Before I went to Ateneo, my entire academic life was rooted in a small co-ed school five minutes away from my house.
The school had a total population of about 200 kids, from kindergarten to high school. Everybody knew each other, and “batches” of students had fewer and fewer sections as they moved up the grade system. In high school, in fact, one batch was equal to one class—I graduated alongside 10 other seniors, all of whom more or less comprised my barkada. I’ve known Johanna, one of my closest friends to date, for over two decades, since our mothers enrolled us in kindergarten at three and four, respectively.
But I mention my childhood alma mater for another, more important reason: we didn’t have a uniform! The only uniforms I’ve ever actually worn were the two for our mandatory Scouting classes. The first was a clover green belted dress with a hat and a yellow kerchief; the second, a white T-shirt with a Philippine scout emblem paired with standard issue green shorts or basic jeans.
I hated the whole business. Luckily, Scouting was only required for grades 1 through 6, and when, at age 13, I was inducted into the world of sprightly teenage style, it was the recycle bin for that hideous clover green.
But while the school didn’t require us to wear any other sort of uniform, it did have strict regulations for student dress—the ramifications of which were felt most strongly by fashion-loving high schoolers like me.
No short skirts, no tight skirts. No short shorts, unless they were for PE. (The definition of “short,” by the way, was relative. The most conservative teachers would still have you arguing your way around a modest mid-thigh pair.) No hanging tops or shirts that showed your back when you were bent over your desk. No deep V-necks or any sort of neckline that revealed a whisper of cleavage. No strapless, one-shoulder, or spaghetti strap tops or frocks—sleeveless numbers were also discouraged. No “distracting” colors, prints, or embellishments. No flashy jewelry. No bright manicures or “obvious” makeup. No step-in footwear, heels that were too high, or shoes that showed too much foot (like thong sandals).
In other words, no room for personal style.
In the beginning, we tried to spruce it up. As freshmen, we’d wear preppy polo shirts, blouses with ¾ sleeves, and sweet little shirtdresses; jeans, capris, or knee-length skirts; ballet flats, cute sneakers, and school-friendly wedges; plastic bangles, charm bracelets, and beaded earrings; translucent face powder and pink lipgloss.
But by the time we were seniors, and the stress of college applications, finals, and graduation day combined with the strong desire to leave the school year behind for an epic summer vacation—well, let’s just say that we didn’t bother. Over a recent coffee date, while we reminisced over some of our big tee-and-sweatpant combos in those last few days, Johanna giggled: “Who gave a crap?”
After that, my years in Ateneo gave me a considerable amount of leeway as far as school style was concerned. There was a dress code, as expected, but it was perfectly reasonable and quite loosely enforced—and that paved the way for a lot of colegiala creativity.
Now, working in this industry, there are no restrictions. In their place, in fact, are expectations. Not only do I have to do my job well—I have to look the part too. Fashion has become my dress code, as well as my career.
Still, I’m aware that many people are required to wear uniforms past their high school days. They might be in med school, taking up HRM, or working in a strict corporate environment. In any case, I would think it gets a little boring sometimes.
A few weeks ago, this was brought to my attention when a Stylewise reader asked me for tricks on sprucing up an office uniform. This is my answer! The 10 tips I’ve listed below all depend on your school or company policy, but I’ve tried to make them as regulation-friendly and applicable as possible.
Let me know if you have any other suggestions by leaving a comment below!
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