Once upon a time I was a little Catholic school girl. The day began and ended with a prayer, and Religion class was sandwiched between Reading and Math in the daily schedule. But the truth is, my Catholic education wasn’t so much defined by devout reflection and intellectual faith-based questioning, but rather what’s on the forefront of most tween-aged girls’ minds: clothes. Oh, right, and let’s not forget jewelry, shoes, hair accessories, and nail polish. The difference was, our means of self-expression was constrained by a little something called a uniform.

It amazes me to think back on how much a simple pleated skirt and white polo managed to rule our lives. But trust me, it did. A skirt that was too long or a polo that was a) monogrammed, b) yellowed, or c) clearly your brother’s hand-me-down earned you the unspoken label of “uncool”–a.k.a. the surest route to unpopularity.

In sixth grade, girls were allowed to add a new item to their school wardrobe. Drum roll please… the box-pleated skirt. This skirt was truly a coming of age wardrobe essential. Forget about the fact that the uniform shop charged an arm and a leg for the thing. If you didn’t get the box-pleated skirt, then clearly you might as well go back to the fifth grade. (The fifth graders were relinquished to the accordion-pleated skirt– the much less figure-flattering alternative). Of course, in sixth grade, dress code wasn’t the only thing changing in our young lives. While I myself have blocked out most memories of this beyond-awkward time of my life, I do seem to recall that boys suddenly lost their “cooties” and girls had incentive to show a bit more leg than before. We did this with the infamous waistband roll-up. It did the trick unless, of course, you got caught.

But when I come down from this nostalgic cloud filled with Power Beads, Lip Smackers, and Baby Gs, I realize that we never really graduate from uniforms. Life is filled with them, in fact. Just yesterday I was (reluctantly) at the gym and thought to myself, everyone under the age of 25 is wearing a variation of the same thing. Sprinkled among a sea of courageous workout moms wearing spandex shorts and fitted tops are college girls like me wearing loose white V-necks, colored sports bras, and Nike running shorts. The generational distinction between exercise “uniforms” is not only ironic but also extremely amusing to anyone as desperate as I am to find distractions during my seemingly never-ending countdown on the elliptical trainer.

So when you go about your day, I challenge you to play a little game of I Spy. How many uniforms do you see? (And I’m not talking about the kind employees wear at your local grocery store.) More importantly, which one are you wearing?

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