Slap, lippy, ghastly gear ... and that's just the staff

27th August 2010 at 01:00

What to wear when you're not wearing uniform - it's a tricky issue, and I suspect that many sixth formers, while thrilled to be able to choose their own clothes for school, are simultaneously filled with dread. I have seen them in the shops during the summer holiday hesitantly fingering jackets they wouldn't normally be seen dead in.

There is, of course, a dress code which we all try to enforce at our school. For boys, jacket, smart trousers, proper shoes and a shirt and tie. For girls, neat top and jacket, shoes with low heels, and a skirt - not too short.

It isn't easy, chiefly because there is a rival dress code which the pupils are also trying to enforce. Theirs aims, often successfully, to give the impression they have just staggered out of a club at 4am and are ready for bed.

The boys arrive in the morning with tie askew and shirt hanging out of trousers which are at half mast, revealing rather unsavoury, greying boxers. As for their hair, that's another story - indeed, an entire zoological study, I don't doubt.

The girls are no better, teetering in on four-inch heels with wide black belts which they quaintly refer to as "skirts" beneath their skintight jackets. As often as not, they then proceed to apply their slap in the middle of the library, stopping only to admire another's lipstick. This happened at the end of last term.

"Can you go and do that somewhere else, please," I said. "This is the library."

"Yeah, but the light's really good in here and there's nowhere to put your stuff in the toilets," one replied, continuing to work in the foundation.

It was an absurd excuse, so I wasn't going to give up: "Look, put that away and do some work or leave; it's not an appropriate use of the library."

She sighed and put her make-up bag into another bag, which went in her handbag, which she then shoved viciously into her already overflowing school bag.

Silence reigned and, well-dressed or not, all heads were bent in study. I picked up my paper and sat back with a sigh. A few moments later, I became aware of a strange, rather acrid smell. I ignored it, but it started getting worse and several pupils raised their heads and sniffed around, too.

I got up and strolled towards what seemed to be the source. Unbelievably, it was Make-up Girl again who was now, head bent in concentration, applying her nail varnish.

She got such a fright when I spoke to her that she smeared nail varnish the length of her thumb and left the library muttering darkly about the cost of nail varnish remover and the trials of living in a fascist state.

Still, when it comes to dress, worse even than the sixth form are members of staff on Jeans Day. Normally staid men come mincing in self-consciously in Levis which strain at the waist, greying chest hairs poking out of the top of their T-shirts.

And we women are no better: fitted jackets (as in fitted when we weighed two stone less) are teamed with hideously revealing leggings atop our trendy Ugg boots which really are too warm for this weather and which we have to slip off every so often. I think the pupils would willingly pay not to see us dressed in our casualwear.

Claudia Court works in the library of a London secondary school.

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