This writer remembers being an elementary school student at a Catholic school in the early 1970s. All of us students were required to wear very specific uniforms. The boys wore navy blue pants and gold shirts while the girls wore plaid jumpers and white blouses. Our parents were responsible for buying the uniforms every school year.
As a young adult, I spent many years in the food service industry – specifically running pizzerias. The two companies I worked for also had required uniforms. One company provided the uniforms for free while the other required me to buy them.
As both an elementary school student and a young adult worker, I don’t ever remember uniforms being prohibitively expensive. But that was back in the 1970s and 80s. Today things are different. Uniforms today can be so expensive that people cannot actually afford them. Is that okay? Furthermore, how expensive should school and work uniforms really be?
Fighting the System in the UK
The impetus behind this post is an article recently published by Yahoo! News. The article details one woman’s fight against what she considers extortionate prices for branded school uniforms in the UK. According to the article, it costs her £200 ($243) just to outfit one child.
The problem in the UK is that parents are required to purchase uniforms from approved sellers. Those sellers know full well they have an advantage. Because parents have nowhere else to go, they can charge higher prices. The mother profiled in the article is so fed up that she has started a petition drive in hopes of convincing Parliament to intervene.
Back when I was a child, any pair of navy-blue slacks and gold shirt was fine for my school uniform. My parents had enough options to work with. And if they could not afford new in any given year, there were always thrift stores selling uniforms worn by kids in years past.
Expensive Work Uniforms
Moving on to adult work uniforms, there are quite a few industries in which workers buy their own uniforms. Healthcare is one of them. While some facilities utilize healthcare uniform rentals from companies like Salt Lake City’s Alsco, others require nurses, orderlies, and technicians to purchase their own scrubs.
Those employees can write off the uniforms on their taxes. Still, there is very little value in such write-offs. A nurse paying $200 for several sets of scrubs doesn’t save $200 on her taxes. She only reduces her taxable income by $200. Her real tax savings is likely to be less than $50.
It would be interesting to know how much a hospital pays for scrubs as opposed to what an individual worker would pay. It would also be interesting to know how many hospitals save money by renting scrubs rather than purchasing them. If uniform rental is a way to save money in the long term, it would be a better solution from a cost perspective.
Affordability is Necessary
The long and short of this whole discussion is this: affordability is a necessity when it comes to uniforms. Whether it is a school mandating uniforms for students or a company instituting a uniform policy, ending up with uniforms that are too expensive sort of defeats the purpose of having them.
Uniforms should be affordable enough that they aren’t a financial hardship regardless of who provides them. Otherwise, they become a source of resentment. And when uniforms are resented, people resent wearing them. What’s the point then?
How expensive should school and work uniforms be? Not so expensive that people cannot afford them.