School uniform can be a costly and confusing purchase, with every school requiring different items, and every retailer offering different deals. To help you find the very best uniform for your kids this year, MadeForMums has conducted its most in-depth school uniform test ever – with home testing and a UK-wide survey.
Our home testers and their primary school-aged children have been busy trying out uniforms, from school jumpers to socks, sold by the UK’s most popular retailers and supermarkets. We’ve combined our home testers’ feedback with the experiences of nearly 700 families who took part in our school uniform survey¹ in July 2021 to identify the best value and best performing school uniforms of 2021.
We weren’t able to home test Lidl uniforms as there were none available either from Lidl HQ or from its stores – we found that small volumes of Lidl uniform would go on sale and almost immediately sell out.
How we home-tested school uniforms
We tested primary school uniforms, comprising (in most cases) a shirt or polo shirt, jumper or cardigan, skirt or trousers and socks. Kids put them through their paces before parents washed and dried them following the instructions on the labels (usually washing at 40 degrees).
Our testers reported back on:
- Ease of wear
- Comfort and fit
- Washing; shrinkage and removing staining
- Worth the money
How we conducted our school uniform survey
In July 2021 we asked 694 parents more than 50 questions about their chlldren’s uniforms plus we asked them to score them for:
- Worth the money
So how did each school uniform rank for 2021?
We combined the scores from our survey with the results from our home testing to create a list of the top ranking school uniform for 2021, to reveal the following rankings.
|Brand||Fit||Washing||Quality||Worth the money||Overall|
|Marks & Spencer||8.67||8.85||8.99||8.18||8.67|
|Tu at Sainsburys||8.32||8.25||8.28||8.36||8.30|
|George at Asda||8.3||8.01||8.17||8.68||8.29|
|F+F at Tesco||8.22||8.19||8.25||8.31||8.24|
|Nutmeg at Morrisons||8.35||8.14||8.14||8.30||8.23|
Marks & Spencer was the clear favourite, coming top for Fit, Washing and Quality and scoring the highest Overall score. Asda came top for Worth the Money, while Sainsbury’s and Next uniforms also received good marks across the categories. Perhaps not surprisngly, the two low-cost uniform retailers, Aldi and Lidl, received the lowest marks, apart from Worth the money where Aldi came second.
How much does a school uniform cost in 2021?
In our survey of parents of school-aged children, over a quarter estimated they spent over £100 on school uniform when their child started a new school. Special items like sweatshirts and polo shirts embroidered with the school logo often push costs up, as do specific requirements for PE kit or outerwear. However, even core items like shirts, trousers/skirts and sweaters can end up being expensive.
The below chart gives the price of each brand’s most affordable version of each key item, to fit a boy aged 7. Most retailers now only sell the key items in multipacks and/or bundles, in order to do a straight comparison we have broken down price of those multipacks to list the cost of one individual item.
|John Lewis (standard)||£4.50||£10||£11||£2||£27.50|
|John Lewis (Anyday)||£3||£6.50||£11||£1.14||£21.64|
Does more expensive mean better quality?
As our testing shows, it’s not always the case that more expensive items of uniform perform better, some additional details may be worth paying for according to many parents.
- Polo shirts are a particular bugbear of many parents due to their tendency to shrink in the wash, and the fact they will often hold onto stains. Premium polo shirts may be stain-resistant, making it easier to get food and dirt out on a cold wash.
- Trousers may have reinforced knees or adjustable waists for longevity.
- Socks may have a higher natural fibre content to help regulate temperature.
- If your child is required to wear a shirt, look out for non-iron or easy-iron fabrics, or those with a little stretch for a more comfortable fit.
5 most important uniform features voted by parents
- Non-iron/easy iron
- Adjustable waistband
- Stain-resistant/faric protection
- Non-scratchy materials
- Easy to put on (zip-free/button-free)
Can I get help to pay for school uniform?
In some parts of the country, school uniform grants are available to qualifying families. You can find out more and search for your council on the ‘Get help with school uniform costs’ page on the Gov.uk website.
What our home testers thought of their school uniforms
Marks & Spencer
– Best overall uniform
Availability: Good, with lots of sizes, colours and styles on offer including easy-on range
Ease of care: Mud stains washed out easily, no shrinkage reported on any items
Sizing: Generous (for girls particularly) with adjustable waists and hems
Marks & Spencer scored highly across the board with both our home testers and our survey respondees. Although uniform from M&S will set you back twice what you’ll pay in some supermarkets, a resounding number of parents felt that it was well worth paying the extra for the quality and longevity of an M&S uniform.
Home tester Nadia tried the uniform with her son, who is soon to turn 6. She’d previously purchased his uniform from a supermarket, but noted, “When you have to keep buying more due to shrinking and non-removal of stains, it works out more expensive than M&S.”
Her son found the uniform “comfortable and easy to move around”, and they were both impressed with thoughtful details such as the hidden velcro on the button placket for independent dressing, and the adjustable waist and long hems on the trousers to allow for growth. “Now that we’ve tried it, I will be buying the rest of his uniform from there,” said Nadia.
Mum Gemma tested the uniform with her 7-year-old daughter, and said, “My daughter is very sensory-based and she loved the feel of the cardigan in particular and spent 10 minutes touching the fabric.” She found the sizing came up quite generous, which did mean a slightly large uniform overall, but offered room to grow over the year. She loved that all items, even socks, had a space to write the child’s name, and also praised the padded heels on the socks (great for wearing in new school shoes).
Like Nadia, Gemma felt that the higher upfront cost would even out over the course of a year. “A lot of cheaper uniform polo tops, for example, stain really easily and you find yourself replacing them throughout the year. I definitely think this uniform would fare better.”
In our survey, parents commented on how easy M&S uniform is to care for. “Although it’s at the higher end for price, we were happy to pay more as we’d heard the school uniform was great and hard wearing and washed well,” said one parent. Another commented, “You can’t beat Marks for their non-iron shirts, while their whites stay white all year.” But sizing isn’t perfect – our survey findings agreed with our home testers that M&S uniforms are more likely to size bigger than expected for age.
Canny shoppers suggested waiting for offers and stocking up to get the best deal – look out for 20% off school uniform offers that run over the summer.
Available from: Marks and Spencer and Marks and Spencer stores
George at Asda
– Best value uniform
Availability: Lots of colours and styles, but sells out quickly during peak shopping periods
Ease of care: Some shrinkage particularly with polo shirts, plus some post-wash staining
Sizing: Most families felt it ran true to size / a little large but beware of polos shrinking a little
When we asked MadeForMums testers and parents where they bought their uniform, Asda was a name that came up over and over again, with over 60% of the families we surveyed having tried George at Asda uniform. There’s no denying the supermarket has hit gold by offering a vast range of school uniform items at an affordable price tag, and for many parents this is their first stop when stocking up.
MFM home tester Jess was impressed with the look of the uniform, saying her 5-year-old daughter particularly “loved the long socks as she’s not worn long socks before.” They also both liked the adjustable waist on the skirt.
However, our home testers did have a few washing issues and in our survey Asda dropped to 7th for Washing. “Whilst some of the stains came out, unfortunately there were a few that didn’t,” Jess reported. She also found some shrinkage and commented, “I’m not sure I’ll be able to get a full year’s wear out of this clothing.”
Sarah had a similar experience testing with her 4-year-old son. “I think the uniform is reasonable quality especially for the price,” she said, adding, “the trousers and socks are great.” However, with the polo shirt she did notice shrinkage and a little discolouration but added, “I find that polo shirts always shrink no matter which ones I buy.”
Her son liked the pockets and she was impressed by the fact there are scratchy labels in the neckline of any of the item, but were less impressed with the shape of the sweatshirt. Overall, she felt the uniform offered reasonable value for money. “I would definitely recommend the trousers and the socks. Personally I am not as keen on how the sweatshirts look or how the polo shirts wash,” she said.
Parents in our survey echoed the views of our testers, with one saying, “All Asda uniform is really good except the white polo shirts,” and another commenting, “After a few washes I find the polo shirts and jumpers start losing their shape.” However, there was blanket praise for the value and availability.
One parent said, “It’s so important to have cheap yet quality uniform options for financially vulnerable families like ours. I love the range at Asda (not just one option but many!). The bundles of items are particularly practical and the price and quality are fantastic.”
Available from: George at Asda and selected Asda stores
Tu at Sainsbury’s
– Best supermarket uniform
Availability: Good, although popular items sell out quickly online in some sizes
Ease of care: Washes well and most stains came out
Sizing: Refer to height rather than age, and consider sizing up if in doubt
If you’re looking for school uniform that will fit and last well without breaking the bank, your local Sainsbury’s may be the place to go. Our home testers were pleasantly surprised with how well uniform from Tu washed and wore and had high praise for the easy-care details on these relatively affordable items.
Spyroula tested the uniform with her 6-year-old son and was particularly impressed “that the shirt was non-iron and that the knee-reinforced trousers were of great quality.” Although they had some issues with the fit of the trousers and suggested sizing up, overall she was very impressed, saying, “I think this uniform from Sainsbury’s was of great quality especially for the price. I would buy definitely buy from here again.”
Claire’s 7-year-old daughter also put the Tu uniform through its paces and was excited by the pretty details like bows and heart-shaped buttons, as well as being “thrilled that the socks had glittery lines through them.” She tried both trousers and a jersey skirt, and Claire was impressed with the fit, explaining that “the whole uniform let her move about naturally.”
She also felt the uniform was great quality for the price. “The quality showed after washing too, they only needed lightly ironing and the trouser pleat had remained neat. Nothing had gone out of shape or showed signs of bobbling and the socks and polo shirt stayed white,” she said. Testing the uniform made her a convert, as she added “I will be buying more uniform from Sainsbury;s in the future.”
In our survey, uniform from Tu at Sainsbury’s rated well for sizing and value for money, with one parent saying it’s “a bit more expensive than previous purchases [from other supermarkets] but better quality.” She added, “The shirts stay whiter for longer.” The boys’ trousers got the thumbs up, echoing Spyroula’s comments that these are the “best school trousers” due to their reinforced knees.
One parent commented that the uniform washes so well, “we have been able to hand the blouses down” while another said, “Of all of the uniform items that we bought, we found these the best.” On the downside, there were some reports of colours fading over time, and a lot of parents reported that the sizing is a little on the small side.
Available from: Tu at Sainsburys school uniform and selected Sainsbury’s stores
– Best for availability
Availability: Excellent, with great selection available online and fast delivery options
Ease of care: Shrinkage reported by one tester on coloured polos, all stains came out in the wash
Sizing: Generally comes up small across the board, so consider sizing up
With the launch of John Lewis’s Anyday range, Next now has one of the most expensive uniform on the high street. However, as many of our testers and survey respondees pointed out, sometimes investing at the start of term can work out more economical across a year, so Next shouldn’t be discounted because of price. Our survey showed high satisfaction for Fit, Washing and Quality.
The girls’ uniform was really put through its paces by our tester, mum Fiona and her 8-year-old daughter who went on the trampoline in the uniform and said that it didn’t make her feel too hot. Fiona felt the sizing was just right for her petite daughter, leading her to suggest, “Perhaps they could come up on the smaller side for children who aren’t as petite.”
Fiona described the quality as excellent and reported no shrinkage during washing. “The material remains feeling soft and easy to wear,” she added. “None of it has hardened or lost shape, and the collar of the shirt seems to have eased as well – making the buttons easier for my daughter to do herself.” Overall, she felt it was, “Amazing uniform that I will be buying again!”
Tester Laura also tried out Next uniform with her 8-year-old son. First impressions were great, and Laura said, “The trousers particularly impressed me as they felt quite thick which is good as I have a sports-mad child who slips and slides everywhere.” She also liked the adjustable waist, saying, “Despite having to reduce the waist size by a few inches, they didn’t bunch up at the top like others I’ve bought.” She said her son “was really impressed with the uniform and was very comfortable to wear. He particularly liked the socks, so much so he’s worn them every day!”
Unfortunately, though, Laura did notice some shrinkage in the wash. “I was really disappointed that the polo shirt had shrunk considerably.” sThe jumper and socks fared better and the trousers “washed really well”. Overall, Laura felt the cost was high and the polo shirts were disappointing, but would recommend the socks, trousers and jumper if the fit is right for your child.
In our survey, parents were very complimentary about Next school uniform and scored it highly. Like our testers, many reported that the sizing comes up small (although this was considered a bonus by parents of petite children).
Next is “always very well stocked,” according to our survey, and the next day delivery for online orders also got the thumbs up. On the subject of washing, the white polo shirts seemed to fare better than the coloured ones: something we saw reflected in our home testing too.
Available from: Next school uniform or Next stores
F+F at Tesco
Availability: Good availability in larger stores, unfortunately not sold online
Ease of care: Some minor shrinkage reported, stains came out in a normal wash
Sizing: Feedback varies wildly, always check the sizing chart before purchasing
F+F at Tesco offers everything you’d expect from supermarket school uniform: lots of colours and styles, sold in bundle packs at an affordable price. Tesco uniform is amongst the most competitive when it comes to price, with a single uniform coming in at under £10. Although there were some minor issues, our testers felt it delivered on its promise of reliable quality at an affordable price.
Ijeoma tested the uniform with her 5-year-old so and loved the feel and texture of the uniform. “He was not in a hurry to take it off. The jumper has a nice soft feel to it and was cosy,” she explained. However, they did encounter some fit problems, saying, “the regular trouser was too tight on the waist despite all the adjustments.”
When it came to washing, stains came out easily and although there was a small amount of shrinkage, Ijeoma still felt it offered great value for money, and went as far as to say “we found the quality of the jumper and polo to be comparable to the quality we get from our John Lewis school uniform.”
Tenisha and her 10-year-old daughter were our testers for the girls’ uniform, and they too had a good experience when it came to how well it washed and wore. “She did manage to spill some of her dinner on her shirt, but it washed out no issues at all,” Tenisha explained, and she reported no shrinkage, either.
When it came to fit, Tenisha also found that the trousers came up a little small, with one pair only just fitting (offering no room for growth). Overall, though, she was very pleased with the value and quality. “I was quite surprised with the amazing quality I would put it on the same level as other premium school uniform shops we have shopped with over the years.”
In our survey, parents mostly cited the combination of convenience and quality as their reason for shopping for uniform at Tesco, although a large number of parents stated their disappointment that F+F clothing is no longer available online.
Although overall feedback was positive, there were some parents who felt the quality could be improved. “Didn’t wash very well, shrunk in the wash,” said one parent, while another claimed it “didn’t wash up as good as the other brands and the quality feels a little thin.”
Available from: Tesco school uniform and selected Tesco stores
Nutmeg at Morrisons
Availability: Not great. Hit and miss in store, and the website defaults to click & collect
Ease of care: No shrinkage reported and all stains washed out
Sizing: Items generally come up on the larger side, particularly girls’ skirts
Something of a hidden gem, school uniform from Nutmeg at Morrisons had been tried by fewer than 12% of the parents we surveyed. But our testers were very impressed with what was on offer should you be one of the lucky ones with a store nearby.
Tester Petya’s 6-year-old son “really loved the trousers and said they are the most comfortable ones he had ever worn”. The adjustable waist got the thumbs up from mum and child for offering “plenty of room to grow”. The uniform also fared well in the wash and came out of the tumble drier pretty much ready to wear. Petya felt the uniform was “excellent value for money”, and said, “It could be from a retailer that sells much more expensive uniforms.”
When it came to the girls’ uniform, it was the socks that were a runaway success! Tester Janet explained, “My daughter has high functioning autism and hates seams on anything. I will often pick her up from school to find she’s put her socks or tights on inside out to avoid the seam! These socks are the first she hasn’t complained about and she kept them on the right way.”
Our testers did, however, find the skirt came up very large and even with an adjustable waistband didn’t look quite right. “It’s not pleated all the way round and is almost like a pencil skirt in the back which I feel is an older girls’ style,” explained Janet. Despite this, the uniform was a winner overall, with Janet saying, “I would recommend this uniform. It feels good quality, looks good quality and kept its shape and colour amazingly well after one wash.”
Of the small number of parents we surveyed who tried this uniform, the feedback was mixed, ranging from “nothing special” to “durable and reasonably priced”. Availability was definitely a concern, with one parent saying, “It’s a good option if you can get it but my local Morrisons only has it in a few times a year. Would be great to get it all year round!” Another said, “I have found Morrisons skirts and trousers to wash and last very well. No bobbling and a reasonable price. Polo shirts do not wash as well but I am yet to find polo shirts that do wash well.”
Available from: Nutmeg at Morrisons school uniform and selected Morrisons stores
Availability: Good range of colours and items, great online availability
Ease of care: No shrinkage reported and all stains washed out
Sizing: Girls skirts come up small at the waist, otherwise generally true to size
John Lewis has a reputation for being one of the most expensive uniform providers on the high street, but the launch of its new Anyday range has allowed the department store to undercut the likes of Marks & Spencer and Next. However, our testers tried items from the main John Lewis collection, which is slightly more expensive and does, on average, make the John Lewis uniform we tried the most expensive overall.
Jennie and her 9-year-old daughter put the girls’ uniform to the test and explained, “The uniform felt comfortable overall although the skirt was a little tight at the waist. It does have adjustable tabs to make it smaller for a slimmer child, but it’s rigid cotton so there’s no room for growth.”
Although there were some issues with fitting, she was impressed with how well it washed and felt the quality justified the cost. “I think this uniform is better quality than some others on the market, making it more hard wearing and ideal for school life,” she said. “I think it is a fair price for the quality of the uniform but would love to see multi packs of skirts and cardigans.”
Sam tested the uniform with her 7-year-old son, and said, “The look and texture of the materials are lovely and scream quality.” The feeling was shared by her son, as she explained, “My son found the entire uniform super soft and comfy especially as he has sensitive skin, and the fabric didn’t irritate his skin at all.” She also rated the fit, saying, “I was amazed at how accurate the sizing was, everything fitted perfectly. My son is super skinny, so the adjustments on the trousers were really handy.”
In our survey, although John Lewis was rated highly for Washing and Fit (“Probably the best school uniform I’ve purchased in terms of fit and wash,” said one parent) it still received the lowest marks for value for money. “When children are young and growing out of their uniform perhaps the higher quality isn’t needed at this stage,” explained one parent.
Sizing got the thumbs up, though, with a number of parents highlighting how good the slim fit items are. Details like collars, pleats and reinforced knees also hold up to washing and drying, justifying the initial outlay with items that last beyond just a term or two.
Available from: John Lewis school uniform and John Lewis stores
Availability: Varies depending on store, smaller stores may have little stock, some online
Ease of care: Some shrinkage and staining after washing
Sizing: Testers reported true-to-size, survey suggests it varies by item
Danielle said her 9-year-old daughter “has never been so excited to get dressed in the morning and show off her uniform to her friends”. She added, “The quality looked good and first impressions were high.” They loved little details like “the scalloped detail of the collar and the cardigan” and “the puff sleeves on the polo shirt”.
Her daughter found the uniform to be comfy on first wear, although unfortunately after washing she said the collar felt a little weird. This could be due to staining, as Danielle found that sun cream didn’t come out of the collar when washing according to the label instructions. However, despite this, she said that testing “opened my eyes to another brand,” and that she’d definitely recommend the range from a style perspective.
Anna tested the uniform with her 8-year-old son and said, “The style was better than I expected – the fit was smart and there were some nice details like the stitching on the jumper.” However, she did express concerns that the trousers wouldn’t last very long without reinforced knees, and admitted, “It definitely felt lighter than I usually buy, suggesting the quality wasn’t as good.”
She found that the polo shirt shrank in the wash, and overall felt the uniform wouldn’t last as long as a more premium one. “I’d only recommend this to someone on a tight budget, and if their child is not as active as mine – he gives any uniform a real toughness test!”
In our survey, families were very mixed when it came to their Matalan experiences. Interestingly, a few parents said they bought Matalan uniform as “backup” to keep for emergencies. On that note, most agreed the uniforms are good value, with one parent saying, “I was surprised at how long the uniform lasted and how well it washed because of the price.” Another commented that the uniform “washes well and lasted the school year”.
On the downside, a number of parents claimed the sizing is unpredictable, and availability is also low in certain stores. Finally, there were also some issues reported when it came to the reliability of online shopping.
Available from: Matalan school uniform and Matalan stores
Availability: Sells out quickly in store but some products also online
Ease of care: No shrinkage reported, stains came out in the wash
Sizing: Testers report it fits true to size, survey said it runs small overall
One of 2021’s most affordable uniforms, Aldi offers a bundle pack of 2 polo shirts, a pair of trousers or skirt and a jumper for just £4.50. This is an instore-only offer, and as ever you’ll need to be fast on your feet (and maybe plan a trip to a few Aldi stores) to find the right sizes for a full uniform. However, if you do, you’ll be rewarded with a bargain uniform that delivers on more than just affordability.
Alana tested the uniform with her 9-year-old son, and admitted she was very surprised that the uniform was “really good quality”. Although the trousers felt a little stiff straight out the packet, they softened up after a wash. She was also pleased to find the rest of the uniform washed well too, saying, “The fact the top didn’t hold stains or shrink is a winner for me! We usually buy uniform from a different supermarket and the tops don’t last very long.”
Her son was pleasantly surprised with the trousers and how comfy they were on his stomach. “We find sizing so hard and most of the time they’re too tight,” explained Alana, adding she would “100%” recommend Aldi” and that she’d already converted her sister.
Some parents we surveyed were also complimentary about the Aldi uniforms. “They’re surprisingly well made for the price and lasted my daughter through the entire year,” said one parent. But it wasn’t unanimous, however, as another parent claimed “You get what you pay for. There’s limited life in their uniform – it does the job for the short term but it needs replacing quickly!”
Most parents reported the polo shirts were better than expected, especially when it came to washing. “The Aldi polo shirts are still softer after multiple washes compared to other supermarket brands. They’re also still white,” said one impressed parent. Finally, many parents suggested the sizing runs small. “Once you realise you need the next size up then it’s great value,” said one parent.
Available from: Aldi school uniform and selected Aldi stores
Although we weren’t able to home test Lidl uniform, we did ask parents about their experiences during our survey.
Like Aldi, the key to a Lidl uniform is it cheapness. “Can’t complain for the price!” said one parent. But the majority of parents felt that the quality was really compromised and Lidl scored the lowest for Fit, Washing and Quality.
In fact, Lidl didn’t even do particularly well for Worth the money. “Cheap sounds great, but it needs to be better quality and the sizing needs to be accurate,” commented one parent. Size was an issue that came up frequently, with one parent explaining that sizing tends to be broad (eg. age 6-8 or 8-10) which means fit is often a little off for the ages at either end. Another parent praised the “great value uniform” but went on to explain they “found some items a bit thinner than other supermarket versions, including the pinafore dresses”.
When it came to washing, some shrinkage was reported and a few parents found that stains didn’t come out very easily. The value price tag also means elements like adjustable waistbands are missing. “Having a skinny child the fact that the trousers weren’t adjustable meant they were pretty useless,” explained one parent. “It meant I spent more time trying to sew them than they were worth.”
Available from: Selected Lidl stores
¹ Survey carried out in July 2021 with 694 MadeForMums parents of children who wear school uniform
Pics: MFM home testers