On a recent trip back home to Los Angeles, I was going through the closet in my old room when I came across the jersey I wore back when I played football. While I don’t expect to have a chance to play the sport anytime soon, I still couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. It’s one of the few mementos from my student days, and even if I’m never going to wear it again, there’s too much sentimental value for me to just get rid of it.

Many Japanese adults feel the same way about their school uniforms, hanging onto the clothes they wore day in and day out long after graduation. The outfit can serve as a humble reminder of where you came from, or a nostalgic pick-me-up when you’re feeling down.

Or, if you’re a woman, your old school uniform can also be your ticket to a free meal.

Japanese schools aren’t exactly known for their laid-back, hands-off attitude regarding student conduct. Several of them have rules that explicitly state children are to go directly home after class lets out, because God only knows what kind of hooliganism they could get into stopping by MOS Burger for a snack with their friends.

Even at schools that don’t make this a formal policy, society generally frowns on kids doing anything after school other than officially sanctioned extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, more studying at cram schools, or scurrying home. If you’re not engaged in one of those four things, the common belief is that you’re up to no good. This is a large part of why most video arcades in Japan also have policies not allowing minors in past a certain hour, even if they’re accompanied by a parent.

▼ I guess they have a point, seeing as after all those hours in high school doing dragon punches, I did wind up putting the technique to ill use as part of a string of daring bank robberies.

But with high school graduation just weeks away, and the need to say good-bye to dear friends if you’re going off to different colleges, some students are bucking the rules by hanging out with their friends for a few hours after class. At least that’s what author Pentabu (@pentabutabu) thought when he tweeted to his followers about the large number of girls in high school uniforms he’d been seeing around town.

“It looks like the seniors who are about to graduate want to make one last memory with the friends they spent three years with before they all go their separate ways.”

However, it turns out there may have been something more than the purity of teenage friendship behind the wardrobe choice. After Pentabu mentioned his observation to a female acquaintance, she gave him her take on the situation.

They’re probably college girls, actually. They can get dumb guys to pay for dinner for them if they wear their old uniforms, so that’s why they dress that way. Even I do it, sometimes.”

The impact of this revelation was so great that Pentabu said it destroyed the beautiful image he’d had of both the uniform-wearing girls and his lady friend who’d given him the expose at the same time.

Several Internet commentators were similarly shocked and disheartened.

“There are no hopes or dreams out there.”
“So they’re old bags?!”
“Doesn’t that make it fraud?”
“That’s nothing. I’ve seen middle-aged women who are almost 30 trying to pull this off in Shibuya and Ikebukuro. If you look at their hands and knees you can tell right away.”

There were also a few more level-headed, optimistic voices to be found online though, including some who believed they could imitate the duplicitous success.

“As long as she’s pretty, it’s all good.”
“Who cares if she’s cute?”
“Time to get me some free food!”

So for better or worse, it seems that in Japan, sometimes the clothes really do make the woman, and they make the man pay for dinner as well.

Source: Twitter/@pentabutabu via Hamster Sokuho
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso