Why It’s Ridiculous That Girls’ Uniforms Cost 12% More Than Boys’

Annie Ridout on why the 'pink tax' starts before girls are even aware of it

Girls uniform

by Annie Ridout |
Updated on

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When my daughter was born, I was given huge bags of baby clothes from friends who’d had babies before me. The fact that they’d had boys didn’t matter, as these were mostly white cotton sleep suits. Only, it did. Because apparently the necklines on a summer baby grow for girls should have lace or frills and a softer curve, while those designed for boys have thicker straps - like the vest you might expect a man to wear under his shirt. I would never have noticed but, after people repeatedly asked questions about my ‘baby boy’, my mum explained that the vests did make her look a little masculine.

I did what all feminist mothers would do: nothing at all. I continued to gratefully accept hand-me-downs, and often bought clothes from the boys' section, preferring plain basics to garish pinks anyway. I dressed my daughter gender-neutrally for the first year or so, but then she started nursery, and became obsessed with pink and would only wear dresses. I soon realised that one dress can cost upwards of £20, while five plain cotton long-sleeved tops from the boys’ section are the same price. It's absurd that clothes marketed towards girls are so much more expensive.

In a recent audit of the basic school uniform items being sold by Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer, Income Tax UK discovered that girls’ uniforms, on average, cost 11.87% more than boys' - throughout primary and secondary school. Across 12 years of school, this seriously adds up. It's another example of the 'pink tax': the tendency for products marketed at women to be more expensive than those aimed at men, which applies to everything from razors to dry cleaning.

And uniforms only account for the six or so hours they spend in school - once home, and at the weekends, they’ll wear an entirely different set of clothes. Simple trousers and tops for boys, while the girls choose from dresses, skirts, tights, jumpsuits, playsuits, cardigans, vest tops and more. I love fashion and getting dressed up, but I do wonder how much this was drilled into me as a kid, and whether it’s actually a worthwhile way to spend so much of my time?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously wears the same grey t-shirt and pair of jeans every single day (he has 20 of each). He has said: 'I make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.' By that, he means the Facebook community, ie. the people who help him make more money. It’s not just Zuckerberg taking this approach. Steve Jobs was famous for his black polo-neck, jeans and New Balance trainers, while Barack Obama wears only grey or blue suits. They all do it for the same reason: to save time.

Author and entrepreneur Arianna Huffington has talked about how unfair it is that her male peers - like Zuckerberg - are ‘allowed’ to opt for the same outfit every day, while she'll be questioned for wearing the same dress twice. 'Why do women feel they need to buy a new outfit for every event?' asked Huffington. Good question. It costs time and money, and is a drain on the world’s resources. Can you imagine how liberating it would feel to reach into a capsule wardrobe for your signature top and trousers (that cost the same as a man's), pull it on and that’s it: you’re ready to go?

By gendering children’s clothes, especially school uniforms, over which children - and their parents - have very little choice, we are perpetuating a world that encourages males to exercise their brains, while females remain focused on their appearance.

If all school uniforms were non-gendered - forget skirts and dresses; just have trousers and shorts - we’d drive forward equality in financial terms, but we’d also be freeing girls from the burden of choice. Instead, they could be running around, having fun.

Annie Ridout is the author of Shy: How Being Quiet Can Lead To Success

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