Dress Codes and Effective School-Uniform Policies

Updated on March 1, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has taught fourth through twelfth grade for 12 years, coached sports for 35 years, and seen the results of various uniforms.

Are uniforms old fashioned?
Are uniforms old fashioned? | Source

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

Personal Experience

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Modern music academy uniform.Presbyterian Ladies' College. These uniforms are too severe for the 21st century.
Modern music academy uniform.
Modern music academy uniform. | Source
Presbyterian Ladies' College. These uniforms are too severe for the 21st century.
Presbyterian Ladies' College. These uniforms are too severe for the 21st century. | Source

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:

  1. Conservative clothing and shoes
  2. Conservative hair styles
  3. Conservative makeup and somewhat individualized accessories, if permissible
  4. No gang colors
  5. 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.

Some school systems find that the tracksuit is the most effective and most comfortable standard dress.
Some school systems find that the tracksuit is the most effective and most comfortable standard dress. | Source

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
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Skirts and blouses in Japan.Schoolgirls in Nepal wear trousers.
Skirts and blouses in Japan.
Skirts and blouses in Japan. | Source
Schoolgirls in Nepal wear trousers.
Schoolgirls in Nepal wear trousers. | Source

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:

  1. Uniforms can improve students' individuality when students shift to expressing themselves through personality and academic achievement (as long as it is not obsessive).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Sources

  • 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

    Comments & Complaints - No Sagging, Please

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      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        I understand.

      • profile image

        Jarah 

        7 years ago

        I hate school ilke that

      • profile image

        James 

        8 years ago

        My NH public middle school has mandatory uniforms. Luckily, it is only a polo shirt and khaki pants. However, we do have to tuck in our shirts and wear a belt. There's, like, 20 other rules, too. I like the uniform, but hate how formal it is. I agree how it helps with schoolwork, though.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        Thanks for your comments! How about pro baseball teams in streetclothes? lol

      • lorlie6 profile image

        Laurel Rogers 

        9 years ago from Bishop, Ca

        Well Patty, I find it telling that the only time in my own life that I would have given mel's words any credence was when I was wearing one myself.

        Enough...

        Laurel

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        Exactly right. I think the poster may have had a specific problem that was unstated.

        In some areas, uniforms are more expensive that other clothing and single parents cannot afford them, for instance.

      • LondonGirl profile image

        LondonGirl 

        9 years ago from London

        uniforms and socialism aren't remotely the same thing. Don't American sports teams and nurses wear them? Are they all commies?

        Pretty much every child in the UK wears a uniform from 4 to 16, and a lot of schools up to 18.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        Mr. or Ms. "mel" - My uniformed martial classes get people up out of wheelchairs permanently -- What have you done lately?

        Your comments are nonsense and I am part of the backbone of this free country, so you leave it yourself. What you don't like is likely discipline of any sort or accountability. Freedom means personal accountability.

        Uniforms raise grades and give young people a chance for successful employment. That's all it's about. Perhaps you have been discplined for wearing sagging jeans to low that your underwear shows. Being offended at dirty underwear shown in public is not socialist.

        No socialism is evident in a school uniform that stops violence in the central city. In the inner cities as well as suburbs, the school uniform stops kids from killing one another so often for Air Jordans, leather jackets, cashmere sweaters, Starter Jackets and other such items of clothing.

        Catholic schools that require unforms are not socialist, but require order for the best grades earned in many parts of this country. The Marching Band that wears uniforms is not socialist. The football team that wears uniforms is not socialist. The basketball team with their unforms is not socialist. With teamwork and discipline, they are winners.

      • profile image

        mel 

        9 years ago

        This is America, not some dictatorship. As long as clothing is clean and not

        offensive it should be fine. Don't try to shove socialism down our throats. If you

        want your children to wear uniforms, fine. Its your choice. Don't try to take away our freedom of choice. If you want socialism then move to another country.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        Thanks for the comments Lizzie. I really like those NZ sun hats.

        In elementary schiool, my mother had only two dresses each year. She wore one while the other was washed for the next day, for a whole 9 months. Uniforms would have been an upgrade.

      • Lissie profile image

        Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

        10 years ago from New Zealand

        Wow you found a NZ school photo as an example! In NZ uniforms are common at high school level, at primarly level is usuall a private school which will have a uniform. I wore uniforms for most of my schooling in the UK and NZ in general I liked it. No decision making in the mornings was a big plus - and yes there was no feeling that I was 2nd class because my mother was on a solo parent on a benefit and had friends who were daughts of teachers and doctors. We all tended to have 2nd hand uniforms - fortunately these days the uniforms are a lot more practical - I had to wear a gym slip which hadn't substantially changed since the 1920's, a blazer that hadn't changed since the 1890's and a proper tie in the winter. Though I did subsequently impress several boyfriends by teaching them how to to tie ties - for some odd reason the boys tended not to have to wear uniform ties!

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