It's 7 a.m. School will start shortly. What to wear, what to wear?

Not a tough decision for hundreds of Catholic school students across the state who wear uniforms every day to class.

The uniform has been emblematic of Catholic education for decades. Uniforms have changed subtly over the years, from button-down shirts to polos, from corduroy to khaki. Some schools have dress codes instead of uniforms, including most of the state's Catholic high schools.

Although there is no policy requiring school uniforms, there are general guidelines for schools in the Archdiocese of Portland, says superintendent Robert Mizia.

'The uniform in my opinion has always been the great equalizer,' said Mizia. 'Whether a student is rich or poor, with uniforms there's no distinction between class.'

Mizia also says that uniforms can help create an esprit de corps in the student body, a sense of pride in the school.

'School is supposed to be fun, yes,' said Mizia, 'but it's also the student's work place. Their dress reflects their attitude. If you dress like you're picking peaches on Sauvie Island, your mind will be off picking peaches on Sauvie Island.'

Anna Raineri, principal at Holy Redeemer went from a Catholic school without uniforms (St. James, McMinnville), to a school that just voted uniforms in.

'Inappropriate dress seemed to be the biggest reason for the uniform policy,' said Raineri, who will start her second year as principal at Holy Redeemer this fall.

'I think they [uniforms] look crisp and clean, and they eliminate the worry about what to wear for the kids,' Raineri said.

Students do have opportunities to wear what they wish on free-dress days, but even then, there is a strict dress code.

'The students' behavior is always more energized on free dress days, and they always seem to be a bit more distracted on those days,' said Raineri. 'I do think behavior plays into what's being worn or not worn.'

The uniform at Holy Redeemer is a white, collared shirt (no logos unless it's the school's logo), navy bottoms, skort, slacks (no cargo pants), and most recently girls were approved to wear Capri pants.

There is also a choice of a navy or white sweater and a navy sweatshirt.

St. Mary of Oregon Sister Ellen Therese Berger teaches first grade at Holy Redeemer. She has taught in schools throughout Oregon for the past 25 years and has never worked in a school that did not have a uniform policy.

'I like the uniforms and the first-graders like them too,' said Sister Ellen Therese. 'The parents appreciate how much nicer it is to have the uniform - it's helpful to their budget, and there's not as much comparison of 'he has this' and 'I need to have that.' The discipline seems to be better, and they look nice.'

'One of the first questions from parents switching from public schools to our school is 'do you use uniforms?'' said Kathy Harp, principal at St. Cecilia School in Beaverton. 'It takes the power out of the kids' hands as to what is appropriate to wear and lets them concentrate on school.'

Harp says the whole philosophy behind having uniforms at St Cecilia is to present and maintain a serious educational environment.

The variety of uniform choices has also been helpful.

'Kids that come from the East Coast to here are baffled at the amount of choices we have,' said Harp.

St. Cecilia uniforms include plaid jumpers and skirts (with navy blue, and a bit of red and green), pants, shorts, white polo shirts, sweatshirts and fleece vests. Every year the sweatshirts change to match the annual auction theme of the school.

Dennis Uniform is the main carrier of uniforms for Portland-area Catholic schools, which has been supplying uniforms to students since the 1950s.

Joan Shipley, owner of Dennis Uniforms, says that although uniform selection has changed a great deal and is filled with more variety, the company works to avoid trends in fashion.

'You can't follow trends in children's clothing because by the time you get to a trend, it's gone,' said Shipley.

'The purpose of a uniform in any school or occupation is consistency,' said Shipley. 'Differences come where everybody can put on the same thing and look unique.'

The company has more than 50 patterns of plaid, within each of which are six or seven styles, but schools can also order custom patterns, although they tend to go with what's in stock, says Shipley.

The company also supplies lab coats, uniforms for transportation agencies, businesses - 'anyone that wants a uniform,' says Shipley.

Julie Child is a parent and volunteer at St. Cecilia School. She loves the uniforms because of their cost-effectiveness, the various but simple designs and the uniform-exchange program.

'Everyone brings their old stuff in, and parents can select from the uniform exchange programs and get their uniforms - it's a nice equalizer,' said Child.

Also, Child says, there are no arguments at home in the morning about what's okay to wear to school. It's set in stone.

Child attended Catholic school as a child herself. 'Our uniforms were ugly,' she said. 'My brother had to wear a tie every day. Kids today have excellent choices.'

'There's always the argument that with uniforms, you're making robots out of the children,' said Mizia.

'I attended Catholic schools, and I never had that sense of being robotic.'

'Uniforms can say a lot to people on the outside of the school too,' added Mizia. 'How the kids and faculty look says something to the outside community about their dedication to their studies and their work.'

Accessorize school uniforms

By Callie Child

It is very hard to properly accessorize our school uniform. You don't want too much but it still has to be unique. Here are five tips to accessorizing.

Earrings - Never wear earrings that are too gaudy. If they are more than three inches long, don't wear them. They will not look right with our 'proper' uniforms. The earrings that are mostly in style are large hoops and dangle hoops.

  • Bracelets - Don't wear more than five bracelets - they will clash and make too much noise, which will be a distraction for you and the teachers. If you want a lot of bracelets, don't wear all the same kind. Put about two silver and two colored with one watch.

  • Belts - Only one belt is necessary for your school pants to look good. If you only wear the shorts, you don't need a belt. Pick out a belt that you like that is not really big and bulky, but not super skinny either. I think chain belts work the best.

  • Necklaces - Necklaces that are long don't show and won't make a difference with your uniform. You should get a choker that is colorful, cute, comfortable and stylish. They will make your neck look beautiful.

  • Hair - Hair is huge! What you do with your hair says a lot about you. You want something simple but fancy, comfortable but cute. You don't need a lot of stuff in your hair. Just pick a style that works for you.

I have told you some of my deepest fashion secrets. I hope you use them! Now go accessorize!

The writer is a student at St. Cecilia School in Beaverton. This article originally appeared in the school's newspaper, The Cyclone.