How A School Uniform Taught Me How To Dress Up

Do the clothes really make the man?

It was the standard issue button-down shirt and black pants combo, paired with black shoes. A uniform, the main purpose of which is to curb individuality, is ironically where individuality is tested the most.

school uniform

Back in high school, everyone tended to blend in with each other, the only differentiating thing we could work with was either our hairstyles or our choice of backpacks (or duffel bags, which was oh-so varsity chic back then). A classmate of mine, however, truly stood out: he wasn’t particularly a looker, but there was always something about him that I couldn’t put my manicured finger on.

school uniform

Was it his hair? His shoes? The way he stood? Maybe it was all these things. But on my third year, I had a breakthrough: his white button-down (which was slouchy and oversized on most) was always pristine and fit him and his very proper posture to a T. It gave him an air of superiority, even if he was bullied often.

Immediately I began to analyze my ill-fitting slacks and top and had everything altered if not remade. The hem suddenly had to touch the exact point of my brand new leather shoes (square-toed was all the rage) and my shiny, better-fitting button-down always had to be ironed to perfection, never going past the pockets of my pants. I was a new man, or boy, but still not the same as that classmate of mine.

school uniform

Yes, my new uniform made me stand up straighter and look so much better, but I could never measure up to next to my taller, cleaner friend. And then it hit me: it was never about his outfit—it was him all along. We wear our clothes and not the other way around.

I never looked back since. I wore anything and everything, willing the clothes to look good on me no matter what, and it worked. People always tell me I can pull off absolutely anything, but while that’s a major compliment, I always dress for myself and how I am feeling that day. Curated winning pieces may make your outfit, but what truly changes your style game is your attitude. It’s a mutually empowering process–your style giving you confidence and your confidence rocking your style.

Photography JC Cerilla
Styling Angelo Ramirez de Cartagena