It's 40 minutes before closing time Saturday afternoon, and the uniform shop in Tauranga is buzzing.

Three employees zig and zag from racks, to the stock room, then back to racks.

Two other assistants stand behind registers, trying to churn through as many customers as possible.


They answer questions like, "Why don't you have this shirt in stock? When will you get it?"

A toddler has chosen the store as his personal speedway, zooming from wall-to-wall.

A pair of preschool siblings are locked in a battle of wills, each trying to out-obnoxious the other.

It's an errand many parents dread - spending more money on simple clothing than seems necessary, because we have no choice.

Slap an emblem on a skirt or shirt and it suddenly costs up to 10 times the price of a similar item at a chain store.

Parents get fleeced buying fleeces, socked in the wallet buying socks.

I'm all for school uniforms and appearance codes - they resolve the "what to wear" dilemma and remove drama surrounding how many labels children can display.

Also, it's refreshing to see nary a bare midriff or mohawk on school grounds. But the expense of uniforms baffles my brain.


The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend recently ran a story saying school costs were forcing some parents to tell their kids to drop subjects.

One mum said she has spent more than $400 on school uniform items another $200-plus on school fees and $600 on bus trips, so she wouldn't be paying more money for a tablet or Chromebook.

New school expenses hit post-holidays, as we reel from the aftermath of spending on gifts, travel and extra food for festive meals.

It's one thing to grumble about spending $95 on a jersey; quite another to not have that $95 to spend.

A national survey in 2017 found one in five New Zealand families (22 per cent) had sacrificed basic necessities such as food, electricity, clothing and personal hygiene products to cater for back-to-school needs.

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Of the more than 500 parents surveyed, 72 per cent found school uniforms too expensive, 53 per cent believed they were of poor quality, and 69 per cent of parents wanted the option to purchase a less expensive generic uniform alternative.

The study also revealed only one in five schools allowed generic alternatives to school uniforms (18 per cent).

Help with back-to-school costs is available from Work and Income, charities and sometimes, schools themselves.

But accessing those resources means one more hurdle for parents to clear during an already-busy time.

Parents are also encouraged to fund automatic payments to a uniform account to spread the cost over time.

I'll get right on to that - after I pay the mortgage, rates, insurance, KiwiSaver and all the other expenses that auto-gobble my money each month.

If you're lucky, you can find items second-hand. I was able to get my daughter outfitted for her first year at college for around $150 by buying a used uniform from a private seller.

But kids grow, the faded black jacket turns grey and soon you're back at the uniform shop, buying a $95 jersey and $99 jacket. Add a $32 polo shirt, because, like the jacket, hers were looking grey.

I hope Miss 15 never wants or needs a school blazer because they cost $220.

Retailer Postie+ began offering unbranded school uniform items about four years ago.

They sell a plain white polo shirt for $3 that's similar to one I just bought for $32 (the costlier version has stripes on the collar and the school emblem).

Why can't schools order their own emblems and sell them to families, who could apply them to generic clothing?

No student would be allowed to wear anything with a Nike swoosh or Adidas stripes, or any other branded good - just basic clothing with a crest mum, dad or grandma sewed.

The black shorts with emblem I just bought Master 13 for $42 cost $7 (without emblem) at Postie+. The Warehouse sells two generic polo shirts for $6; black shorts cost $15-$17.

You could argue the pre-crested items are superior in quality to their generic cousins. I doubt that's true, as my son's monogrammed polo and shorts were made in China, just like many generic items.

Regardless of their cost or origin, uniform pieces in our house get lost, stained, stolen or faded, negating any value almost immediately.

Many schools have second-hand uniform sales shortly before the start of Term 1. We donated a heap of polo shirts and fleeces to my son's former intermediate in hopes they'll get a second life with someone happy to get a bargain.

Other schools, such as Te Papapa in Auckland, have wiped fees and changed the uniform so it doesn't require emblems.

The Herald reported last week children at the low-decile school can wear an inexpensive polo shirt from K-Mart in blue or maroon. It's an option local school boards would do well to consider.