Formal uniforms in style
The days of baggy jeans and shabby teens look to be numbered with more schools moving to dress their students in blazers and ties.
But those dealing with parents struggling to pay the bills say households will have to make some hard decisions over priorities when it comes to paying other school costs.
David Bunnell, chief executive of schoolwear manufacturer New Zealand Uniforms, said the school clothing market was moving away from casual clothing with a clear trend to formal wear developing.
"Certainly there seems to be a trend to more formality at the college level and uniforms are seen as an important statement about a school now . . . they represent the brand of school."
School principals are "more serious" about their school's identity, with collared shirts and blouses finding their way onto more uniform lists.
Mr Bunnell said fashion conscious students were in many cases driving the trend themselves, with a number of school blazers being sold even though they are not compulsory items.
"Retail trends tend to go in cycles," Mr Bunnell said. "Twenty years ago formality was quite strong whereas these days it may have drifted out . . . but it is drifting back in again."
He said a number of schools at the college level were making different uniforms for junior and senior levels to make the distinction between the grades.
Hamilton's Hillcrest High School is introducing a new uniform for Year 11 and 12 for the start of the 2013 school year, with letters to parents saying the move would create "a smarter image for our students in the community". The Year 11 uniform "is becoming shabby and ill-fitting as our students grow and the uniform deteriorates."
Principal Kelvin Whiting is looking forward to seeing his students in their new outfits.
"I think it is going to smarten things up," he said.
They are covering all aspects of the uniform - from shirts and ties to a standard footwear.
"The students all have to wear roman sandals. They can't wear any other footwear styles and they have got to wear black leather lace-up shoes.
"We are just making sure they are nice and tidy because if you have got a uniform, let's wear it well."
Year 9 and 10 students will remain in the old style uniform while the senior student will get new items of clothing for the wardrobes.
"We have introduced a smart uniform for Year 11 and 12," Mr Whiting said. "The boys have a change to the shirt and the girls have a change to the blouse and skirt as well."
Year 13 students will remain in mufti and the new uniform will be "phased in" over a two year period. "Uniforms must be practical, they need to be smart but they serve a function as well . . . you want them to represent the school well."
Hillcrest High Boys' trousers were around $100, with girls' skirts $90 and blouses $60, while blazers for other Waikato schools such as Waikato Dioscesan carry a $185 price tag, making for a potentially expensive start to the year for parents .
Mr Whiting acknowledged it would be difficult for some families but the school was happy to make arrangements with parents to ease the pressure.
Hamilton budget advisor Claire Mataira said the start of the school year is "an incredibly difficult time" and she is expecting a flood of parents looking for help with school costs.
"What we try to do is suggest to people that they do pay a small amount throughout the year so they don't get humungous bills."
"They want to be able to pay the voluntary contribution to schools but some of them can't. We remind them that they don't have to pay donation . . . that is something they have a choice about, but they don't have a choice about uniforms."