ways of stamping your own mark on these dowdy articles. Most teenagers end up with shortened skirts, their shirt untucked, holes in their sweater & scuffed shoes — but this is hardly stylish. It really only cements you in your place as a petulant child: not a good look. (The key is to remain petulant but be sneaky about it. I am petulant to this day but it’s a big secret.)

The extent to which you can accessorise will depend on how strict your school is, but sometimes it’s worth causing a sensation in the morning (even if they do confiscate your things at lunchtime). Remember, they have no right to permanently keep anything you take to school (unless it’s something ridiculous like cigarettes, alcohol or drugs), so don’t worry about it too much.

I am fond of the following from Epictetus: “Know, first, who you are; & then adorn yourself accordingly.” If you’re in high school, your body’s probably going crazy every day & things will be changing so quickly you can’t keep up. It can be easy to look around you & be overwhelmed, or to feel pressured to be like everyone else — but it is a choice. Being your own person may not be the easiest choice, & in fact it may bring you pain initially, but eventually, you’ll be glad you did what YOU wanted. (You are probably sick of hearing this kind of thing, but it is important.) Anyway, my point is that this isn’t going to be a blow-by-blow guide on How To Look Cool ™, since there is no such thing. Instead I’ll present you with some suggestions & you can take or leave ’em as you please.

If you can wear a non-regulation coat, buy one which is knee-length & either belted or nipped at the waist.
Start collecting brooches: lots of them. Different ones for different moods. Try to avoid badges (unless they are exceptionally stylish) but snap up any interesting school pins you see. My friend Ana has one she wears all the time which says “Head Librarian”, & to this day I wear a pin with the St. Kentigern crest on it. This sort of thing will cause confusion & delight amongst your peers. Pin them on your sweater or blazer lapels.
Accessorise with hats, scarves & gloves (especially fingerless ones, since you can write with them on). Check out the knit berets from Urban Outfitters (in charcoal, cream, pink & blue) & when shopping, look for oversized knit hats or tea-cozy hats. Get one in a colour that complements the rest of your school attire.
Wear vintage silk scarves on your head when you’re having a bad hair day.
Switch your generic shoelaces for a pair that make you smile — The Sunny Eccentrics have a huge variety.
Instead of boring black lace-up shoes, try a pair of ankle boots, mary janes (with a platform!) or crazy sneakers. If your school will let you get away with wearing legwarmers, do that too.
Look for interesting hair accessories!

Wear strands of pearls or costume jewellery around your neck — they will only show momentarily behind your shirt & tie & will look fantastic.
The Carrotbox has the biggest range of rings anywhere online that I have seen. They sell some great stuff: I am especially fond of the tall Murano glass bands (though I broke mine, never bang it against anything!), plastic rhinestone hearts, glassfiction (made by the site owner), & the glittery Murano glass bands. have diamante initial rings which I LOVE — spell out something crass across your hand (though I would probably just settle for “Gala”).

Murano glass ring from The Carrotbox

One thing everyone needs at school is a bag. A tote with a design that you like is going to get a lot of mileage, as you lug books to & fro like some demented packhorse. Here are some that I like:
White Palazzo Damask Laptop Bag — this is beautiful & would be my pick.
ModCloth has a huge range of really awesome totes & pencil-cases. They also have clutches but you know, they’re more a weekend thang.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has a cute French fashion tote which I like very much.
Hand-stamped Warhol tote from Enderby on Etsy… but Etsy has a total of 5362 totes for sale, so have a look.

White damask bag from

Get a regular manicure, or at least do your nails regularly yourself. (If you bite them, an expensive manicure that you have to pay for might be all the incentive you need to keep your fingers out of your mouth.) You will feel & look much better.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has a blank journal with a marionette on the cover (drawn by Georges Lepape), which would look good on top of a stack of history books.
Paperchase has a great range of notebooks & stationery too. Your yearly diary doesn’t have to be boring!
Let a Jolly Roger umbrella protect you on the walk home.
I love this Classic Valentines lunchbox, but I’d probably use it as a pencil-case…

Red foil notebook from Paperchase

Extra For Experts:
Not so much style, but the books that got me through the hell that was school were:
Star Girl by Jerry Spinelli, a book about a girl who refused to be like anyone else
Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block, an incredible book which I still love & re-read regularly. Also, when I was in school I was convinced that I was Witch Baby
& American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. What can I say? I was a weird kid.