Surely suits you, Sir!;Opinion

1st October 1999 at 01:00
Last week it was time to buy a suit. Such outings began hesitantly sometime in my late thirties, but have become more frequent ever since. Now I'm quite resigned to the dark suit as my school uniform - especially when Iglimpse pictures of myself at the chalkface in the long haired, cord jacketed, bell bottomed seventies.

This time, 30 years after Peter Sarstedt first sang "Your clothes are all made by Balmain", I managed to get a suit with his name attached - Balmain that is, not Sarstedt. My colleagues have been quick to point out this says more about the couturier's decline than my rise to fashion icon.

Despite a remaining preference for jeans, in my middle age I've come to accept that presentation can smooth the path of life. Anyone who has shopped in a department store, first casually dressed and then formally, can't have failed to notice the reaction from the assistants.

Now, in contrast to my rebellious youth, I am prepared to play the game. And I freely acknowledge that parents who come to visit a member of the school management team are expecting a formally dressed professional.

This holds true for pupils' school uniform too. A decade ago it was fashionable to view strict uniform as an infringement of pupils' rights. But with the development of parental choice, more and more parents send their children to uniform wearing schools. The arguments are well rehearsed and convincing. A hard wearing, stylish and affordable uniform, in a design pupils and parents have helped create, is the best way to encourage identification with the school and avoid the Hilfilger v. Timberland competition. These days it's also a handy addition to security arrangements in larger schools, and it reflects the move to uniforms in the workplace.

Our pupils all wear uniform, as parents requested when the school opened five years ago. In surveys over 90 per cent of pupils favour it too, quoting identification with the school and the removal of hassle at the wardrobe. But anyone watching them pour out of school each day can testify that they still retain their individual touches. Mao's China it ain't!

Recently I asked one lad why he was in trainers instead of dark shoes:

"Only one pair of shoes in the family, sir, and my brother's wearing them at an interview today." The clothes might be uniform, but our families' economic capacities most certainly are not, and hard wearing uniform beats flimsy fashion any day of the week.

And my new suit? It's much admired, but, strangely, suit measurements must be shrinking these days, for it's the largest suit I've ever had to buy!

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