Few activities signify the close of summer more than back-to-school shopping. Those seemingly endless days swimming at the neighborhood pool, watching Cartoon Network marathons, attending baseball camps, and creating innumerable ways to entertain one’s self wind down faster than a bottle rocket in the summer sun. There are haircuts to be had, sneakers to be bought, and uniforms to be fitted.
All the hullabaloo usually coincides with the Legislature’s annual sales tax holiday, which begins this year at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, August 6, and ends at midnight on Sunday, August 8.
But shoppers aren’t the only ones who get geared up for the weekend. Mac Shuford, the president of Parker School Uniforms, will prepare by increasing the amount of employees on hand in his thirteen Texas stores. The tax-free weekend is Parker’s busiest of the year; the company’s business more than doubles during this time.
“The customers are accustomed to the fact that it’s going to be a longer wait than usual,” said Shuford. His assertion immediately conjures images from my own youth; the red take-a-number-and-sit-down deli-style ticket dispenser, the two-hour-plus wait amid younger siblings strewn about, ignoring the Walt Disney video on the small screen. Then there’s the immediate relief of having your number announced only to approach the front desk, order the uniform, and wait yet again. This time for a fitting room.
But the business of selling school uniforms is changing. What was once a practice strictly for preparatory schools has grown increasingly common for public schools, transforming uniform sales from a niche market to a billion dollar industry. Purchases can be made online without ever stepping into a store, and national chains such as Wal-Mart and Target are now in the mix.
School uniforms are supposed to level the playing field. By eliminating the pressures and distractions of high-end, brand-name competition, students theoretically should be ready to concentrate. But what about the economically disadvantaged families that can’t afford to purchase the uniforms? There is some relief. This summer, Academy Sports and Outdoors donated 1,400 school uniform vouchers (for a total worth of $28,000) to children in the Houston Independent School District.
The High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice was the first public high school in Houston to adopt uniforms. “It’s probably one of the better things we’ve done for esprit de corp,” said retired principal Norma Morris. Since the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice is a magnet school, it draws students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, ranging from youths who receive free meals from the National School Lunch Program to affluent sons and daughters of lawyers. And they all wear either khaki or navy pants and a knit shirt with the school’s logo on it.
The San Antonio Independent School District implemented a dress code for all 92 high, middle, and elementary schools, which requires students to wear a uniform of khaki pants or skirts and a white collared shirt. San Antonio’s North East Independent School District does not have a district-wide dress code policy, so schools must determine their own. The parents and administrators at NEISD’s Eisenhower Middle School made a uniform mandatory, which is just fine with Wendy Taliaferro, a twelve year old attending the school. She remembers being sidetracked in her pre-uniform days: “Kids got distracted complementing each other with ‘Oh, I like your outfit.’ Now we all look the same, so let’s just get on with school.”