The Debate Over School Uniform

Figure 1.--New Zealand school uniforms have been sugnificantly influenced by Englsih styles, but have developed into more casual styles in recent years.

The school uniform has proven to be an enormously complicated question in many countries. Interestingly the debate often touches on deep-rooted philosophical principles rather than any serious academic research. The proponents and detractors of school uniform generally bring up the following arguments. It is also of increasing concern to both children and patents. School for most children is the major experience with the world outside the home. About a third of the day is spent at school and about half of a child's waking hours. School clothing did not used to be a great issue. Mom and dad chose it or the school had a uniform. In our modern world, kids have become much more concerned with their clothes. This simply reflects our modern values and the interest of adults in clothes. Children can, however, without some of the moderating influences that come with age and experience, become much more obsessed with clothing. Kids that come tonschool in unfassionable clothes can be teased or even bullied. Other kids may ber attacked to obtain jackets. The cost of those clothes and conflicts associated weith them have caused many schools and parents to reaasess the school uniform. School uniform usage berginning in the 1960s began to decline in some areas and was increasingly seen as obselete by many in the 1970s and 80s. Some countries are, however, now beginning to reverse the decline in uniform usage. Schools in other countries are beginning to introduce uniforms for the first time. This is very controversial, however, as older pupils generally object to the idea of uniform. Some parents also see a compulsory uniform as intrusive and an infringement on their basic liberties.

The Case for School Uniforms

Those that believe school uniforms are beneficial generally make the following arguments:

Promotes good discipline

Many feel that school uniforms help a school in maintaing discipline. Many school systems report uniforms help to reduce discipline problems. Some schools report dramatic declines, although opponets question some of these reports. Children today are lacking in self discipline. Many parents simply refuse to discipline their children. This makes it much more difficult on the teacher who has to deal with a class of 20-30 children througout the day.

Reduces fighting and violence

School uniforms reduce violemce by eliminating fights and disruptions over fashionable clothes. Children invairably tease those who do not have trendy clothes. Poor children are often very sensitive about their clothes. American iner-city schools facing serious gang violence believe that uniforms help to ease the problem.

Business like

Some say that a child in a uniform is more likely to take school seriously. Putting on the uniform signals that he is going to school just as dad dresses up for work. When students were dressed in "learning clothes" rather than "play clothes" some schools report that students took a more serious, scholarly attitude towards their studies.


Many parents and even some children generally believe that student wearing uniforms looked nicer and that a uniform policy ensured that children woukld come to school in appropriate clothing, avoiding distractions such as fads considered outlandish or overly revealing. A HBC reader in the U.S. writes, "I read a book showing how children dress for school in the U.K. and showed it to my mom. She said those boys look neat clean and disiplined. I also think the same the saying goes, "If you look nice you are going to act nice like a gentelman. Kids today cannot accept those kind of displinary clothes they whant to were those ugly baggy things and they are ugly looking clothes! My mother said its a fad and they will grow out of it, but I myself don't think its going to happen. I know our school distric puts millions of dollars for soccer fields and other sports. I spoke with a school board member about getting school uniforms for the kids the answer was, 'We dont have the money.' I showed him a photo of the way the kids dress in Papatoe High School in new zeland he said its probaly a fake photo. Can you belive that!"

Focus on academics

No morning confusion. Many parents in schools with uniform policies indicated that they no longer had the morning debate over "what to wear." Some students have turned school into an unending fashion show. This is embarassing to the children who can "keep up" and it detracts from the focus on academics. There is no doubt that some children spend more time selecting their wardrobe then doing their home work.


School uniforms stress that individuality and self-expression are not determined by designer clothing or the latest fashion fad.


The school uniform readily identified students as a member of that school and increased student safety on and off campus. Uniforms readily identify who belong on campus and who does not. Unfortunately this isa matter of increasing conern in our modern age.

Reduces distractions

Proponents say that uniforms allow students to concentrate on their studies instead of the latest fashion trends. The ideaa is to promote a better atmosphere for learning and help children concentrate on the academic program. Peer pressure appeared to take a back seat to learning.


School uniforms help to eliminates social distinctions. Children from low-income families need not be embarassed by notbbeing able to afford the latest fashions or designer clothes. Many chools report thatb school uniforms do help to reuce socio-economic differences.

Low cost

Uniforms are a good bargin. They are cheap and getting cheaper. They are getting less expensive than any other clothes. Proponents say that uniforms are economical. Compared to buying designer clothes this is undoubtedly true. Some children pressure their parents to buy very expensive clothes--even in elementary school. Some parents report that uniforms appeared to be more durable since they are made for repeated wash and wear. Often schools have used uniform shops, further reducing costs.

School spirit

Some feel wearing a uniform help builds school spirit. They believe it instills a feeling of belonging. Parents and students in schools with successful uniform policies often indicate that there was an improved sense of school pride and spirit.


Regimentation and supressing individuality is the most frequently cited objection to school uniforms. Some educators argue that an academic program incouraging children to pursue individual thought is much more important than what they wear. The fact that students object more to fashion concerns than to school academic progams discouraging free thought is a good indicator of why the use of uniforms to reduce concern with fashion may be beneficial.

The Case Against School Uniforms

Those that believe school uniforms are not beneficial generally make the following arguments:

Inhibits creativity and self expression


The oponents of school uniform maintain that students should be allowed to choose their own clothes and they shouldn't be forced to conform. The opponents feel that the inability to choose ones clothes causes children to lose their individuality. Interestingly, many who fill strongly about this are not nearly as concerned over the insistance of many schools to avoid contoversial issues. Different socities have place varying emphasis on conformity. In Japan it has been a strongly held goal. In America society has placed a much greater emphasis on individuality.

Causes discipline problems

Some students object to any rules. Rules about their clothes are particularly objecvtionable to some. They alter their uniform by lengthening, shortening, widening or tightening them. Tension between students and teachers sometimes occurs, as teachers try to enforce the school rules, and students resist them.

Little or no relationship to academics

Opponents insist that there is no creditable evidence that uniforms improve school discipline or result in superior academic achievement. The principal evidence offered here is that some good students are scruffy dressers. There is no doubt that children can learn even if they dress as they want. The question not addressed is to what extent fashion, and the tendency of moden children to focus on fashion, distracts from the academic program. This issue is generally avoided by those who argue that dress is unrelated to academics.

High cost

The economics of school uniform is hotly debated. School uniform was in part adopted by some American schools so children would not try to outdo each other with highh-priced designer clothes. British parents seem nore likely to complain about high-priced uniform items. Some parents say that uniforms are excesively costly. As they are often available from one supplier some of the market action limiting prices may not work well. Parents also complain about shoddy merchandise in addition to high prices. This also seems associated with the single source issue. As with most of these issues, we notice a lot of opinions being offered and not so many hard facts.

Emphasizes social distinctions

The uniforms worn by affluent children going to private schools help to emphasize class destinctions.

Dowdy styles

Children generally feel that their uniforms are dowdy and not attractive or stylish.

Careful, clicking on these will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but several are highly recommended

  • Apertures Press New Zealand E-book: New E-book on New Zealand schools available
  • School Uniform Web Site: Informative review of British school uniforms with some excellent photographs
  • British Preparatory Schools: A photographic book depicting life at British preparatory schools during the 1980s. Most of the schools are English or Scottish, but schools in Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ulster are also included. The pictures show the uniforms worn at many different schools.
  • Information: Information about school uniforms in America


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    Created: January 20, 1999
    Last updated: 5:05 AM 3/28/2007