School uniforms: The who, what, when, where, why and how

I am thrilled that my son, F.T., got plucked off the waiting list and will be attending Great Hearts Monte Vista this fall. This is the first time F.T. will be attending a school that requires uniforms, so I have been asking my friends for advice. Here is some of what I’ve learned so far, organized into the who, what, when, where, why and how of school uniforms.

School Uniforms: The Who, What, Where, Why and How | Alamo City Moms Blog


Studies show that across the U.S., about 19 percent of schools require students to wear uniforms; schools in high-poverty areas and schools in cities (as opposed to suburban or rural areas) are more likely to require uniforms. Locally, it seems like charter schools and private schools are more likely to require uniforms. Uniforms are so essential to San Antonio Catholic schools that their annual fundraiser is called the Khaki and Plaid Gala.

Does your child’s school require uniforms? Please leave a comment and tell us about it.


School uniform policies vary a lot, so be sure to check your school’s policy before you buy. Because my main blog, San Antonio Charter Moms, is about charter schools, I’m going to focus on two charter school networks, IDEA Public Schools and Great Hearts Texas, that represent different uniform styles.

The IDEA Public Schools uniform style is simple and affordable, but also fosters team spirit and keeps everyone focused on their ambitious college-readiness goals, as described in this earlier post.

According to IDEA’s dress code and uniform policy, the basic pieces are

  • A polo shirt, embroidered “IDEA–No Excuses!”
  • Flat-front Dickies pants or shorts, in khaki
  • Plain black belt, all-black shoes, and white socks

Different color polo shirts help identify grade levels. In San Antonio, theofficial clothing vendor for IDEA Public Schools is Beacon’s Stylish Fashions.

IDEA Public Schools "No Excuses!" school uniform | Alamo City Moms Blog

Other school networks in San Antonio that follow this style of uniform include KIPP San Antonio and New Frontiers Charter School, as well as urban public schools such as Bonham Academy in San Antonio ISD.

The Great Hearts Texas uniform style incorporates many of the same basic pieces as KIPP or IDEA uniforms, but includes some additional wardrobe items for a distinctive look. The Great Hearts Monte Vista uniform and dress code requires, for elementary students, white or blue polo shirts and navy pants or shorts. As optional items, elementary girls can substitute a skort (or jumper, for very young girls) in a custom-designed Great Hearts plaid—see a sample in this post. Different colors—navy polos, khaki pants, etc.—designate upper level students.

Great Hearts Monte Vista school uniforms | Alamo City Moms Blog

A local vendor, Dennis Uniforms, carries polos, sweaters, and oxford shirts embroidered with the Great Hearts logo, as well as skirts and hair accessories in the distinctive Great Hearts plaid. There’s even a necktie for high school boys to wear on special occasions that has the school’s motto, Verum Bonum Pulchrum, woven into the fabric. Dennis Uniforms carries basic pants and shorts, but those can be also purchased at other stores, such as Old Navy or Lands’ End.

Dennis Uniform in San Antonio, Texas | Alamo City Moms Blog

Earlier this summer, I took F.T. shopping at Dennis Uniform to find pants that fit. He prefers his casual summer clothes for now, but I believe once he gets in the groove of wearing his school uniform, he will enjoy the consistency and predictability. I am looking forward to the first day of school and seeing all the kids arriving in their matching outfits; I think it will give them a sense of belonging. Also, because the uniforms are so distinctive, they will visually represent the Great Hearts culture in the San Antonio community.

Across San Antonio, many Catholic and private religious schools also have distinctive uniforms, featuring exclusive plaid designs, unique school colors, or retro styles such as middy blouses. For uniforms that really stand out, check out New Orleans, the only city where all schools are either charter schools or private schools: “School uniforms: the good, the bad and the plaid”, Danielle Dreilinger, New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 6, 2013.

If your school’s uniform policy gives you options, which items should you buy? This time last year, ACMB contributor Alvina was planning her first school uniform buys, and wrote this money-saving guide. Now that Alvina, who also blogs at There’s Magic Out There, has one year of real-life experience with school uniforms, I checked back with her for more advice.

Q: Pants vs. shorts?

A: Buy pants. You may think you will need shorts in August and September, but the school will be air conditioned inside. When your kids get home, you’ll want them to change into street clothes anyway. (See “How” below.)

Q: Long sleeves vs. short sleeves?

A: Short sleeves. In cooler weather, layer another shirt underneath (check your school’s policy) or add a sweater, jacket, or coat on top.

I’m glad I checked with Alvina before I went shopping. Then again, maybe there are situations where shorts or long-sleeved shirts make sense—if you can think of any, please leave a comment.


Go ahead and mark your calendars now: the annual back-to-school sales tax holiday, Texas Tax-Free Weekend, will be August 8-10, 2014.

But you may not want to wait that long to buy your kids’ school uniforms. Alvina warned me that if I wait too long, then the sizes I need might be out of stock. On the other hand, if I buy too early in the summer, then F.T. might outgrow his school clothes before school even starts.

Another challenge: What if F.T. outgrows his clothes during the middle of the school year? Will uniforms still be available to purchase? I hope so. Probably. There had better be. (If you’ve met F.T. in real life, then you know he’s a big kid.)

At the end of the school year, parents can organize a school uniform swap. Here’s how it works: Families donate outgrown school uniform clothes to the parent organization. The pieces are sorted and priced—let’s say, $7 for tops and $3 for bottoms. Then, the parent organization holds a sale/fundraiser so families can buy ahead for next year. It’s a big money saver, and some kids enjoy getting shirts that are already have that soft, broken-in feeling.

The “when” can also depend on the day or time of day. For example, IDEA Public Schools has spirit shirt days, usually on Fridays, when students can swap out their polo shirts for a college T-shirt. During P.E. classes, Great Hearts requires students in grades 6-12 to wear P.E. uniforms.


As mentioned earlier, IDEA Public Schools and Great Hearts have official vendors for school uniforms. Those vendors are the only places to shop for unique items like polo shirts with embroidered logos.

But not everything has to be bought at the official uniform store, and this is where you can save money, especially on used clothes, available at resale stores, thrift stores, yard sales, etc.

Navy school uniform pants at Goodwill San Antonio | Alamo City Moms Blog

I recently checked my local Goodwill store and found several pairs of pleated navy pants that would comply with the Great Hearts uniform policy; I bought a pair that F.T. will probably grow into soon. Veronica Rouse, who blogs at Seven Lovely Things, is my authority on thrifting. Veronica’s top tip:

Go more than once or to more than one Goodwill. You are more likely to score big like that, and the prices are worth it! Uniforms are pretty easy to spot and you can be in and out pretty fast.

Goodwill also has good prices on some new items, like white socks.

Great Hearts has a policy of helping families in need to afford the cost of school uniforms. Families can fill out a financial aid application to request a full or partial subsidy.


IDEA’s dress code and uniform policy states:

We believe that school uniforms have a beneficial impact on students’ self esteem, attendance, graduation rates, and discipline. Uniforms eliminate unnecessary distractions (such as who has the coolest tennis shoes?), and ensure students’ focus remains on academic success. Uniforms are an important part of the IDEA culture.

Similarly, the Great Hearts Monte Vista uniform and dress code declares:

Great Hearts Monte Vista has a primary objective of developing a community of learners, dedicated to the highest standards of academics and comportment. As such, a distinctive uniform is a unifying factor within our school community. Our desire is not to diminish students’ individuality, but to secure their commitment to scholarship and character development, goals that can be easily obscured by a focus on the latest trends or fads.

Clearly, their school uniform policies are integral to these schools’ cultures.

To hear both sides of the issue, I asked for input from BASIS San Antonio parents. (BASIS has a dress code but no uniform policy; some families have experience with uniforms at previous schools.) The BASIS parents came up with some pros and cons of school uniforms.


  • Uniforms are less distracting. Students can spend time learning rather than thinking about clothes.
  • They are a social equalizer that obscures economic differences. There are no brand names or designer labels; no one knows how many clothes are in your closet.
  • Research shows uniforms may improve attendance and graduation rates, as well as campus safety. “School uniforms don’t have to cost so much”, Lisa Runge, Greater Greater Education, September 25, 2013.
  • Uniform clothes are durable and more cost effective in the long run.
  • Independence: the simplicity of uniforms provides an opportunity to teach kids to look after their own clothes.


  • Uniform clothes seem more expensive per item than other types of clothes.
  • Teachers and school leaders spend time on enforcing school uniform policies and dress codes.
  • Uniforms take away an opportunity for students to express themselves
  • The “dreary sameness” of wearing a uniform to school every day.
  • It can be hard to find uniform clothes that are comfortable for a child with hypersensitive skin.

ACMB contributor Katy D. (here is her terrific post about San Antonio parks) grew up wearing school uniforms, taught at a school with a uniform policy, and dresses her children in school uniforms. For her, the balance clearly tips in favor of school uniforms. Her thoughts:

Putting on a school uniform is a powerful signal that a student is ready for the important work of learning. There are other opportunities for self-expression; it’s more important to focus what’s happening in the student’s brain, the words she says, and her writing.

Uniforms create an esprit de corps and build team spirt; over time, that becomes part of a school’s history.

Do you agree? Please leave a comment, and tell us how you feel about the school uniform policy or dress code at your child’s school.


Alvina has more helpful answers to “how” questions.

Q: How do you make school uniform clothes last?

A: If you have a choice, buy colored shirts rather than white shirts. White shirts show stains. If you must buy white shirts, find a safe bleach.

Use a clothesline, instead of dryer, to hold color longer and keep the fabric fresh.

Buy pants that are a little too long.

Remind your kids to change into street clothes as soon as they get home. House rules: no crawling, climbing, or playing in uniform clothes.

(Note to self: buy the blue polo shirts for F.T.)

Q: How many of each item should I buy?

A: Minimum 5 shirts and 3 pairs of pants; better to buy 5 pairs of pants.

Buy 2 or 3 pairs of sturdy shoes. They get wet, muddy, and so on. You will need a backup pair that is sturdy.

I’m glad I followed up with Alvina; her advice is really going to help me when I go shopping. I hope this guide to the who, what, when, where, why and how of school uniforms will help you be a smarter shopper, too. If you have more tips about school uniforms and dress codes, please share them in a comment.

Inga Cotton
Inga is passionate about parent-driven education: helping parents be the best advocates for their children, finding the right schools (or homeschooling resources), and enjoying San Antonio's variety of arts and cultural events for families. She was born in California but has called Texas home since high school. She works part time as a lawyer and also blogs at San Antonio Charter Moms. Her eight-year-old son, F.T., and five-year-old daughter, G.N., attend a public charter school in the heart of the city. She married a techie and is a bit of a geek herself.


  1. A very detailed and informative article about school uniforms. This article will help us in choosing the right kind of uniform for their kids. There are various other options also available to choose a better cost saving uniforms and online websites are one of them. I am using wang uniform website for the last two years so shop school uniforms for my kids. They have a good design team and the price is also reasonable.

  2. We have been playing the “find the uniform” game for 10 years. Here is what I have learned:

    If your school doesn’t have a gently used uniform program… start one. Our school, St. Peter Prince of Apostles School has a store run by the school’s PTC. My kids grow an average of two uniforms in a school year. The School Store at St. Peter’s sells uniform skirts for $11. Full priced at the uniform store– $45. If your school doesn’t want to take on a ‘store”, do a uniform swap. Best time to do it… before school starts and close to when “winter” begins as sweaters and jackets are not cheap, get lost and are only worn for a few months.

    Buy only the pieces you absolutely have to from the uniform store. That means logo items or plaids… trust me… you will not likely find them anywhere else.

    Always buy adjustable waist. Always…

    School sweaters… early on, I bought four or five… one for each day. We ended up loosing at least two or three. Then, I bought only one or two and stressed to my child the importance of keeping track as if they lost the sweater, getting another was not easy and they would have to suffer the consequences. Amazingly, none were lost. And, if the sweater got dirty, it was cheaper to throw it in the wash than have a larger supply.

    Austin Trading Co. and Dickies pants are slow to fade, do NOT need pressing and are meant to pass to multiple children. Austin Trading Company can be found at Academy. Dickies can always be found on Amazon.

    All khaki is not alike. If you need to find khaki bottoms… get a good read on the color of khaki… .Target and Walmart are light khaki…. Academy and Dennis Uniforms… dark khaki… But all are called khaki.

    Despite the crazy of finding the right fit at a reasonable price, I love school uniforms. Occasionally, the kids will get to wear street clothes to school and it is a battle to pick and choose…. and it is then that I truly thankful we don’t have to go THAT everyday!!

    Thanks, Inga!!!

  3. We are transitioning to a private school with uniforms next month and this was incredibly helpful!

  4. Great article! I plan to stick with shorts not just for the heat (my son wore his uniform shorts to school pretty much year round except for January and February) but also bc the knees in pants go quickly for boys. Despite house rules, they will be on the floor, sliding, or out on a playground, or at recess or PE during school, and there will be giant holes in the knees of those pants before you know it!

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