Carol Alfred, Contributor
I would not describe my childhood as uniform, it was uniformed, beginning when I entered 1st grade at St. Bernard’s Grammar School for Girls. At first I was excited to wear the plain navy-blue jumper, white blouse with Peter Pan collar, white socks and gold ribbon tie. Yet, that excitement faded with each year of wear. And although it was always a treat in August to open the plastic bags containing each new jumper and blouse and to breathe in their new uniform smell, I was sick of the drab, formless uniform long before the end of 6th grade.
Luckily, I graduated to a new uniform in 7th grade: navy, grey and white plaid skirt with accordion pleats, white Oxford blouse and white or navy knee socks. Again, I was excited to wear my new uniform for the first time. After all, it was visual confirmation of a rite of passage, evidence I was one of the senior elite of the school. However, this uniform soon lost its luster. It may not have been as shapeless as its predecessor, but its mostly navy and white color scheme was one I had grown to hate. In fact, other than blue jeans, navy has hardly existed in my wardrobe since I left 8th grade and St. Bernard’s School.
The first uniform I wore outside of school was the 1960 version of the American Brownie uniform: light brown dress topped off by a dark brown felt beanie. Although this dress was even more bag-like than St. Bernard’s jumper and the beanie was a total fashion blunder, I am happy to say it did not ruin my love of brown. Maybe this is because I wore it for only two years, crossing the bridge to full-fledged Girl Scout and, of course, to the official Girl Scout uniform. Now my uniform dress was bag-like and green. My hat was a more fashionable beret. But the biggest plus of the uniform was its dark sash that became a billboard of my scoutly activities and accomplishments, where I labored over sewing each badge I earned.
I left Girl Scouts and its uniform behind after two years, mostly because of my participation on the YMCA swim team. Here I would don the simplest uniform of all, what was called a racing tank suit: a black one-piece of a remarkably flimsy fabric. It lacked darts, lining or structure of any kind. Many girls tied a shoelace through its straps in the back, across the shoulder blades, in an effort to keep the front up and over the breasts. This included girls like me who had no breasts. Our desperation was largely due to the then-standard racing dive off the starting block: extremely shallow, you hurled yourself more onto the surface of the water than into the water. This skimming motion virtually peeled the front of the tank suit down to your lower ribs. None of us left the pool without a frenzy of yanks upwards on our suits. Next, you reached for the plain white racing cap that completed the swim team uniform. It was rubbery and rectangular and came off with a loud SNAP, as well as with a shower of water and strands of damp hair.
I left swim team after four years. I was tired of smelling of chlorine, plus I had won a spot on the team I had coveted since 1st grade: the cheerleading squad for the St. Bernard’s Boys CYO basketball team. Heaven could be no better than selection to that team and the chance to wear its uniform! The top to the uniform was a precursor of today’s muffin top: short, fitted and sleeveless, it stopped just above the gold cummerbund that wrapped around the waist of the wide-pleated skirt. A white Oxford shirt went underneath the muffin top, and white socks, sneakers and gloves completed the outfit. The uniform only disappointed in its color scheme: white and the dreaded navy blue.
The one uniform that didn’t disappoint was my Amvets Marching Unit uniform. I didn’t last long in the group, but its uniform explained why I joined in the first place: swashbuckler cream-colored blouse, green semi-mini skirt, orange sash and white GoGo boots with orange tassels. Not to mention the decorative white rifle I carried and twirled … well, almost twirled.
I wore the last uniform of my childhood in high school gym class. Although I attended the public high school and was no longer required to wear a uniform to school, P.E. required girls to wear arguably the ugliest uniform of all: baggy, one-piece “bloomers.” Not only hideous in “style,” but even worse, navy blue.