ABC COUNTDOWN TO RETIREMENT: U is for uniforms (uniformity?)

U is for uniforms.

Most public school students in the United States do not wear uniforms. However, a common topic for teaching persuasive essay writing is, “Should students be required to wear uniforms to school?”  The majority of students I have seen write on this topic have the opinion that no, students shouldn’t be required to wear them. School uniforms may promote school pride and unity, but the idea goes against a basic value in our society: individualism.

I used to be a strong critic of uniforms for public school students, but I am leaning toward being a proponent of some kind of uniform – or at least some uniformity of dress for students.

This graph shows that the number of schools requiring students to wear uniforms has increased, but only slightly.
This graph shows that the number of schools requiring students to wear uniforms has increased, but only slightly. How many of these are public schools?

I understand the arguments against uniforms…they take away individuality, they lack style, you’d need to buy several of them to last through the week and they can’t be replaced by hand-me-downs.

However, one thing I’ve noticed in our culture of informality is that people’s manners tend to match their clothing. If you are dressed up to go to the opera, say, or a night out on the town, you would probably dress nicer than usual. If you are wearing nice clothes, you tend to have better manners while eating so you don’t soil your dress up clothes, and your behavior in the theatre or on a date is also affected.

I went to a private boarding high school in Arizona. There was a lot of dust in the air and it was the late 1960s. Most of the time, we students wore jeans or cut offs, T-shirts, tank tops, sweatshirts, etc. However, the rule then was that we had to dress up for dinner: boys were required to wear a nice shirt and dress pants (no tie or suit jacket necessary) and girls were expected to wear dresses or at the very least, dressy pants.  It may have seemed like an inconvenient rule at the time, but I came to realize that I liked it. It made dinner a little more special because we had to prepare for it by showering and wearing nice clothes. Our manners in the dining room improved, and it was a chance to wear my nicest clothes.

I think the same holds true with students today. If kids come to school with ripped, frayed jeans, or shirts that are soiled or too small, their behavior in some ways will match the clothes. I have worked as a substitute in schools were some kind of uniform dress was required and – maybe it was my imagination – the kids seemed a little better behaved. I’m not a psychologist, but I’m pretty sure studies have been done on this phenomenon.

By “uniforms”, do I mean this:uniformity in uniformsor this:
uniforms-optionsuniforms-diff colors?

I think the latter. Most of the time when I’ve seen uniforms in public schools, there is usually a polo shirt in a choice of colors, and pants (shorts in warm weather) or skirt (or jumper) that are either dark blue or tan. No jeans! Having a uniform policy that is somewhat flexible like this prevents costs going up when a company monopolizes the school uniform market. You can find polo shirts and plain dress pants and skirts just about anywhere. And the shoes?  That’s where I think kids should be able to wear whatever is comfortable and affordable.

Here are some more arguments for and against wearing uniforms at school:


uniforms-stylizeuniforms-pro and con

Hand-me-downs? ALL clothes that are in good shape can be hand-me-downs! Take it from me, the youngest of five children!

uniforms-pro&conIn the last chart, (from, I disagree with most of the “con” side.  Sure, uniforms cost money but so do all clothes! And with uniformity, there is less peer pressure to get the latest fashion or look “cool”. Polo shirts and plain pants are available at stores like Wal-Mart and Target, where affordable prices are the norm.

Uniforms don’t have to be uncomfortable. Polo shirts are not uncomfortable and if given a choice in style while conforming to the color rules, pants and skirts will be similar to what the child is used to wearing.

In the real world, people don’t all dress the same. “Real world”, meaning “out of school.” In the “real world” you don’t have 25 to 90 children in the same place at the same time. Besides, school is part of the real world. It is the real world that children inhabit on average 5 1/2 hours a day, five days a week, 9 months a year.

What I often see in school are kids wearing inappropriate clothing: skinny tops that don’t cover  little girls’ torsos so their belly buttons show, pants that are ripped, frayed, or too big, which to me denotes a lack of respect for oneself as well as the school. Kids, especially the young ones, may not be the best judges of what is appropriate to wear. That’s the parents’ job. Having a uniformity policy takes away the potential of conflict between parent and child over what to wear.

A school-wide incentive could even be implemented –  “No uniform day” – for a low number of disciplinary cases in the school.

I found an interesting map, showing the states that “allow” districts to make decisions regarding uniforms. This is from the web site

uniforms-states that allowThis may be curious especially to people in other countries, where uniforms are a given, not a debatable issue!

Uniforms are not going to solve the problems of bullying, peer pressure, and gang activity in school, but they may help alleviate these problems.

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