I would never do this to my child, I had always thought. Year after penny-pinching year, I'd be dressed for school in clothes that were too large on the grounds that I would grow into them. The humiliation was such that I truly did believe no child of mine would be allowed to suffer in the same way. Yet here I am, sitting in a uniform shop with my youngest, fitting her up for her posh new private school, and I'm a caricature of my mum. "Ooh," I pull a face at the kilt that skims Rosie's skinny shins, "that won't last two minutes." "Oh, no," I shake my head at the assistant after she's rolled the sweatshirt's sleeves up a third time. "I think it needs to be bigger." Modelling the whole caboodle, my daughter looks like an upside-down broom wearing size 20.
The twins don't have a uniform, but most of my friends' children do. In a contrary mood, I showed one of these friends the list of items required for Rosie's posh new school. "Look," I prodded a finger so hard at the paper it nearly tore a hole, "how ridiculous is it that I need to buy a regulation coat as well as proper school shoes? The whole outfit, plus spares, is going to cost a fortune." Frugality clearly runs in the family, and exorbitant fees together with clothes together with credit-crunch panic was taking its toll. My friend peered over my shoulder. "The coat is a bit much," she conceded, "but the rest looks fairly standard. A uniform's a good thing. It stops precociousness and gives an equal playing field. You say it's going to cost a fortune, but schools always make it affordable and this is what Rosie will wear most of the time. She won't need so many clothes for the weekend."
Back in the shop, the lady before me checks out. "That's £495," says the cashier. I look around to see how many children she has, but there's only the one, a boy of about 10. Five-hundred quid! I could dress all three of my children for a year, take them to see Kung Fu Panda AND buy them each a giant tub of popcorn for that amount.
I sit Rosie by the till as the bill is totted up, fishing for a credit card with a sweaty palm. The total trills on the screen. Cue a sigh of relief. While the sum is sizeable, it's not the dizzy amount paid by the previous customer.
Back home, the twins can't wait to see their baby sister's new uniform and treat it like fancy dress. Oliver dons navy jogging pants with the sweatshirt (big even on him), then runs to look in the mirror. "I wish I had a uniform," he sighs. This comes as a surprise. "Why on earth do you want a uniform?" "Because I'd like to look smart for school," he replies. "Me too," pipes up Claire, who has put on Rosie's spares, which fit like a glove. Something, though, is missing. I thought I'd bought two kilts (despite my mother insisting I could make do with one), yet there's only one in the shopping bag. "Has anyone seen a skirt?" I ask. A dramatic pause before Oliver reappears, pleats swishing sensuously around his legs. He admires his reflection. "Ooh," he says, "I do look lovely."Reuse content