Choosing a school uniform: balancing your budget vs quality

Choosing the right school uniform for your child seems simple – find out what they need, find a shop, and buy their school trousers, school skirt and cardigan in plenty of time for the start of term.

But anyone who’s been through the process at least once will tell you there’s more to it than asking “Where can you buy school uniforms?”. In fact, it can seem like a minefield, with specific uniform requirements, more school uniform shops than ever and children that won't stop growing!

Fundamentally, choosing a school uniform comes down to two things: budget and quality. But before we explain how to balance those two considerations, does this sound familiar?

Your child has arrived home from school and in one glance you can tell – this uniform is going to have to go in the wash tonight. From a quick kickabout before school to spaghetti bolognese for lunch, art class in the afternoon and messing about outside at playtime, your child’s school uniform has gone through a lot. And it’s only Monday.

No-one wants to send their child to school looking rough around the edges, so a smart, clean uniform is essential every day of the week. But add the rough and tumble of a regular school day to a kid’s bad habits – think chewing jumper cuffs or picking at loose threads – and it can be hard to maintain a well-turned-out appearance. Doing uniform washes every night is easy to forget about and tiring, not to mention a significant impact on the environment.

Plus especially for younger children, the school day can be exhausting, filled with what feels like a hundred different activities. It’s not surprising cardigans and jumpers often suffer significant wear and tear, thrown off when your child gets too hot running around or left mixed up with the rest of the class’ knitwear after P.E. If it’s not lost, it’s dirty – and if it’s not dirty, it’s suddenly too small for them!

So as a parent, making sure your child has a uniform which is comfortable, smart and hardwearing can be a challenge. The biggest difficulty is often not finding the right items of school uniform – there are so many options now that it’s easier than ever to find a sweatshirt in the right shade of maroon – it’s finding items which are designed to last and budget-friendly.

It’s tempting to opt for the cheaper option. After all, if your child is going to come home in a mess, dragging their blazer behind them, isn’t it better to get something cheaper that isn’t going to cost a lot to replace?

The difficulty with this approach is that cheap school uniform is often not designed to last, so any dirt or destruction it experiences will mean it has to be replaced much more quickly than it needs to be. The construction and composition of this cheap school uniform hasn’t been thoughtfully considered, and are unlikely to stand up to the strain of multiple washes and wears. There’s also an environmental issue to consider if you end up constantly throwing away and buying new garments.

The best way to think about choosing your child’s school uniform is considering the ‘cost per wear’. This calculation means taking the price of your school uniform item and dividing it by the number of times your child will most likely wear it before it needs to be replaced.  A £5 jumper might be able to be worn vigorously 60 times before it begins to look worn out or fall apart. In contrast, a high-quality jumper with stain resistant finish, low pill yarn and strong construction costing £12-15 could last around 200 wears – that’s a whole school year.

Balancing budget and quality when choosing a school uniform isn’t easy. Crucially, your child needs to feel comfortable and smart in whatever they’re wearing and you need to feel confident that you won’t be spending hours washing, ironing and repairing their kit. Calculating the cost per wear can help you choose between different school uniform options and make sure you make the choice that’s right for you both.