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Russia: school uniforms coming into fashion again

16:21 25/08/2005

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Olga Sobolevskaya)

Just ahead of the new school year, which starts on September 1, amid last minute purchases of school supplies, it can be seen that school uniforms are coming into vogue again in Russia.

Their main purpose now is to maintain a sense of group identity among pupils and pride in one's school.

Different schools, both private and public, have different uniforms. They are therefore becoming a means of distinguishing the students of one prestigious school from the students of another. This has long been a successful practice in Britain and the United States. Russia also expects school uniforms to "mask" social inequalities between students by making the different financial means of Russian families less obvious.

School uniforms solve many problems for parents. They do not need to worry every day about what clothes they should send their child to school in. Not every family can afford to buy stylish, trendy clothing. It is little wonder that sociological polls show that 70% of parents are in favor of school uniforms and just 7% are strongly opposed to them. In some schools, uniforms were reintroduced by the decision of parents' committees. Teachers also emphasize that uniforms instill discipline in students and help them concentrate on their schoolwork. Regional authorities are even agreeing to pay for the uniforms of children from low-income families. School uniforms cost from 250-300 rubles upward ($1= 28.5rubles).

After the disintegration of the USSR in the 1990s, many schools no longer required their pupils to wear school uniform. Uniforms were seen as an unpleasant reminder of the Soviet system, which had strived to eliminate social differences and regulate all aspects of life. The law "On Education," enacted in 1992, abolished school uniforms. Schoolchildren now wore whatever they liked. Some even turned up at school wearing heavily studded rocker jackets, ripped jeans and even diamond necklaces. Others wore hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters or bought second-hand clothing. The freedom to choose how to dress for school widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Students split into two groups: the haves and the have-nots. Children from wealthy families started to shun those of their classmates whose parents could not afford to buy them lots of brand new clothes. The children of new Russians sported designer clothing. Schools became catwalks for children to parade their social status and ambitions.

This was a time of belligerent rejection of many traditions. In the 1990s, Russians forgot that school uniforms had existed in the 19th century. For example, grammar school boys and boarding schoolgirls wore uniforms. At first, the Soviet government abolished uniforms as a "vestige of the past." But then later on schoolchildren started wearing uniforms again. Boys wore gray military-style jackets with high collars, while girls wore brown dresses, black aprons and brown hair bows. On national holidays the black apron was replaced by a dressier white pinafore and hair bows were white. Boys wore peaked caps, tunics and wide belts. The belt buckles were polished until they shone in the sun. The children carried their books in satchels and knapsacks.

Soviet schoolchildren did not protest especially against this uniform, even although it was very dark - gray, brown and black. Psychologists say that these are depressing colors. Boys clothing looked like military uniform, while the girls' white aprons made them look like nurses.

This uniform was retained in primary schools right up until the 1990s. However, in the meantime, secondary schools adopted navy blue uniforms for boys. Then even girls began wearing blazers and waistcoats. Psychologists believe that navy blue, like green, light blue and beige, is much better for the psyche. Satchels were replaced by rucksacks.

These days, school uniforms come in all kinds of colors, from burgundy, to violet, to silver. Checked fabrics, white shirts and collars are in vogue, and the latest fashion is for boys to wear ties. Different schools have different emblems. At the same time, it is no longer considered sophisticated to wear jeans or T-shirts with pop-stars, monsters or famous politicians emblazoned across them. Perhaps in Russia, as in Japan, it will be school uniforms that determine teenage fashion, and not the other way around.

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