There seems to be a lot of chatter for and against school dress code rules. On one extreme, some schools enforce a uniform dress code for all students. Other schools are laxer with their allowances of what students wear. Does this matter? Is there evidence that uniforms make students better learners? Is there data to suggest that allowing students to choose their own clothing hinders academic performance? Regardless of your view, we can all agree that students are going to school to learn. And learning should take place in an environment where distractions are limited whether it’s student clothing, too many posters on the wall, or noisy distractions of the lawn mowers and weed eaters buzzing by your classroom windows. To give the most contrast to this debate, I will discuss standard dress codes that most schools enforce and then that of uniforms.
Advantages of School Uniforms
● School uniforms create less division between socio-economic classes amongst students. Due to the vast differences in wealth in many school districts, this can help break down that barrier and encourage students to cross over into new peer groups they typically would not do.
● School uniforms can be purchased for much less than traditional branded clothing and be passed down to other students and siblings. For about $100, a week’s worth of school uniform clothing can be purchased. When you compare this to branded clothing, it’s a good bargain. These uniforms can also be passed down to siblings and used for a longer period of time. While brands and styles change, uniforms typically do not. If your school is very conscious of finances, they may create a uniform exchange where students can get free clothing and exchange it as they grow.
● School uniforms can help reduce the stress of deciding what to wear and also alleviate some distractions. Decision fatigue is a real thing that many of us experience and we don’t even know it. Throughout the day, students are forced to make a lot of decisions. This can be overwhelming and mentally fatiguing as the day progresses. Several successful persons have adopted a uniform style in their professional life to reduce that one decision from their day. Some of these people are Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama. Here is an excerpt of what former President Obama had to say about decisions. "You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits',"[Obama] said. '"I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make." 'He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one's ability to make further decisions. I adopted this same line of thinking in August of 2017. I purchased only black blazers, white shirts, and black slacks. To date, I’ve mostly worn this each workday without fail. For me, it speeds up my morning, reduces the anxiety of what I should wear, and it always looks professional. However, I refuse to wear a tie.
Disadvantages of School Uniforms and Strict Dress Codes
● It reduces the ability to be an individual and create your own style. By requiring students to look the same, it’s almost like you are wanting them to THINK the same too. This can have damaging effects on their individuality and creativity. Some students need a creative outlet and schools are terrible at allowing students to be creative and artistic. This is especially noticed in urban and low-performing schools. When scores drop and funding runs low, all the creative programs disappear.
● Uniforms do not produce better learners. To date, there hasn’t been a significant study that shows school uniforms improve student learning. Therefore, why bother? After all, school is a place for learning and if your policy is not benefiting your main goal, then what’s the point?
● School uniforms don’t reduce bullying or improve acceptance. Regardless of what a student wears, there will still be that group of kids who are going to bully or push others outside of their group. Wearing a uniform doesn’t seem to correlate to better acceptance or reduced bullying. Clothing isn’t enough to bridge these gaps.
● Most uniforms are uncomfortable. I’ve learned through my experiences that students learn best when they are comfortable. Sitting at a desk for the majority of the day is already uncomfortable enough. Coupling this with an itchy, restrictive uniform can cause the student to be more focused on comfort than learning.
● Uniforms can create barriers between teachers and students. Although the teachers are not the decision makers when it comes to dress code and uniforms, they are often the enforcers. Teachers already have a difficult job and requiring teachers to be the ‘wardens of dress’ only provides another opportunity to create division in the school.
So, where do you stand on this issue? There are advantages and disadvantages as with all things, but do you feel like one view is better than the other? There seems to be a good argument for both sides, but does either side have data to suggest theirs is better? I believe dress codes are needed and good practice. I also believe that students should be allowed to get involved in the argument and team together to help the school decide on appropriate and inappropriate dress. This reduces division amongst teacher, students, and administrators while fostering a sense of importance to the students. Where do you stand? Comment and tell us what’s on your mind.