The ultimate school uniform quality checklist: polos, sweatshirts and jogging bottoms

Many schools are now opting for a uniform that’s more ‘business casual’ than traditional school uniform. Primary schools are choosing garments that are more comfortable for young children, while secondary schools are looking for a way to reflect the school’s modern outlook.

If your child has one of these styles of uniform, you might not have to worry about getting the right pleated skirt or easy-iron shirt – but there are still challenges that come with buying more ‘relaxed’ garments.

Unlike fitted trousers, school shirts, skirts or blouses, more casual uniform items – like school sweatshirts, polo shirts or jogging bottoms – are constructed more simply with less shaping and fewer fastenings. This means there are more opportunities for manufacturers to cut corners and produce an item at a price that seems too good to be true. Key issues of cheaply-produced uniform like this include shrinkage, pilling and ‘slacking’ (where the elastic in a fabric starts to give), all of which you’ll only discover after buying, wearing, washing and drying the garment!

This means selecting school polo shirts, sweatshirts or jogging bottoms for your child can feel a bit like guesswork. The checklist we’ve put together below is written to aid you in choosing what to buy by giving you some simple but useful checks to perform on the clothing you’re considering. It’s based on our experience of making and supplying school uniform of all different types over the last 150 years, from classic school trousers to contemporary sweatshirts and polos.

Before school starts again, print out the checklist and take it with you when you shop; it’ll save you costly mistakes in the long run.

Polo shirts

  • Lay out the polo shirt on a flat surface to make it easier to examine.
  • Take a look at the buttons. Pull on them gently – are they sewn on securely? Look at the buttonholes too: are these well-finished and the right size for the buttons? They should fit snugly so there’s no worry about them coming undone accidentally.
  • Does the polo shirt have two or three buttons at the neck? Three buttons give the polo shirt a wider neck, making it easier for a child to put on.
  • Check the collar and the fabric it’s made of. Does it feel thick and heavy, or thin? A thicker collar will keep its shape for longer and save you ironing it each time.
  • Examine the shape of the polo shirt. Does it have a roomy, generous silhouette? This makes the garment more comfortable and counters any shrinkage you might get after washing.
  • It’s hard to check for shrinkage before washing the garment, but you can check for the likelihood of shrinking. Shrinkage occurs when natural fibres in the garment ‘tighten’ in hot water, so check the fibre composition of the polo shirt. A blend of polyester and cotton will be less likely to shrink than a 100% cotton material.

Sweatshirts and jogging bottoms

  • Start by feeling the fabric of the sweatshirt or jogging bottoms. Does it feel soft to the touch? Pull it gently in a horizontal direction – does it stretch well and spring back into shape? Is it thick and heavy enough to be warm, or does it feel thin?
  • Take hold of one of the cuffs and insert both hands, or just one if it’s a small opening. Stretch out the cuff to about 6” or 8”. Is there plenty of resistance, and does the cuff bounce back? This indicates a high-quality garment and means there’s less likelihood of sagging or frayed cuffs.
  • Stretch out the neckband and welt (the lower edge of the sweatshirt) in the same way. Does it snap back into shape, or does it feel a bit loose?
  • Turn the sweatshirt inside out. Check the side and shoulder seams; are they covered over, or exposed? If they are covered, it can indicate a strengthened seam which means the garment is more likely to withstand wear and tear.
  • Take a look at the neck of the garment on the inside. Is there a neck tape which runs round the neck and covers the seam? This adds strength to a part of the sweatshirt that’s regularly stretched out. Check the colour of the neck tape – a high-quality sweatshirt will have one in the same colour as the main body of the garment.
  • On a pair of jogging bottoms, the elastic in the waistband needs to be checked to ensure it’s strong enough to withstand lots of washing and wearing. Stretch it out in the same way as the cuffs or welt of the sweatshirt; is there resistance, or does it stretch out very easily? Does it bounce back cleanly?

For advice on how to select the right traditional school uniform items, like pleated school skirts or long sleeve school shirts,  read our checklist for trousers, skirts, shirts and blouses and our checklist for blazers, jumpers and cardigans.