School uniforms might seem like a good idea to some. They can make students look totally clever while taking the hassle out of deciding what to wear each morning. But '90s school uniforms, much like modern day ones, were not always good times. Coming from a Catholic school upbringing in England, I had to wear a uniform from elementary school through to the last day of high school. By age 16, I couldn’t wait to cast off my uniform for good. If I hadn't been such a goody two-shoes, I probably would have burned it.
From my experiences, school uniforms aim to put all kids on equal ground, no matter their economic backgrounds or styles, in the hopes that no one will be discriminated against. They’re also a great way to keep track of students on school trips and build camaraderie and campus pride. But although the intentions of school uniforms might generally be positive, the realities don’t always match up.
It’s safe to say that most young people, like humans of any age, want to show off their individuality, so kids will always find a way to make themselves stand out from the crowd. Similarly, the sad truth is that kids in certain cliques will find ways to exclude others if they want to, while they learn all about how power and friendships work. So if you went to a school with a strict dress code and a uniform in the 1990s, these are the ways you probably tried to fit in with your peers.
1. Sporting Some Scrunchies
Scrunchies were a quick and easy way to make yourself look more trendy. The best types were big, squishy, and velvety, or made of faux feathers à la Britney Spears in "...Baby One More Time," which also tied in nicely if you wanted to channel Cher Horowitz from Clueless .
2. Wearing Your Shirt Collar Undone
When you wore the top couple of buttons of your shirt undone, everyone knew you were a total bad girl. Aside from the numerous comments you'd get from teachers instructing you to button your top up — and the possible detentions you'd receive — unbuttoning your collar was great because it allowed you to show off your necklaces and chokers. However, if your school was super strict, you probably got your jewelry confiscated.
3. Shortening Your Skirts
It seems like girls have been shortening their skirts since the dawn of time. OK, that's an exaggeration. But this classic customization helped us take control of our outfits and our bodies by showing off our legs, all the while sticking a metaphorical middle finger up to authority.
Depending on where you went to school, you may have gotten away with this, or you may have been ordered to lower your hem.
4. Utilizing Butterfly Clips
Ombre Butterfly Clips, $3, claires.com
Since butterfly clips served the purpose of keeping your hairstyle in place, they often flew under the radars of teachers. However, if you got bored and started fiddling with them or rearranging them, you may have been asked to remove your beloved accessories.
5. Buying Some Clear Lipgloss
Clear lipgloss was our saving grace. Not only was it untraceable by the teachers, but it also made us feel so grown up — even if it did taste like candy.
6. Wearing The Tiniest Heels
Of course we couldn't get away with real heels, but we did push our luck when it came to kitten ones, flatforms, and mini wedges. The main things that mattered were that our shoes were smart, presentable, and in a muted hue. If you ticked all those boxes, you might have been able to rock a teeny, tiny heel.
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7. Sporting Subtle Patterned Hosiery Under Your Skirt
Black Unicorn Tights, $10, hottopic.com
There was no way you'd be allowed to wear colored socks or tights to school, so you had to bend the rules a little. Depending on how lenient your teachers were or how well behaved you were, you were likely able to wear subtle patterned tights.
If your school dress code was super strict, however, you'd usually be stuck with skin-colored, navy, or black stockings. But as long as you wore the colors you were allowed, there was always a slim chance you'd be able to sport a slight pattern on your pantyhose.
8. Wearing All The Name Headbands
Personalized headband, $12.99, etsy.com
Name headbands were huge in the '90s, and whenever your classmates went on vacation, they always seemed to come back with a cool, personalized headband. As long as your headband stayed on your head, most teachers had no quarrel with it.
9. Wearing Our Ties Fat & Loose
Although Avril Lavigne appeared to set this trend in the early '00s, the reality is that rebellious uniform-wearing kids had been loosening their ties way before she hit the scene. There was something so satisfying about putting together a chunky tie, unbuttoning the shirt collar, and pulling the tie down loose. However, it wasn't long before a teacher would spot us and make us tie it properly.
10. Donning Big Hoop Earrings
70MM Gold Wire Hoop Earrings, $5, claires.com
Large golden hoops were perhaps the most popular earrings among school kids in the '90s. They were loud and proud and you had to take them off for gym class due to health and safety reasons. That is, if they made it past recess first.
11. Customizing Your Backpack
Trashing your backpack was all the rage in the '90s. Your school bag would become an extension of your personality and you'd decorate it (or rather, destroy it) with pins, buttons, patches, illustrations, or even holes. The more disheveled it looked, the cooler you were.
Fitting in at school in the '90s was tough, especially when you had to wear a uniform. But as long as you remembered these hacks, you were likely to be accepted by the cool crowd — the ultimate goal in your pre-teen life.
Images: Buena Vista Pictures (1); BritneySpearsVEVO/YouTube (1); Original Film, Newmarket Capital Group (1); American Zoetrope, Muse Productions, Eternity Pictures (3); Courtesy Brands