Back to School: Pupils 'feel special' in eccentric clothes

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THE KING'S School, Rochester, has one of the most elaborate school uniforms in the country.

The basic outfit is simple: a grey, black or navy suit, but the variety of accessories is bewildering. There are 33 different ties, from the basic striped school tie to the scholar's tie, a red Tudor rose on a silver background. There are also eight different coloured waistcoats and at least 15 types of boater ribbons.

On special occasions the school's florist supplies it with eight different buttonholes. Pink carnations for members of the school's first cricket XI, white carnations with blue centres for prefects, roses for scholars.

The Senior Master, Brian Nolan, says: 'The uniform is both a language and a reward system. If you achieve in sport, or music or an academic subject, then you are entitled to wear a special colour or tie. Because they cover all aspects of school life, no one feels left out.'

Alexander Davidson, author of Blazers, Badges and Boaters, a pictorial history of school uniform, says some of the more eccentric uniforms have survived centuries of fashion because they still look stylish: 'Most have a good cut and pretty colours so they make the children feel special,' he says. 'And the parents feel they are paying for something exclusive.'

Christ's Hospital, in Horsham, has a truly antique uniform, virtually unchanged from the one worn a year after the school's foundation in 1552, give or take the odd polyester fibre.

The boys wear floor-length blue wool coats with silver buttons, grey breeches, a shirt with a tab, and fawn or mustard stockings. Richard Poulton, headmaster, says he would be lynched if he suggested changing it: 'Initially, new pupils have a feeling of oddness and their first reaction is almost always 'it's scratchy, it's itchy'. But within 24 hours they no longer feel they are dressing up because it gives them a sense of belonging; they feel they are part of a great tradition. It is also very practical and warm.'

Not all unusual uniforms hark back to previous centuries. Girls at Knighton House School, Dorset, wear red dungarees, pale yellow shirts and grey guernseys. The headmaster, Roger Weatherly, says: 'We've got our own stables and the children are constantly in and out with the ponies. You can do anything in dungarees: sit in lessons or brush ponies or swing upside down in the trees.'