Students find individuality in world of uniformity

Published 12:10 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reggie Reynolds is a stylish guy most days.

He has to wear a uniform when he goes to school, but he doesn’t let that slow down his sense of fashion.

“The key to standing out, especially in dress clothes, is to get away from school clothes,” said Reynolds, a Vidalia High School junior.

While Vidalia’s uniform code requires students wear certain types of polo shirts and pants, it doesn’t specify outerwear, and in the cooler months students at VHS can wear hoodies, fleece sweaters and even Mexican ponchos.

Reynolds was wearing school khakis with a brown-striped sweater over his blue school polo, a decision he said he made exactly because it didn’t look like a school uniform.

“The sweater matches the polo, and you think I’m wearing these pants because they match, not because they’re school pants,” he said.

School uniforms are meant to keep students from standing out, to erase social strata as defined by clothes and to enforce a disciplined — for lack of a better word — uniformity.

Every school in the Miss-Lou has a uniform policy, and — when they can —  students try to push that policy as far as they can.

And Vidalia High School Assistant Principal Jana Lincecum said she understands why students might want to rebel against uniforms.

“What person still doesn’t want to retain their individuality?” she said. “It is a rare individual who doesn’t want to stand out in some form or fashion. I can understand kids who don’t want to be stamped out cookie cutters.”

Wearing black knee boots and a fur-lined back hooded jacket, VHS student Adrina Thomas said every day presents a new challenge to make the uniform different.

“If I have on white and khaki, I might wear pink to bring it out,” she said. “And I have a matching purse to go with everything.”

For her part, Lincecum said she doesn’t mind if students try to make the best of the uniform situation, but they can circumvent the policy if you don’t watch them closely.

“Sometimes you might need to say, ‘Do you really have a uniform shirt under there?” she said.

Beyond the clothes

There’s only so much students can do with a uniform, though, and some teens find other ways to stand out.

“I like to be heard,” 17-year-old Shan Hilbun said. “I like to do stuff people don’t do, stuff that would get you prescribed on Aderol.”

While Hilbun said he knows that acting out can only bring so much attention to himself, he likes to be known as a funny person.

“I like to make jokes — puns,” he said. “I love to try to make the mean teachers nice. The strict teachers, they’re the ones I like to play with.”

And some students just can’t help but stand out, Junior Caitlyn Hendricks said.

“There’s this one guy, he’s tall and he’s loud and people like him, and he doesn’t necessarily have to wear anything outstanding, but you know he’s coming,” she said.

As for herself, Hendricks said she prefers to stand out by just being a nice person.

“I’m a very outgoing person anyway,” she said. “One day I noticed some of the freshmen sitting by themselves at church, and then I would see them at school. Eventually, I would just take the time to talk to them, and now some of them are my friends.”

For Thomas, standing out isn’t necessarily about being noticed, but rather about making good decisions.

“I just try to be my own person, separate myself,” she said. “I want to lead myself in the right direction and not just follow somebody down the wrong path.”

But while the students all spoke of disliking their uniforms and their intended purpose of making everyone blend in, at the same time Hendricks also expressed a sort of appreciation for them.

“In the mornings, I don’t have to put as much thought into what I am going to wear, and I like it,” Hendricks said.

Codifying creativity away

In the private schools, which have uniform codes that are decades and even centuries old, administrators have written out of the uniform code just about any infraction of which students can think.

Last year, some high school students at Cathedral High tried to sneak a new kind of sock — no show socks — past the dress code enforcers, but were soon stopped, Cathedral Assistant Administrator Shannon Bland said.

“It all depends on how strict your dress code is,” Trinity Episcopal Day School Interim Head of School Jackie Ezell said. “If you don’t address things like outerwear, they’re going to be wearing all sorts of colors like pink and blue and green.”

Vidalia High School Principal Rick Brown said he feels like he spends too much time trying to enforce the school’s relatively lax code, but it needs to be done.

Brown said he feels the uniform policy helps coordinate the school overall, and it helps identify any outsiders who come in uninvited or unwelcomed.

“I think it is a good deal if it is done properly,” he said. “The main thing is that everyone can feel like they are persecuted for the same reason, and no one has to feel bad about the regular clothes they wear.”