One thing uniformly true about Mayor Barry's proposal of school uniforms for Washington's public-school students . . . it won't happen without some kicking and screaming first, particularly on the part of students, if our informal poll of about a dozen students is any indication.
But after initial rebellion, and time to think about it, a few saw some value in the idea and came up with ideas (and even sketches) for a uniform.
What most suggested is the very "uniform" they currently wear . . . although they would never call their preppie Shetland sweaters, kilts, button-down Oxford shirts and penny loafers a uniform.
"It is the standard fast-track mode of dress," says Dr. Carlotta Miles, psychoanalyst and consultant to several Washington area schools. "It has been around New England for 200 years, and now it is the peer-culture-approved way of dress in schools here." It is successful, she says, because it is reliable, familiar and identifiable.
Gina Brent, a Duke Ellington High School senior, had only to look at her own garb this week for ideas on what might be acceptable as a school uniform:
For girls, a plaid, knee-length skirt, white shirt (maybe with a tie), tights and penny loafers for girls, and an optional plain wool blazer.
For boys, a sleeveless sweater, shirt, tie and loafers.
Colors would be Ellington's black, brown and beige. "We'd have those colors alone," says Brent loyally. "I'm not sure that I want to see everyone wearing the same thing, but at least you would know who your classmates are, and you could talk to them even outside the school."
Brent's only hesitation is that some students might not follow the rules "and that wouldn't be so cool. Then everyone will soon abandon the idea."
Deborah Doyle of Georgetown Day, who has watched her sister go off each day in a uniform to Georgetown Visitation, says that while the idea may be practical, "It would be inhibiting to personal expression." To offer diversity, she suggests some flexibility of choice that would include unisex clothes for students to layer individually.
Ballou High School senior Donna James envisions a possible uniform built on straight-leg jeans: denim, velvet or corduroy for girls; corduroy or denim for boys. Loafers and Shetland sweaters in a choice of three colors could finish the look, very much as she and her friends dress these days.
"But who would pay?" asks James. Lots of parents couldn't afford it, she says, and, "How could the school afford it if they can't even afford the books we need for English class?" Wearing some sort of ID, she says, might more cheaply and simply fulfill the need for student identification symbols.
"Most kids go to public school because they can't afford the tuition and the uniforms at private schools," comments Tonio Jennifer, a Woodrow Wilson High School senior. But within the realm of something "affordable," he proposes sticking to the dark green and white Wilson colors: green cardigan with the letter W, matching trousers, a white button-down Oxford shirt and green tie.
Students who have at one school worn uniforms and at another had no clothes rules, generally opt for the freedom of choice. (Sneakers and jeans -- never a part of the uniform mix -- are the most craved items.)
Tracy Brown, who now must wear a uniform skirt at National Cathedral School, but had no uniform at Shepherd Elementary, says that the daily choice is easier now. But she relishes the day of free choice (usually jeans) about every two weeks.
The move from the somewhat flexible uniform at Potomac, to Saint John's military uniform with shined shoes and polished buttons, to total freedom in clothes at Cardozo High School, leaves no question in Arthur Marshall's mind that less conformity is better. But for a price.
"I could dress blindfolded (before Cardozo)," says Marshall. "I'm sure that the uniform dress is easier for parents, too. Less hassle. Students wouldn't have to worry about being in the latest fashion -- but I don't worry about that anyway."
Marshall would propose the Potomac School uniform -- khakis, oxford shirt, jacket and tie purchased at the price level one can best afford, as a feasible uniform if there had to be one.
School consultant Miles maintains that the major concern of many public-school students about dressing in the latest style is diminished when a uniform is worn.
"Poor kids can't compete," she says, "and with uniforms they are not shown up every day, every hour, every minute.
"It also lets the school emphasis be on studies above all else."