As soon as the August bank holiday is over, my mind turns to collared shirts rather than T-shirts. Pinafore dresses are never far from reach, chunky lace-up brogues in shades of oxblood and shiny chestnut are fished out from the “winter” section of my shoe shelves, and I will even entertain the idea of an ankle sock. Because it’s September, and that means it’s time to think about all things Back To School.
Although I’m not actually a parent myself, or a teacher, or even someone who works at a high-street retailer that’s currently selling white shirts and grey v-neck sweaters by the truckload, I still get wholeheartedly into Back To School mode. I just can’t help dressing like I’m eight and I’m going to be starting the new term next week. Maybe it’s because, as a child, I actually really loved school, so the annual trip to Portsmouth from my home on the Isle of Wight at the end of the summer holidays to choose my new navy uniform from C&A was always very exciting indeed, even that one time when my Cheekaboo got left on the train and went to London on its own, never to be seen again.
Or maybe it’s because the basics of a school uniform have an enduring style that works just as well when you’re a 41-year-old adult as they did when you were a kid. Whether it’s the minimal chic of a white shirt, the joy of a pair of shiny lace-ups or the simplicity of a two-tone colour palette, its appeal is hard to ignore. But you probably don’t want to look like an actual student, so here are my top tips for making school uniform work as a grown-up.
The pinafore dress
The queen of comfort and with more class than a pair of dungarees, it’s a hard worker in your wardrobe and makes a sound investment. Last year’s navy option from Kitri Studio has been a go-to year-round for me since I got it. This season, Kitri has the same dress in a black faux leather, which is great if you like the vibe but want less of a uniform look, as is Toast’s denim offering. I’ve also recently discovered a lovely brand called Howl, which hand-makes all of its pinafores and dungarees in Sussex from 100% cotton. It’s worth noting that purveyors of fine dungarees are often a good bet when it comes to finding a great pinafore – see Kate Sheridan, whose corduroy dungarees are a dream and who also has a gorgeous pinafore dress in her new-season collection.
Once in possession of your ideal pinafore, you can tailor the rest of your outfit to the level of school uniform that’s appropriate to you. I personally avoid collared shirts with mine as it feels a bit too literal. Right now, I’m favouring a crew-neck T-shirt – my favourite is the “Kate” from Weekday, which is the absolute ideal shape for a petite frame (and is only £12!). While the weather is OK, I’ll chuck on my Birkenstocks and, when the mercury drops, I’ll switch them for pumps and the tee for a Uniqlo skinny roll neck and tights. This might not sound very uniform, but as a March baby my first day at primary school was in January, and there is pictorial evidence to prove I wore exactly this. Luckily for me, I didn’t have it to hand when writing this feature.
Of course, I am drawn to actual shirts as well, albeit not to wear with my pinafore, which is handy because they are very well represented on the high street for the new season. Head to Cos for bundles of examples of crisp white collars in a shape to suit all, from slim fits to draped wide trapezes, all handily styled with simple navy trousers and skirts for maximum New Term inspo. If that’s too much of a uniform look for you, simply swap the trousers for a pair of jeans.
The shiny shoes
One of my earliest school-uniform memories is being in Clarks and trying to persuade my mum to get me a pair of red Mary Janes for primary school, rather than the requisite navy. Unsurprisingly, I did not win this fight. I did, however, manage to wangle a pair of black Dr Martens shoes by the time I was 13, arguing that I would wear them outside of school so their cost-per-wear would be totally worth it. Now, I like my Oxfords to have a bit of an edge to mark them out from those DMs – my Grenson Emily brogues, with their chunky white sole, have been going strong for the last five years. They even work with another school-girl favourite, the ankle sock (I favour slim silky ribbed ones, which you can always find in Cos).
The midi skirt
Sure, I spent most of high school trying to get away with as high a skirt hem as possible, but now the convent-school length of a midi skirt is too chic for me to resist. At the beginning of the summer, I bought one in yellow tartan that a dog walker pointed out was the exact same print as one of our local school’s summer uniforms (yes, for me this obsession also happens in the summer term), but it just made me love it more. I’m now coveting Arket’s blue striped offering – it’s far cooler than anything I actually wore to school, but then that’s the whole point about doing this look as an adult, right?