My guide to purchasing school uniforms while saving money and saving time.

By Alice DeWitt, Heritage Academy Parent

If my kids actually understood the reference to a “broken record,” they would tell me that’s what I sound like when I repeatedly remind them how lucky they are to wear a uniform to school. When I was a teenager, one of the most stressful things in my life was figuring out what to wear to school! As a parent, one of the reasons I like uniforms is that it keeps back-to-school shopping less complicated, but that doesn’t always mean simple or less expensive.  Here are some tips that I have learned over the years of uniform shopping.

Uniform Shirts

When my first child started at Heritage Academy, uniform shirts were purchased in the front office.  It was simple and inexpensive ($12, if I recall correctly). While it was easy and convenient, selection was also extremely limited (one style, one fabric, and 3 colors).  The school is no longer able to handle inventory in-house, so shopping is all done online. There are 3 approved vendors, which adds variety and quality options, but can be more complicated to navigate the choices, including styles, fabrics, and retailers.

Where should I buy them?

While Land’s End and Tommy Hilfiger do have sales on their uniforms from time to time (usually around 25% off), I have found that I still get the best price from Educational Outfitters (in Tempe), especially since I can pick up my order locally to avoid paying shipping fees. I’ve been pleased with the quality of their shirts and embroidery. (Regular pricing for polos in adult sizes run $19.50 including embroidery vs. $25.50 at Land’s End and $23.50 from Tommy Hilfiger.) Educational Outfitters also has several sales throughout the year, but the best deals are usually at the end of the school year, or during the summer. So, plan accordingly to get the best price. Make sure to choose sizes carefully if you think your student might grow over the summer!  If you plan ahead, you should never have to purchase uniform shirts at full price.

Used shirts can also be an option.  Consider joining the Heritage Academy Facebook group, where parents occasionally offer up used uniforms for free or at a steep discount. Work with other parents to organize a uniform exchange through the Facebook group or Parent Teacher Organization. Used uniforms won’t look brand new, but after a few weeks, most clothes no longer look brand new anyway, as children christen them with food stains, drink drips, or pen and pencil marks.

How many shirts should I buy? 

I purchased 4 shirts for each of my kids since they only go to school 4 days a week, and I only do laundry once a week. If your kids tend to be hard on their clothing, consider buying an extra shirt or two when you place an order; you’ll save money on shipping, and can take advantage of sales. You may also save yourself the hassle of replacing shirts mid-year. One thing I have found that has helped my boys’ shirts to last longer is wearing a basic white undershirt. This provides a layer of protection again sweat stains.  I don’t recommend white uniform shirts since they tend to get dingy and stained.

Uniform Pants, Shorts and Skirts

There are many more options for purchasing the bottom half of the uniform worn at Heritage Academy.  Remember to pay attention to the uniform guidelines provided before making your purchase.

Where should I buy them?

I have had the best luck at Old Navy and Target, but JC Penney, Walmart and Amazon also have great options.  Some brands fit certain body types better than others, so make a note of that as you shop. Once you know what works best for your child, it will be easier to find what you need, and you can shop online without the need to try things on.  This is especially helpful when it comes to purchasing something without your child in tow.

Sign up to receive emails from stores like Old Navy so that you will be notified of sales and other savings options, both online and in-store.  When buying online, search for coupons, and consider downloading a browser add-on like “Honey” to automatically find any additional savings you might have missed.

My boys have grown significantly during their years at Heritage Academy, so I found myself purchasing men’s pants instead of boy’s sooner than I expected. Since my boys prefer khaki over navy pants, purchasing men’s sizes gave us more options, but also increased the price when buying new.  However, I’ve been able to find nice pants from Ross, Marshall’s and TJ Maxx for $15-20, and they are generally nice brands and good quality. Look for “Golf Pants” which are sturdy, lightweight, wrinkle free and comfortable.

Thrift stores have been an inexpensive and reliable source for uniform pants. I have found excellent pants for both of my boys at Goodwill, ranging from $3-10. They have all been quality brands, such as J. Crew, Banana Republic, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, and Nike (the Nike golf pants I found for $5 are some of my son’s favorites).  I have had less luck for my daughter at Goodwill, but she hasn’t grown much during high school and is easier on her clothes than my boys.

Pants or shorts (or skirts)?  

Obviously, this one comes down to personal preference.  One of my sons will wear shorts all year long, while the other won’t wear shorts even on the hottest of days. My daughter wears pants during the winter and shorts when it’s warmer.  She also likes skirts, but has found they aren’t practical since she is sometimes required to sit on the floor in a few of her classes. Keep in mind your child’s “style” when purchasing uniform bottoms.  For both my daughter and shorts-wearing son, I was able to cut off pants they had outgrown in length and remake them into shorts. This is also a great option if you have trouble finding shorts that are long enough…buy some thrift store pants and cut them off.  Even if you have minimal sewing skills, hemming a pair of shorts is simple, and you will find step-by-step tutorials on YouTube.

How many bottoms should I buy?

This will also depend on your laundry habits and your child’s “usage”. Are they rough on their clothes?  Do they sit on the ground a lot? Do they wear their uniform after school while participating in “messy” activities? If so, they may need a clean pair of pants or shorts every day. Otherwise, they may only need 2 or 3 pairs.  Under normal conditions, teens are able to wear their pants a couple of times before needing to be laundered, so typically they don’t need as many.

School uniforms have many benefits. Wearing uniforms eliminates a lot of the stress of the morning rush. You don’t have to argue over what your kids will wear, and you don’t have to watch them put on four different outfits before they finally decide on the perfect one. Most of all, your child will be able to focus more on academic achievement than the social anxiety that goes along with changing teenage fashion.  

Even if you find yourself paying more for one uniform item than you would for “normal” clothes, you will likely pay less overall considering that you probably won’t need to purchase as many items.  Hopefully, these strategies will help you find good deals to lower the cost even further. Now, go remind your kids how lucky they are to wear uniforms!

Uniform resources: 

Heritage Academy Dress Code

Uniform Vendors (required for polo)

TJ Maxx

Old Navy

Goodwill (thrift store)

Schoola: shop second-hand clothes that raises money for schools