By Rhona Canoy
SO… After 65 years on this earth, I’m still constantly amazed by the Pinoy fixation (or should I say obsession) for uniforms. Except for our armed and military forces who should be easily identifiable, we just love our carbon-copy clothing. Which we justifiy in the strangest of ways.
It was a privilege for me to have been in public elementary school at a time when uniforms had not yet been mandated. We were free to wear what we wanted, or what our mothers wanted. Dressed in play clothes or cute dresses, we often wore rubber slippers rather than shoes because we were in dirt most of the time. Gardening, pulling out weeds from the school yard, or having to leave our footwear lined up outside the newly-waxed floors of our classrooms–slippers were the best and most convenient.
Segue to high school, our first exposure to mandated fashion. I hated (and still hate) uniforms. That’s why I never made it past four months of Girl Scouts. Misamis Oriental High School had royal blue skirts paired with a white top. After some research, I found that there was no statement that said “mandated white blouse” anywhere in the rules. So I was able to skate by with a “half uniform” of my own making. Yes, I wore the royal blue pleated skirt, but I raided my dad’s closet for his choicest Jockey Life crew-neck white t-shirts, which got me through high school. As documented in my senior class photograph.
Then I was conscripted to attend our “prestigious” Jesuit university for college which had color-coded girls’ uniforms the year I entered as a freshman. Our department was assigned this reddish-pinkish skirt, and the ubiquitous white poplin blouse and the little matching ribbon at the neck. I was in uniform hell. Until the XU rulebook revealed that if I didn’t wear the prescribed uniform, I had to pay a fine of 25 centavos at the student affairs office which receipt would allow me entry into class and not be marked absent by the class beadle. So one peso paid up front every Monday morning got me through the week just fine (Wednesday being free day).
And that was great until the esteemed Jesuit who headed the Student Affairs Office noticed that I never wore a uniform. At all. My mother had to be called to the school for a conference, shameful for a college student. She was made to swear that I would wear the cough-syrupy red and white outfit. Having no way out, I made sure that my skirts were only long enough to cover my private parts, since there was no rule that mandated how long or short they were supposed to be. I think there was more material for my blouse than my skirts at that point. I don’t know how many times my attention was called for frequently challenging the rules. But in the end I dropped out of college. And my life-long protest against uniforms continues.
I always ask people why they prefer wearing uniforms. The answer is frequently the same–it’s cheaper, I don’t have to worry about what to wear. Those are at the top of the excuse list. Which doesn’t make any sense at all. Nowadays, it’s not that expensive to put an outfit together. And personal sartorial style always gives us a chance to be creative. And yet. And yet.
People find some sort of identity in the uniform. Pride in being part of a flock. Birds of a feather and all that. And, I think, some sort of elitism in being identified as a member of an exclusive community, whether it be an office, a school, or an organization. I find it puzzling that people don’t find uniforms divisive. In my experience, I’ve come across groups of people who (by virtue of their uniform and where it’s connected) will not hesitate to look down on other uniform-clad persons because their uniforms reveal them as belonging to inferior groups.
There is a sense of outward confidence exuded by a gaggle of females ambling down the road, wearing identical outfits. Some sort of safety or sense of belonging. As a culture that guards our sense of self-importance so fiercely, Pinoys on the other hand revel in the uniformity of appearance, opinion, acceptance, belief. Nobody wants to step outside the box. I’m still trying to figure out what everyone is so afraid of. No one wants to be seen as an individual, or unique, or different. Especially if the flock we are part of is at the top part of the hierarchy of uniforms.
It’s not just about wearing the same clothes. It reveals our mindset. Our desire to be one of the collective. To belong. To think like everyone else. To believe in the same things. To be on the same side of the line. To be perceived as better, by association. To be unnoticeable. Gen. George Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then someone is not thinking.” We seem to find comfort in that. Or maybe we’re just lazy.
We spend our lives looking for our flock. The one we want to belong to. Maybe we should wake up and realize that we’re in a zoo. And that it’s okay to sometimes be a peacock, and sometimes be a koala. Or a mouse.