Buying school uniform for first time can be daunting, especially if you’re on a tight budget. According to the Money Advice Service, parents now shell out an enormous £180 on back-to-school gear each year. But don’t panic! We’ve put together the best school uniform buying tips to help you decided when, where and how to spend your hard earned cash.

Where to buy

Many schools have a recommended uniform supplier and some will require you to buy items that are emblazoned with the school logo. However, state schools are also expected to offer lower-cost non-logoed alternatives. Generic garments can be found in most major clothing stores and supermarkets stock a number of cheap, good quality options, so it does pay to shop around.

If you need to cut back even more, find out if your school holds a second-hand clothing sale. Some schools will sell off unclaimed lost property or many even ask parents to bring in unwanted items in order to raise money for the school purse. Charity shops and eBay are worth trying, too.

If you are on a very low income, it’s also worth asking whether your school offers any assistance towards the cost of their uniform. In exceptional circumstances, Essex County Council can provide a school clothing allowance. Click here for more information.

When to buy 

buying school uniform

Credit: Barney Moss

It can be tempting to stock up on school uniform as early as possible, but children can change size and shape very quickly. Ideally, you should aim to buy your child’s uniform around four weeks before the start of term. This way you should be able to accurately judge their size and there should still be plenty of stock to choose from.

Most major clothing stores stock uniform items throughout the school year, but outside of the summer months your options will be limited and there is always a high probability that your child’s size will have sold out.

If you find yourself in need of an extra jumper by November, online shopping can be a stress-free way of stocking up. As shopping online can make judging sizes very difficult, it’s important to pay attention to any measurements and size guides listed on the website. Always check your child with a tape measure before placing an order to avoid accidentally buying trousers that are long enough for a ten-year-old.

What to buy

When buying school uniform items you should consider:

  • How much you’re willing to spend
  • How messy your child tends to be
  • How (in)frequently you want to do your laundry

Assuming that you only want to do one uniform wash a week, you will roughly need:

  • 3-5 jumpers, cardigans or sweatshirts
  • 2 blazers/2 ties (if required)
  • 3-5 shirts or polo shirts
  • 3-4 trousers, skirts or pinafores
  • 5 pairs of socks or tights
  • PE kit (check your school’s requirements)
  • 1 pair of sturdy school shoes


  • 2-4 gingham dresses/pairs of shorts
  • A sun hat
  • A light-weight waterproof jacket


  • 5 vests
  • A warm, thick coat
  • Wellington boots
  • Smart school boots for girls (rather than summery, open shoes)
  • Hat, scarf and gloves

More school uniform buying tips:

  • Choose trousers and skirts with adjustable waistbands, especially if your child is very slim.
  • Buy clothes with a little extra room to grow. You don’t want your child to be swimming in fabric, but a perfect fit now will mean spending more money in a few months’ time. Try to find a happy medium.
  • Tights are great for the colder months, but little girls can struggle to pull them on. If your daughter hasn’t quite mastered the art of tight-wearing yet, make sure you give her long socks or trousers to wear on PE days.
  • Look for Teflon-coated clothing for easier washing and harder wearing.
  • Non-iron garments save huge amounts of time and energy – buy them whenever you can!
  • When buying socks, go for just one colour and style to make matching pairs effortless.
  • Unless your child is a whiz at tying bows, opt for shoes with Velcro fastenings rather than lace-ups. As with clothing, there should be a small amount of wiggle-room in the toes to allow for growth, but there shouldn’t be a noticeable gap at the heel.
  • Take a look at what the other children at the school are wearing. If the girls are mostly wearing skirts, your daughter may prefer to wear one so she feels as though she ‘fits in’.
  • If you have a choice of colours, always go with the darker shade to help hide stains.
  • To prevent dark clothes from fading, turn them inside out before putting them in the washing machine. To lift out biro stains, soak the area in milk before washing.

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