The cost of school uniforms

With school resuming for 2019, the topic on a lot of parents’ minds seems to be the cost of school uniforms. Debate has been raging across social media.

Growing kids = growing costs

Unless you can get your hands on some good quality secondhand uniform or hand-me-downs are an option, chances are you’re going to have to fork out quite a lot for that first year of school. However, kids have a habit of growing (especially at intermediate/college age!) and lo and behold, the uniform that you bought last year and could easily see out a few more years is suddenly tighter than an All Black scrum.

That’s not to say that parents aren’t aware that this growing occurs. But it’s not like you can buy everything two sizes bigger and just hope that it will see them through to the end of their schooling. Though, the amount of new college kids who are wearing blazers that look like tents seems to be the exception to the rule. Those things are pricey so, “you’ll grow into it” is totally valid here!

Then there’s the “additional” uniform bits and pieces. When I was at college (in those black and white days, right kids?), we had a summer and winter shirts, summer and winter skirts, jumper, sandals and shoes. That was it. Now my kids’ school uniform list seems to be the size of an Ezibuy catalogue! Add in PE shorts, PE top, house top, tie, cap, scarf, socks, blazer, raincoat … aggh!

Why are school uniforms so expensive?

Despite claims from parents of collusion between schools and retailers trying to fleece parents for everything they have, it most likely comes down to quality, demand and personalisation. School uniforms tend to be better quality than your bulk standard $10 tshirt from your local bulk clothing outlet. Also, if the uniform is only required by say, a couple of hundred kids each year, then that’s a very small product run for manufacturers with increased costs due to economies of scale.

However, I’m not letting schools off that easy! Or more precisely, the Board of Trustees. There is no need to change the uniform every other year and therefore make secondhand and hand-me-downs out of date. Yes, fashions change and materials require updating but keeping to maybe just one change during five years of college is surely more than enough. There is also no need to put ridiculous demands on parents that kids must only wear a certain shoe which can only be bought from the priciest shop in town. My kids’ school uniform is probably mid-price (ie, $35 for a polo top). But some items don’t have to be bought from the school. The kids are allowed to wear “black dress pants” and “black leather shoes”, therefore allowing parents to find a) a style that the kids are actually comfortable in and b) a product that can be sourced for a reasonable price but still keeping the same overall look. There is also no insistence on shirts having the school crest, so a plain white shirt it is. Team it with a school tie and blazer and it looks just as good.

Why do we need uniforms?

There are some advantages to having a school uniform. Everyone is wearing the same so there’s no opportunity to tease kids about their “stink” clothes (do kids even say ‘stink’ any more?). You don’t need to think about what’s appropriate to wear and it gives kids a sense of belonging – being part of something they can take pride in.

What can be done about the cost?

Ditching uniforms is the obvious answer. But it’s one that parents don’t tend to be keen on. The kids still have to wear something to school so there’s still an expense and it stops the kids from asking for all the latest gear that will likely wear out way before a uniform would anyway.

One suggestion, from broadcaster Gary McCormick, was to have a standardised uniform for kids with schools free to pick their own colours and add their logos, if they wish. I think some schools would shy away from this as it does take away from the individuality of a school’s uniform. However, it does help to solve the cost of small product runs and it could be done for the more standard items of school uniform, like polo tops.

And if you want to make real change, run for the school’s Board of Trustees and get in on the discussions!

Make a plan to save

Usually you know which school your child is going to be attending, you can find out the approximate cost of uniform, and therefore you can plan ahead to put away a small amount each month, so that the cost isn’t a shock to the bank account when your child starts school and also needs stationery, sports equipment, school fees, course fees, and devices in one very expensive month. But, even if you are in a position to save up (which a lot of us aren’t), that doesn’t mean that we WANT to fork out hundreds of dollars on clothes.

Do you find the cost of school uniform to be over the top?

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her world julieWritten by Julie Scanlon

Julie is Editor for Kidspot NZ and our MVP. Her hobbies include laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes, annoying her family by asking questions about movie plots, and never taking anything too seriously. She speaks a little Spanish and a lot of Yorkshire. 

Favourite motto to live by: “It ain’t nothing but a thing”


  1. Alezandra 03/03/2019 at 10:33 pm

    I don’t have a school aged kid yet and I haven’t figured out if the school he goes to will have school uniform. When I was younger, I went to a school that required uniforms and I thought it to be a pain at times but I saw the ease and it was something less to decide about. You have enough peer pressure to add having to sort what you wear (and how people may or may not judge you on).

  2. felicity beets 02/03/2019 at 7:53 pm

    I think that there should be come flexibility in the uniform. Mine included black skirt or pants but then they had to be a specific kind which were actually really expensive in comparison to what you could buy in the shops – the same with shoes – it should not be so expensive.

  3. kymmage 01/03/2019 at 6:47 am

    I like the fact that uniforms even the playing field between rich and poor as far as, you can’t be hassled because you are in last seasons fashion. But I do wish it was cheaper for those who can’t really afford it. Our uniform seems reasonably priced but we have a skort or shorts, a polo, and a pe uniform and some winter items too. And I wish I had realised we needed more than one set of pe gear before the year started.

  4. MuddledUpMolly 27/02/2019 at 3:48 pm

    The cost of uniforms sure are ridiculous! We are lucky our son goes to a school that has no uniform. Many people don’t like the thought of a mufty school but we like it as it gives us more say over what he says and how much we spend.

  5. SarahBlair 27/02/2019 at 1:43 pm

    The cost of uniforms is quite ridiculous! I have seen identical polo shirts to the uniforms for under $10 without the school embroidery but we have to pay almost $40 for the embroidered ones, surely getting a small logo embroidered cant cost $30!! As there is usually only one place that supplies a uniform for a school they can set the price and it’s the families that suffer! I have purchased some second hand uniform pieces for my son that is starting school in about 2 weeks and the price was a lot better but they are a bit worn and stained but at this point I will have to use them until I can get better ones.

  6. dawnblyth 27/02/2019 at 11:08 am

    School uniforms are expensive but I try and buy generic pieces like shorts and track pants that are plain where I can. Then I just buy logo shirts and Jersey and my boy still fits in then. Next year I’ll have two new uniforms to buy, one for staring primary and one for intermediate – I’m going to start putting bits away this year!

  7. Shorrty4life1 13/02/2019 at 12:49 pm

    This was a great read. For my kids primary school both their uniforms can only be brought from the school office and all up costed 200 each and that’s just for summer. It’s absolutely rediculous. I found now though that you can get skorts from postie plus for $7 each just a heads up to people struggling. Schooling is hard but yes I see where they are coming from with uniforms. That way it stops some of the bullying if everyone is wearing the same thing. Great read kidspot

  8. Jen_Wiig 13/02/2019 at 12:47 pm

    Wayyyyy over the top! And what i found this year is the teachers making up their own uniform rules grrrrrr… My eldests teacher tried to say the other day his black leather lace ups (this is whats written in schhols info, nothing else) needed to be ones that can be polished. Like what the heck man ive just spent $120 on a really decent pair of black-leather-lace ups and now this?! Its insane.
    Aw and whats with schools wanting to change their uniforms every other year… Like really?!
    I feel bad for my middle and youngest because they get the hand me downs and only because the cost is so ridulious if we wanna eat that week it has to be that way. It would be nice if #1 there were several places selling the uniforms to create abit of healthy retail competition so we could shop aroind abit
    #2 alternatives offered… Why get so hung up on shoes for goodness sakes… Their shoes i dont know how thats meant to effect their learning??

  9. Bevik1971 06/02/2019 at 3:52 pm

    I do think that school uniforms are a good idea, that said our 6 year old attends a school that doesn’t have a uniform and that’s not a problem either. To save money on clothes for her for school I buy a lot of second hand from shops and online (good old Trademe!), that way it’s not so bad if they get holes or get ruined etc. I also like to think it’s helping the environment in a way too 🙂

  10. Mands1980 06/02/2019 at 10:13 am

    I like having a school uniform it’s good that you don’t have to worry about what your child wants to wear and can’t have etc. Its a shame uniform is expensive but I try get some second hand and some that’s new as if it is not good quality it will not last.

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