Posted Sunday, July 29 2012 at 01:00
Oh, to be a student in these times! Rwathia Girls Secondary School, Kangema, has become the location of what may be a sartorial revolution.
The 400-plus students, in their self-described purple monstrosities, declared their school uniform “too long, ugly and not meant for their age.”
Over the last two weeks, the issue has raised national debate on how much say teenagers should have when it comes to their own wardrobe, and if adults should trust the said teens’ judgement?
Like almost every girl in Kenya, I wore a uniform throughout primary and high school.
And how my schoolmates and I wished to be like the Americans in the movies — in all their rebellious, sexy, non-uniform-wearing spunky glory.
Once, in primary school, a pupil was summoned to the staff room by female teachers.
Her mistake? Wearing an extremely short dress. She was dressed down in front of her peers by five female teachers who repeatedly dropped a bunch of keys on the ground and dared her to pick them up without compromising her modesty. She couldn’t.
Rather than explaining that her dress was too short, they cackled as they teased her. She left the staff room hostile, degraded and none the wiser.
She had hit a growth spurt, and within a year, the once petite 13-year-old became a young woman. But her dress size remained the same.
I attended two high schools as a teenager; one, a Catholic school where first formers spent the entire first term waiting for their uniforms to be tailored.
If an event came up during the term, we had to borrow uniforms.
Never has the Swahili saying nguo ya kuomba haisitiri matako manifested so literally and in so vulgar a manner since.
Our uniform was a retina-burning cornflower yellow shirt and sweater with a matching headscarf and a black, polyester midi-length skirt.
Uniforms by design and purpose are created to tell people you belong to a particular tribe, in this case, a school. Without it you are an outsider.
Uniforms are meant to separate and isolate you from others outside of the tribe and desensitise you to the rest of the world, make you, and them, understand that you are now part of a culture with a set of rules distinctly different from those followed by those who do not look like you.
It announces that for the next four years, you are part of the XYZ High School tribe.
In my school, we discussed how to create the impression our uniforms were from schools we considered more prestigious and how to tailor something attractive for the walk home through the CBD should we bump into our peers.