Election by Tom Perrotta

published 1998   chapter 10

I told her that my family had just relocated from California and that I would soon begin classes at [Catholic school] Immaculate Mary. Naturally I was curious about the uniforms.

“Of course,” she said. “Come with me.”

The skirt was lightweight gray wool, pleated and soft, the blouse stark white with a sweet rounded collar. I’d remembered to wear my own knee socks and saddle shoes, a souvenir from an ill-advised tryout for the jayvee cheerleading squad freshman year.

Smiling at the transformation, I stood before the three-paneled mirror in my new outfit, studying myself from every angle. I looked good. I’ll be happy now, I remember thinking. Everything will be better.

“You’ll like it at Immaculate,” the saleslady told me. “The public schools round here are going down the toilet.”

“Oh please,” I told her, twisting my hips to flare the skirt. “You don’t have to tell me.”

observations: After Kit Haverard at the Quaker boarding school in 1948, featured earlier this week, it seemed like a good idea to look at a more modern school uniform.

Tammy – one of the multiple narrators of this book, see other entries here and here, which also explain the plot – is determined, for her own fairly absurd reasons, to get sent to Catholic school. She wears this uniform to her normal high school –
in all of Winwood High School I was the only student in a Catholic school uniform, and it made me kind of exotic.
Everyone at the school is outraged by the clothes, and in the end she is suspended for insisting on wearing it. She gets to Catholic school, and hates it.
I mean, what was I thinking?...Wearing it here is just dull…. Pretty soon I’m going to have to shave my head and pierce my nose just to relieve the boredom.

As we said before, she is totally convincing, and we really hope she grew up happy… at least she seems to have met a nice girl at Immaculate Mary, even if she is regretting going there.

Links up with: Consideration of uniforms (and of what goes on in schools) here. A British election features in this book.

The picture is, of course, Britney Spears’ finest moment, in the video for the song Hit me Baby One More Time. (Now sing it all day. You're welcome.) Like all young women, dreamy Britney in the vid wishes she was wearing her own clothes, which are hideous in the transformation scenes: you don't have to be a sexually-inappropriate older man to say she looks better in the uniform. And to claim it's a costume version of uniform would be to underestimate the ability of schoolgirls everywhere to adapt and personalize their clothes, and to subvert rules.


  1. Moira - So interesting isn't it how the uniform has the effect of motivating people to try for whatever individualism they can. I just love that contrast where the uniform is seen as something almost exotic at a normal high school, but boring at a Catholic high school. Thanks for the llok at the school uniform - an oft-overlooked part of life for a lot of kids.

  2. I am fascinated by school uniforms - I think because of living in both the US and the UK in my children's school years, as the thoughts about uniform were very different in the two countries...


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