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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Uniforms Are Back, and in Fashion

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to school, the uniform came back.

But fear not, fashion-minded teens. A stroll through the halls of State Gymnasium 1507 is proof enough that the school uniform has come a long way from the unseemly brown dress worn by generations of Russian girls.

The monastic sack and the requisite white bow have been replaced by a short black-and-white checkered skirt topped by a bright red jacket. The new combo is a real crowd-pleaser -- at least it was during a recent visit to the school, where a group of 13-year-old girls looked very content in their brand new outfits.

"I like this uniform a lot, -- the material is soft, and it's prettier than the old one, which was very dull," said Nastya Prokhorova, one of the girls.

The boys seemed equally happy to have traded in the traditional navy blue uniform for a blue-purple blazer, gray slacks and a tie of their choice. "It makes us look and feel serious," said Alyosha Belousov, 13.

The Soviet uniform has been unceremoniously abandoned by Russian schools over the past five years, creating a problem both for parents, who suddenly had to buy their children a new wardrobe for school, and teachers, who felt that many of the children were coming to school wearing inappropriate clothing. Moscow schools started to fill the vacuum last September by introducing their own uniforms.

"We got the idea last summer when we were in England on a school exchange," said Nelya Rubenovna, the principal of Gymnasium 1507, in southwest Moscow. "We liked the English uniforms so much that we decided we should have our own."

Parents and students were overwhelmingly supportive of the idea, and with the approval of her students, the principal selected one of several sketches by designer Gennady Zenalov.

"They are elegant, and it brings a good mood to the school. It also brings a sense of discipline and order. Students have more respect for the school," said Rubenovna, adding that other school directors have come to see her about instituting uniforms in their own schools.

Schools that have their own uniform are still a rarity, but, when offered the opportunity, students, parents and teachers all prefer the idea. Gymnasium 1504, in eastern Moscow, recently showed a videotape with new uniforms to promote the idea to parents, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of them

The tape featured two blond third-graders, a boy and a girl, standing and spinning about, as in a fashion show, in a green Scotch-plaid vest over a white shirt, with dark green pants for the boy and skirt for the girl.

The parents are expected to pay for these outfits, which cost from 60,000 to 100,000 rubles ($16 to $27), depending on size, but the school provides financial help if it is needed.

One of the school's arguments in favor of uniforms is that it smooths out the differences between students as new economic and social class structures emerge in post-Soviet society.

Not everyone agrees that uniforms are the best way to accomplish that. Zlata Zaionchkhovskaya, whose son, Ivan, 12, goes to a uniform-free school, opposes uniforms on principle. "I find it more democratic if everybody respects the school dress code but is free to wear what they want," she said.

But parents whose children wear a uniform seem to like the idea. "It's better that they all dress the same, that there be no differences between them," said Alla Arutyunova, who paid 200,000 rubles for her daughter's uniform at Gymnasium 1507. "That way they don't want to change clothes every day, and it's not so expensive for the parents."