We were talking the other day about American school buses and other than being intrigued by their old fashioned shape and colour I have no associations at all to them. But school blazers….now school blazers are another matter altogether. In my last job, one of my responsibilities was the school uniform, part of which was a grey blazer. The committee of mothers and I who had convened to discuss how to move the uniform forward were unanimous in our affection for the blazer, mainly because it was the only item made of 100% wool rather than 100% polyester but also because of the memories school blazers evoked. We had all been educated in Britain and remembering our over sized school blazers made us all misty eyed with nostalgia. The blazer was always the most expensive part of the uniform and bought to last and made to last. Mine was navy blue and when I first wore it hung to my knees with my hands completely hidden by the sleeves but by the time I finished barely reached my waist with the sleeves stopping just below my elbows. The school badge was sewn on the breast pocket in lumpy stitches and over time would hang lose and need to be reapplied with glue if you were feeling lazy or a needle and thread if you could be bothered. Over the years the blazer acquired an assortment of stains and worn patches. Every morning on it would go on and every evening would be hung on the floor.
Later when my children went to their school in their blazers, bought from John Lewis’s uniform department, they too were bought too large and my pretty girls were transformed into grey-skirted, flat-shoed, black-tighted ugly ducklings engulfed in stiff woolen grey blazers. Like me and like my mother before me their blazer became a potent symbol of growing up and going to big girls’ school and then literally of growing as it shrank and they grew. Thinking about this I wondered what were the symbols of school for other people and other cultures. What are the subjects that make different nationalities wax lyrical about school and growing up?