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Back to school: our guide to the best school uniform to buy

Get prepped for the new term with our guide to the best school uniform to buy, including top tips from Mumsnetters that have been there, done that and washed endless t-shirts.

By Rachel Erdos | Last updated Sep 8, 2021

Kids wearing school uniform

Whether your kids are heading into reception or the final year of secondary school, you'll want to ensure their school uniform is comfy to wear, easy to wash and unlikely to break the bank when you inevitably have to replace items throughout the year. 

And where better to look for guidance than the Mumsnet forums where there are thousands of recommendations from parents that have bought it, washed it and picked it up off the floor day after day?

Some items (typically sweatshirts, blazers, ties and some PE kit) will be specific to individual schools and you'll need to pick up logoed gear from specialist suppliers but there are plenty of plain shirts, t-shirts, trousers, skirts and dresses available at high street stores, supermarkets and online retailers that Mumsnetters rave about in terms of quality and price. 

Read on for our pick of the best school uniform buys or skip to our handy guide below for tips on when to buy and exactly how much of everything to stock up on. 

Oh, and no matter where you end up buying from or how late you leave it, don't forget to label everything in sight!  

Here's where to buy the best school uniform in 2021.

1. Best polo shirts: Asda Polo Shirt Multipack

Asda school polo shirts

Price: £6 | Buy now from Asda

"We've used Asda and they've washed and worn very well" - MuddlingMackem

"I've found Asda uniform to be the best and I've tried everywhere!" - Comedycook

"Always go for supermarket polo shirts. They will come home covered in allsorts. White board pen was my nemesis" - Fruityfriday

A multipack of white cotton polo shirts for £6 is pretty hard to beat, especially when you factor in the positive reviews that these tees have picked up across the Mumsnet forums and online reviews. Asda's bargain bundle contains a shirt for every day of the week so you don't have to panic about squeezing in a midweek wash and they feature Stay White technology designed to keep them looking brighter for longer. They're machine washable and can be bunged in the tumble dryer when Friday comes around. Asda also sells a slim fit version in the same range.

2. Best school trousers: M&S Additional Length Trousers 

Marks and Spencer school trousers

Price: From £9 | Buy now from Marks & Spencer

"I just discovered that my DSs trousers from M&S come with a ready sewn second hem. I'm disproportionately pleased and happy I spent the extra!" - thanksamillion

"I bought DS school trousers from M&S. He's got a few pairs and they're in the wash every night. Still perfect condition and they tumble well and don't need ironing" - CharlieAteThePies

"The M&S trousers lasted 2 boys till the second one had grown out of them" - Wotsitsarecheesy

Mumsnetters rate M&S as a one-stop-shop for all things school uniform but its trousers are recommended time and time again for their quality and value. There's a huge variety on offer for boys and girls including skinny fits, longer lengths and knitted designs. We love the 'additional length' trousers with a hem that can be let down (via a quick unpick and a press) giving you an extra 3cm to deal with growth spurts that would otherwise mean forking out for a brand new pair. They feature a pleat front as well as a smart stain- and weatherproof finish. The crease-resistant material is an added bonus if you're not a fan of ironing.  

3. Best dresses: Sainsbury's TU Gingham Dresses (Two-Pack)

Sainsbury's school dresses

Price: From £9 | Buy now from Sainsbury's

"I like Sainsbury's for the summer dresses - we're limited because mine wear purple and there's few shops which stock that colour. The smooth dresses (not the sport fit) wash better" - PleaseGoToSleep

"Get Sainsburys zip dresses, they stand up to washing much better!" - trilbydoll

"The Sainsburys summer dresses and pinafores last very well" - FlowerTink

If your school allows kids to wear dresses in the summer months, Sainsbury's offers an impressive range of gingham designs. Available in classic red, green and blue shades, you'll also find pink, purple, maroon and yellow options that can be harder to track down. They're made from a cotton-poly fabric designed to repel water and the Teflon coating ensures you'll get plenty of wear out of them. The front zip makes the dresses easy to slip on in the morning without having to faff around with fiddly buttons and the box pleats keeps things smart. A great price for one dress let alone this multipack of two!

4. Best shorts: Trutex Limited Plain Bermuda Shorts 

Trutex Bermuda shorts

Price: £12 | Buy now from Amazon

"Trutex is fab! Lasts for ever!" - Mum72

"My older dc’s in secondary have Trutex shirts/shorts which are very hard wearing (I buy big!)" - Nonamenoplacetogo

For quality and durability, school uniform stalwart Trutex is hard to beat. And having dressed British school kids for over 150 years, it knows a thing or two about creating long-lasting and hard wearing garments. The tailored pieces are especially good and these longer-length Bermuda shorts are fully lined and made using a stain-resistant fabric. The elasticated back waist provides a comfy fit and the smaller sizes feature a handy pull-up design rather than a zip front for easy access.

5. Best school shirts: John Lewis & Partners Organic Cotton Long Sleeve School Shirt (Pack of Two)

John Lewis school shorts

Price: From £13 | Buy now from John Lewis & Partners

"John Lewis - good quality and not that much more expensive than Tesco" - Schmedz

"I buy ours from John Lewis. They last and last" - CruCru

"Another vote for the JL cotton ones. More costly but sooo much nicer to wear" - KaptainKaveman

Always reliable when it comes to kids' clothing, John Lewis is a safe bet for all things school uniform too. And these crisp white shirts come highly recommended on the Mumsnet forums for fabric and fit. Made from 100% organic cotton, they're breathable and comfy to wear and can be bunged in the washing machine and tumble dryer. They will need some ironing though so if that puts you off, John Lewis also has a range of 'easy care' shirts made from a mix of polyester and cotton.

6. Best plimsolls: Clarks Hopper Run Kid Black Fabric 

Clarks black plimsolls

Price: £10 | Buy now from Clarks

"They lasted the whole school year and the Velcro fastening meant they actually stayed on her feet" - 3littlemonkeys82

They might seem a little old fashioned but lots of schools still require kids to wear black plimsolls for PE sessions. The general consensus is that Velcro fastenings make things easier, especially for younger children. And Mumsnetters state that it's not worth splashing out on an expensive pair. While you can pick up plimsolls for under a fiver at several supermarkets, these Clarks shoes are a great option if you're struggling to find a good fit. Available in whole and half sizes (1-13) and two different widths, they feature a padded collar for comfort and non-marking soles (which some schools specify as an additional requirement). They're also machine washable. 

7. Best school socks: Pex Short School Award (5 Pairs) 

Pex school socks

Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon 

"I have found the best school socks are Pex brand. The elastic actually remains elastic IYSWIM" - MachiKoro

Founded in 1935, Pex is the go-to brand for school socks in the UK and you'll find pairs stocked at many specialist uniform shops. These plain black ankle socks feature a smooth knit for comfort and reinforced toes for durability. And thanks to an effective elastane composition (cotton, polyamide and elastane), they actually stay on little feet throughout the day! Something that's backed up by online reviews from parents and across the Mumsnet forums. 

8. Best PE bag: Ryaco Drawstring Gym Bag 

Ryaco drawstring bag

Price: £14 | Buy now from Amazon

"I got a really good one on Amazon. It’s got a bottom bit for shoes and a bottle holder" - EvilPea

A simple drawstring bag is an easy way to cart PE kit around and this lightweight option from Amazon comes with a few handy features. It's made from water-resistant nylon so you won't have to worry about unpacking soggy kit after a rainy walk to school and three different compartments (including a clear plastic pocket) means that dirty items can (in theory) be kept separate from clean stuff. It also features a zipped pocket at the bottom to keep muddy shoes away from white t-shirts. 

9. Best school uniform labels: Stikins Name Label Kit with Pen (x60)

Stikins school uniform labels

Price: £11 | Buy now from Amazon

"I've always used Stikins. As well as clothes, they go on water bottles, lunch boxes and pencil cases. No faffing with sewing or ironing and they really do stay stuck" - xyzandabc

"We used Stikins... Brilliant" - 00100001

After investing time and money into Project School Uniform, you'll want to ensure that if an item gets misplaced, it'll end up back where it belongs so labelling everything that passes through the school gates is incredibly important. If you're pushed for time, hate ironing or lack basic sewing skills, these Sitkins labels are perfect. Write your child's name on a sticker using the pen provided, peel off, stick to the wash-care label of each garment and you're good to go. Even if you leave this job until the night before term starts (who doesn't?) it'll take you a matter of minutes. They'll stay stuck for around 40 washes at 40°C and they're fine in a tumble dryer. They can also be used on lunch boxes, bottles and bags. 

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How much school uniform should I buy?

Think about how many washes you tend to put on each week. If your household is busy, you might not get chance to wash midweek so it would be wise to invest in at least five shirts/t-shirts and five pairs of socks. 

To save getting into a Sunday night panic, Blankiefan has a great suggestion: "Six of everything is good for those weekends when you get to Sunday evening and realise that you haven't washed last week's uniform yet! Gives you a spare so you can chuck a washing on and have it dry for Tuesday".

You'll likely get more wear out of trousers and skirts than shirts and polo shirts though. The general consensus is to get three of everything: one on, one off and one in the wash

Check how many PE lessons your school runs and plan accordingly, especially to cover muddy winter sessions. It’s worth picking up spare PE kit too as items can often get lost or abandoned. It's also likely that the younger and more active your child, the more likely they’ll return home with stains, rips and tears. 

When should I buy school uniform?

You’ll want to strike the right balance between leaving things late enough to ensure that you buy the correct size before term starts and not leaving it too late that the specialist stores have run out of stock. For every super-organised parent with a wardrobe full of uniform bought before the end of the previous term, there are just as many that panic-buy with a week to go:

"I buy late August as my children seem to grow like weeds in the summer sun" - Puddlejuice

"Reception ages do go out of stock much quicker as parents are excited about buying new uniform. As the years go on people delay things for longer. Shoes I would do mid-August but keep in a box in case of a growth spurt" - Starlight456

How can I save money on school uniform? 

Always check for promotions on school uniform and consider multipacks for things like shirts and polo shirts. Shops like Sainsburys and M&S regularly offer summer promotions with savings of between 20 and 25% which are well worth taking advantage of. Asda has a School Shop Savings Card that allows you to top it up throughout the year so you’re not faced with a hefty bill in autumn and you’ll get bonus payments depending on how much you save. Schools may have a secondhand store where you can pick up pre-worn bargains or check local Facebook groups where parents sell on items.

How we chose our recommendations

Our suggestions have come from recommendations on the Mumsnet forums as well as from online user reviews. We also take into consideration independent reviews from specialist sites to ensure we are bringing you honest and expert information.

We thoroughly research every school uniform item here to make sure it will be an effective option and offer good value for our readers. 

Why you should trust us

The team at Mumsnet scour our forums, bestseller lists and user reviews to find products that really work so that we can offer readers honest and independent advice. 

Transparency is important to us, which is why we're always clear about where we find our recommendations. 

If you buy something that we recommended as a result of our research, we sometimes get paid an affiliate commission from the retailer –  unless you aren’t happy with the product and return it. In that instance, we don’t make a penny.