Dress Codes and Effective School-Uniform Policies
Are School Uniforms Good?
What if all youth in K-12 wore uniforms?
School boards and parents have argued for decades about whether K-12 students should be required to wear school uniforms. Several American schools have initiated and forced this requirement, while others have not. The researchers at FindLaw state that the first school-related dress code law was instituted in 1969 by the U.S. Supreme Court, so the issue is an important, long-standing one in America.
The requirement of school uniforms can be a major life change to students, but this change may be effective, not only increasing the quality of distraction-free education, but also saving lives, as indicated by research all the way back to 1996 by Chuck Sambar and others. For instance, in Central Ohio, several high school students as young as 14 were beaten or shot and killed for their Starter brand jackets and Nike shoes during the 1990s.
The U.S. Supreme Court essentially decided that schools may limit student expression (such as enforcing dress codes) if there is a legitimate concern that such expression will be disruptive to the learning environment or violate the rights of others.— FindLaw
In my high school, students were constantly gossiping about appearance and clothing, except for members of the marching band. Band class met for over three hours each morning and allowed us no time for gossip and extra hairspray, etc. Friday nights and weekends, we all wore the same uniform and thought nothing of it.
During classes other than the marching unit, all of us students were criticized by teachers for our appearances every day. Female students were constantly made to kneel on floors to show that our skirts touched the tile and we were not permitted to wear trousers. Sleeveless shirts, open toed shoes and sandals were out as well.
When I entered the world of work, I found some of the same regulations: no sleeveless shirts, no short skirts, and no trousers until the 1980s. Students K-12 have much more personal freedom in attire now and likely do not realize it.
Not all speech is protected in a school setting (e.g. choice of clothing).— FindLaw
A Simple Uniform is Key to Effectiveness
A standard set of clothing for K-12 school should be simple and usually includes:
- Conservative clothing and shoes
- Conservative hair styles
- Conservative makeup and somewhat individualized accessories, if permissible
- No gang colors
- No images and phrases on clothing that are profane, obscene or drug related
The above requirements reduce the number of early morning battles between parents and youth over appearance and attire and reduce the distractions, teasing, and jealousies at school.
The simple dress code can also reduce the number of early-morning and late-night phone calls students make to compare planned ensembles or even to coordinate gang colors.
The simple guidelines can reduce gang rivalries and even bullying that results from picking on other kids considered to be the "in groups" and "out groups" at school.
The ‘In’ Crowd: 1964
A uniform need not be expensive. It may include only a white shirt, dark trousers or skirt, and dark shoes. Exceptions can be made for religious garments.
Standard Attire Works Well in Asian Schools
Within a uniform requirement, conservative clothing, shoes, hair, or makeup would less likely broadcast one's social and economic status. This could lessen the frequency of bullying toward students based on that status.
Studies mentioned by People's Daily Online in China indicate that countrywide uniforms for everyone in China after the fall of the last emperor proved this. Everyone wore khakis and attended school or worked, even the former emperor. More work was accomplished in China without the distraction of varying fashion. However, some Chinese schools today have instituted the use of track suits as uniforms to provide comfort during the school days.
The Japanese instituted a dress code in Honda automobile manufacturing plants in America, bringing the tradition from Japan's schools and factories to Ohio and other states. According to meetings I have had with officials at Honda in my state, higher productivity has been accomplished in Honda factories when compared to GM, Ford and others that have no uniform code.
A friend of mine who works at Honda in Marysville, Ohio enjoys the standard dress code, telling me that he does not have to decide what to wear in the mornings. It saves him time and his required attire is less expensive than clothing he would have chosen himself.
Asian school systems routinely train students who score much higher than Americans on the PISA tri-annual worldwide academic achievement examinations and attire may contribute to that achievement.
U.S. students continue to rank around the middle of the pack, and behind many other advanced industrial nations.— Pew Research Center, 2017
Uniforms for Safety, Cost Containment and Personal Development
One of the oldest complaints against school uniforms is that students lose their individuality, but a personal brand need not a piece of cloth on the shoulders, a fancy shoe on the foot, gang colors, or teen-idol backpacks. Instead, standard clothing can be good int he following ways:
- Uniforms can improve students' individuality when students shift to expressing themselves through personality and academic achievement (as long as it is not obsessive).
- The use of standard attire should allow more time for students to work and study and less less time for gossip and interpersonal comparison. Students may even arrive at school on time more often and this can reduce stress.
- Simple uniforms in K-12 uniforms can save money for other family and individual needs, like casual weekend clothing.
In summary, uniforms can create a more focused, relaxed atmosphere and decrease the frequency of bullying at school, but will also raise students' self-esteem, increase productivity, and save money.
An Ideal Dress Code
The ideal uniform policy should probably include specific guidelines for clothing, shoes, makeup, accessories, and hairstyles. It should likely include facial piercing and visible tattoos as well. At some schools, kindergartners wear makeup, so an across the board policy for all grades may be best, or one that allows moderate makeup in the appropriate grade levels determined by boards of education in cooperation with parents.
- Desilver, D. U.S. students’ academic achievement still lags that of their peers in many other countries. www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/15/u-s-students-internationally-math-science/
- Evans, David; Kremer, Michael; Ngatia, Muthoni. 2008. The Impact of Distributing School Uniforms on Children’s Education in Kenya. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/26453 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO. Retrieved February 23, 2018.
- FindLaw. School Dress Codes. education.findlaw.com/student-rights/school-dress-codes.html Retrieved March 1, 2018.
- Meetings with Honda representatives in Marysville, Ohio for placement of my clients in internships, summer jobs, and full-time employment; 1998 - 2002.
- Millei Z., Piattoeva N., Silova I., Aydarova E. (2018) Hair Bows and Uniforms: Entangled Politics in Children’s Everyday Lives. In: Silova I., Piattoeva N., Millei Z. (eds) Childhood and Schooling in (Post)Socialist Societies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-62791-5_8 Retrieved February 22, 2018.
- People's Daily Online. Evolution of school uniforms in China; April 30, 2015. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
- The Deseret News. Ohio Teen Killed Over Starter Jacket. December 2, 1992.
Questions & Answers
© 2008 Patty Inglish MS