Uniforms – A Dichotomy

I know this post is going to piss off some people – and I don’t mean to offend…it is just my opinion and my thoughts. I feel as strongly about uniforms as you might – just in a different way.

Another Brick in the Wall

Another Brick in the Wall

When I think of uniforms – three distinct images come to mind.

  • Prisoners – orange jumpsuit anyone?
  • Dystopian novels – most everyone is always wearing a uniform; for some reason the future involves the loss of identity.
  • Totalitarian regimes  – a nice Mao jacket for ya?

And yet many people *love* the idea of putting school children in uniforms – the more conservative the school the more likely uniforms are required.  I find this to be such a bizarro concept.  I identify uniforms with the notions of ‘everyone is the same’ – trying to blend out the socioeconomic differences between people; which seems to carry connotations of socialism/totalitarianism but it is happening in very capitalistic communities, such as private schools.  If you are fiercely capitalistic in your ideology, how can you be in sync with the mindset of making everyone the same? Or is it just a method of control?

On the other hand of bizarro – I lean more towards a socialism ideology (actually I like to blend my ideologies because there are facets worth considering in most of them) yet I ABHOR the idea of putting children in uniforms.  And I’ve heard most all the arguments.  And I still don’t buy it.

Here are a few ~

  • Children wear the same khaki pants and blandiola golf shirt – therefore no one ‘knows’ who’s rich or who’s poor.

I’m pretty sure that some families are buying their kid’s khaki’s at Wal-mart and some are buying them at Nordstroms.  So unless everyone is actually going to an actual ‘uniform’ store, there will be differences in the clothing. No one is fooled.

  • It’s cheaper for the parents – just buying the uniforms

My friend’s child went to a uniform-wearing public school that constantly changed their uniform policy because most of the kids spent their time being subversive (whoo hoo!) and bending the rules about the uniforms. So the administrators kept changing it up – first khaki pants, than khaki pants without back pockets,  then khaki pants with no side pockets etc.   So really, it wasn’t cheaper, it was wasteful.

  • More learning happens when everyone is wearing a uniform

This point makes me want to scream. I learned to think and wore what I wanted. As well, the teachers seem to have to spend MORE time being the uniform police rather than being able to focus on teaching.  I know a young girl that was sent home from school because her scrunchie hairband had blue & red soccer balls.  Blue & red are GANG colors – she must have been in the scrunchie hairband gang. They are a bad lot.

I just don’t understand why we think squashing our children’s individuality is the solution to the problems occurring in academia. To me it seems to be a band-aid solution and a very totalitarian mindset. It’s all about control, conformity, sit there- be quite, be the same, do this and don’t think for yourself.   For me, part of growing up was growing into my own identity, which was expressed in clothing, music, hair etc.

Oh wait – I forgot everyone’s favorite argument –

  • What about the kids that come to school dressed inappropriately? 

Here’s my take on it  – I am not against a dress code (that is reasonable) – I am against being told exactly what I have to wear.  School is not a prison.  School is not a dystopian society.  School is not a totalitarian regime.

People give it up – I want to hear your opinions –  please be respectful. That is all I ask. And know that even though you might be all for uniforms and I am not, it doesn’t make either of us ‘bad’ or ‘good’ – it just makes us have a difference of opinion.

About Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher

I'm a research librarian for Public Television, story teller, bike commuter, baker, music fiend, lover of reading & books, mother, wife, friend - and many more descriptive adjectives and nouns.
This entry was posted in Aversions, Childhood, Children, Philosophy, Random Thoughts, Society and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

86 Responses to Uniforms – A Dichotomy

  1. Pingback: Just your routine blog post | Drinking Tips for Teens

  2. girlseule says:

    Hmmm kids in Australia all where uniforms, I reckoned it was a good thing. I think it did work out a lot cheaper for the parents. I guess it’s just what I’m used to but I wouldn’t like to see it change here. I really don’t think Australian kids and kids in countries that do where uniforms have less individuality than kids where you don’t have to wear a uniform to school. What you wear 6 hours a day, five days a week doesn’t make or break your individuality.

  3. Rohan 7 Things says:

    Really good points. Ideologically I am against uniforms because of the same associations you made at the beginning. But I tell you what, as someone who went to a Jesuit Christian High School I can tell you I quite liked it. And the reason is not any that you mentioned, the reason was pressure. As a teen, like most I assume, I was pretty darn self conscious and just a little insecure when it came to what I wore and how I looked. I tell you, wearing the same thing every day, and the same thing as everyone else was a blessing.

    Working out what to do with my hair was nightmare enough, if I had to think up what to wear every single day I think I would have lost it. As an adult I still wear a uniform, a Rohan uniform!

    A few years back I had a batch of Rohan shirts made up, and the ones I didn’t sell I kept. I have about 15 small Rohan shirts and it’s the only t shirt I wear. The least thought I have to put into my wardrobe the better. Yes I wear the same t shirt, a black t with a grey print of my chest tattoo, every single day. I admit I’m probably an extreme case, but for me at least, uniforms in school were a Godsend, even if I don’t agree with them in principle.

    Really thought provoking post!


    • You are so funny, Rohan. I guess since I had my own black attire to wear, it wasn’t hard to figure out what to wear; no one expected me to dress like I shopped at The Limited or The Gap – not one pair of Guess jeans went on my body…so I kept expectations low and everyone went with it. I struggle with buttons so uniforms are even more of a torture for me. I like having my own identity – even if it’s not stylish.

      I love the Rohan shirt – you should sell them!

  4. I agree with you 100%. Not only do uniforms not do what they are supposed to, we’re not teaching children how to make good decisions about what to wear.

  5. LoveJoy says:

    Yay! So glad to hear someone dislikes uniforms as much as I do. I actually didn’t mind short time in my childhood that I had to wear uniforms. I found trying to keep up with fashion far more oppressive (but teenagers are meaner, I’d have to see what uniforms at that age would have been like). What I don’t like, is the expected ‘uniform’ of the work place as an adult. So here’s when I understood how much I needed *complete* freedom of dress: I was having a hard time at a previous job when a friend offered me a detailed list written by her friend in management with tips for being successful at work. There was really golden advice on this list, but the only tip that stood out on the list was “dress for the job that you want.” It implied that if you want a good/respectable/higher level perhaps job then you should dress accordingly. I understood then and there, I did not want to work anywhere that had a dress code! I wanted to dress for the job where I come in with the funkiest outfit possible. It was quite the revelation. Profound even, because it was the beginning of my search for different employment and the freeing of my previously repressed artistic side. I’d waited half my life and way into adulthood to dress the way I really wanted to and now I had to look ‘professional?’ I couldn’t do it anymore. If I’m going to be judged on my appearance anyway then let me look authentically me. I even created a section on my blog dedicated to it originally called “Just Say No to Dress Code” because I wanted to share this story, but changed it to “The Rainbow Connection.” It’s still a work in progress but anyway…yes! I feel you all the way!

    • Yay! I loved your response – I will definitely check out your stuff. I went the librarian/academia route with some IT on the side, that way I could stick with my favorite slovenly yet funky look that I’ve cultivated since my early 20s. I think if you want to ‘get ahead’ you should be possibly be judged on how well you do that job instead of how much of a crease is in your generic blandiola professional ‘uniform’.

  6. A.J. Goode says:

    I detest the idea of school uniforms for so many reasons, but especially because I think uniforms emphasize some of the very attributes that make some kids outsiders. If a kid is “Husky” like I was, I’m willing to bet that kid needs a “custom” uniform that looks a little different from everyone else. Maybe a tall, skinny boy will have to wear pants that show three inches of ankle, or a busty girl will have to deal with gaping buttons on an unflattering button-down.

    Instead of making the kids all look alike, I think that school uniforms actually emphasize their differences by trying to fit them into a one-size -fits-all mold. Kids are already insecure enough about their appearance — why send them to school in an outfit that makes them self- conscious?

  7. annesquared says:

    I am jumping in wayyy late on this one. Though I went to parochial 1-8, no uniforms. My sibs had to wear them in high school. Each incoming Freshman class had a different plaid that would be worn by the girls in that class for 4 year of high school – thus, identifying them with the group. None of them will wear any variation of plaid to this day.

    The small K-12 my kids attended had a basic khaki pants/shorts/skirt and a variety of shirts were offered in different colors (t-shirts to fleece pullovers) and as long as the school letters/logo were on the top layer, that was acceptable. Shirts were suppose to be tucked in, but everyone realized that was impossible, and they stopped attempting to enforce that rule. Because the school was small and new, it operated on a shoestring budget – as did many of the families. At the end of the year, any clothing that was in decent condition (and no younger kids in the family) could be donated to the school and a “sale” was held so t-shirts could be bought for a dollar and fleece for five.

    My kids and the other kids loved this system. Relaxed enough to be comfortable and no worries about what to wear. Both my kids love going to resale shops and finding bargains, so they had no problem with buying from the “table” – heck, everyone did. Maybe it was more the atmosphere of 300 kids, k-12 all getting to know each other, the parents, and the families….

    But I like a job when I have a “uniform” – it really slows me down if I have to choose an outfit. I love wearing scrubs – comfort, pockets, and no tags to annoy me, and they easily accommodate weight loss or gain and I don’t get grilled on the loss side. I love to shop, but once I find an outfit or two that “work” – I will wear them to death and everything else goes by the wayside.

    • I WISH I could wear scrubs to work every day! I could have coped a little better with a uniform of tee-shirts; and I do like the resale idea for sure.

      Thank you for your insight – I might never get behind uniforms but I always appreciate a different way to think about it. Which is always good for discussion!

      • annesquared says:

        Just a low budget, casual way that I saw work. Maybe it was that the school was very small, also. All the kids knew each other- it’s hard to tease and make enemies when you are with the same small group the entire day.

  8. I went to high school in the early 1980s, when “designer clothing” was all the rave. My perception is that where schools don’t mandate uniforms, savvy clothing designers do by creating “trends” and marketing them as if they were an expression of originality. And yes, they do tend to charge more and change with each passing season.

    • I would agree with the designer clothes trend statement – but those kids in uniforms were still wearing clothing after school and on weekends – and would want it.

      I don’t remember ever changing from my school clothes to my ‘after school’ clothes – so to me having a uniform, on top of all the other points of contention, would be having to buy that as a new & extra set of clothes.

  9. The Waiting says:

    I didn’t have to wear a uniform until I transferred to Catholic school in 10th grade. And? I kind of loved it for no other reason than I didn’t have to think too hard about what I was going to wear each morning. I could focus on the things that really mattered in life, like if I wanted to wear blue or green eyeshadow to school that day.

    • That comment about not stressing about what to wear – that was so not part of my life growing up. I looked in my closet and grabbed a black skirt and then in my drawers and grabbed a black tee shirt – got my black eyeliner on, spritzed my hair right up with Aquanet, put on some black tights and black boots and Voila! I was ‘school ready’ and I had zero hour, which means I had to be a school for my first class at 7AM. Not once did my mom ever have to get me up for school once I made it to high school.
      I always wore copper or dark brown eye shadow – that choice could be tricky.

  10. I once went on vacation. While I was gone, I hung up a shirt and tie in my cubicle. When I came back, there had been little to no work accomplished.

  11. unfetteredbs says:

    I suffered through 8 years of catholic school uniforms. I received many detentions for my argyle socks. I wore colored long Johns under my skirt too. — which was a no no. I also wore izods under my oxfords with my collars poking out. There are ways to rebel always.
    I for one enjoy watching my children dress how they want and become their own individuals. No boring gray skirts and Oxfords.

  12. Vicki Wright says:

    WELL SAID, Ruta. Nothing to add or take away on your piece. I happen to agree 100% with you re school uniforms…. and also all of your obviously well-thought out, reasonable, and also quite persuasive arguments. It is not a “hot topic” for me either, tho. What I DO want to add tho, is that this also is one of the best written pieces I’ve read of yours too. Wow, Ruta…..YOU are impressing the hell out of me….as your writing is getting more and more EXCELLENT every time I read. I like your style! : ) No matter that I agree or if I had disagreed with your opinion ….. this is a GREAT piece of writing ….and on many levels too. So when are you going “professional”? In case, you don’t know it, but you are ALREADY there, my friend.

    Great writing…..period.

    (Great pic too …..”Another Brick in the Wall”….. it is perfect……….. and LOVE that !!!)

    • Aw Vicki – you are too kind!

      I guess if someone gave me a dollar for one of these posts, I’d be PROFESSIONAL!
      But I don’t know – I really don’t know what I’d write that would encompass an entire body of work.

      I still want you to write a post for me – because you are quite an excellent writer, yourself.

  13. djmatticus says:

    School uniforms – worst idea ever.
    When did we decide that schools needed to be so test and results oriented? When did it become more important that every child hit the same milestones at the same age? When did we forget that school is supposed to be about teaching children how to think for themselves, how to become individuals, how to become good social citizens? We need fewer uniform wearing schools, less strict dress codes, less reliance on standardized testing, and more free thinking – more exercises that allow kids to test boundaries and test their limits.

  14. El Guapo says:

    I too am surprised that this is a heated topic.
    Personally, I’m more in favor of a precise dress code, but children who manage to subvert even strict ones should be congratulated, then the dress code should be changed to eliminate whatever it was.

    It’s a pity though that this even needs to be a conversation. How about raising math and reading scores and teaching kids to behave in civil society? Be nice if that was focused on a bit more….

    • ” but children who manage to subvert even strict ones should be congratulated, then the dress code should be changed to eliminate whatever it was.”

      That’s what was happening at my friend’s daughter’s school – and it made for LESS time spent on learning and more on policing.

      I say how about getting rid of scores and the inane testing and teaching children how to critically think instead of pitting them against each other at the same time as telling them to all look and act the same.

      I see plenty of parents that are unable to act in civil society and I would bet their kids may have that as a role model. I would love to consider having a society that doesn’t require parents to work multiple jobs or over 40 hours per week so that they can spend time with their families. All these other problems in our society have bleed into academia – and then it’s all about just keeping order – 38 kids in a classroom is a recipe for disaster – regardless of what anyone is wearing. And I could go on 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’ve gotten into heated arguemetns about uniforms – a lot of the time it’s about the last point (mostly about how females dress – which is a whole different topic – and I think slut shamming is not the answer either).

      I think the interesting thing is that none of this exists in a vacuum – they are all intertwined – but people act as if each social ill is somehow existing on its own and if we just do X, than it takes care of that problem. And I think it works not like that at all.

  15. I agree with you. The world is not one-size-fits-all so we should be teaching our kids to be individuals. There are consquences, good and bad, for how we present ourselves to the world and kids need to learn to take responsibility for the choices they make. When I chose to dress in thrift shop clothes, some people laughed at me and some thought I was cool. There was a lesson in it for me. I don’t think uniforms are a way to even the playing field for the kids as much as an attempt to avoid conflict for the adults. If we avoid conflict, we don’t have to deal with icky things like a kid dressing inappropriately or getting made fun of for being poor. But the kid is dressing like that for a reason and they’re still poor even if they’re wearing a uniform. We can just ignore the underlying problem easier if they’re wearing a uniform. Conflict is an opportunity to teach and to learn. We shouldn’t be teaching kids to avoid it.

  16. Kylie says:

    I wore uniforms for part of my grade school experience, and it wasn’t a big deal. Free dress day at the end of the month was the big deal: what Esprit or Guess outfit was I going to wear? Or knock-off. Maybe it was because I went to private Catholic schools, but just the fact that we were wearing uniforms made me feel set apart when we were out in public. Special, even though we were the opposite of rich. Quite the opposite.
    I go back and forth about how I feel about it for public schools. It would be nice not to battle with my daughter over her outfits all the time–she’s so particular! Uniforms, true uniforms (not dress codes about khaki pants and blue shirts) take a lot of the thought out of it. Then you get to express your individuality with your friendship bracelets or the shorts you’re wearing underneath your kilt. And your hair of course. There are always ways. And there are always ways for kids to figure out a hierarchy with which to torture each other.
    Also, I think school uniforms are cute, especially if they involve a Peter Pan collar.

    • Thank you for your opinion – like with Ross, I’m going to reply when I have a bit more time to give an involved answer 🙂

      • Kylie – I think having a child that is particular about their clothing would actually be hard on the child (and remember, i have a very specific issue with buttons that makes me cringe to think of what my education would be like if I had to wear them) . I would rather be comfortable in what I’m wearing to school as I would be more receptive. I don’t remember my parents being too involved in what black clothing I wore to school – mostly if it had ‘holes’ – we’d fight about that – but I bought my clothing and was responsible for my own self –

        In some schools – you cannot wear any kind of friendship bracelets because they are not part of the uniform or dress code. I would actually vomit if i had to wear anything called “peter pan collar” 🙂 –

        Ah Catholic school uniforms…I think I’d last about 2 minutes in a Catholic school. I wanted to be set apart from the norm but not because I was wearing the same thing as everyone else.

        It’s a topic that has many facets and opinions – Thanks for weighing in with yours!

  17. rossmurray1 says:

    OK, I’ll bite. I would have hated wearing uniforms when I was in school but now I see the value in them, as a parent and as someone who works at a private school.

    First, from a frivolous but practical point of view, the kid knows what she’s going to wear in the morning. That’s time saved, stress eliminated and that’s wonderful.

    Philosophically, the idea behind uniforms is not conformity and totalitarianism. The uniform creates a sense of pride in appearance, a sense of self-discipline in maintaining that appearance, and a sense of pride in belonging to a school community. Uniforms also reduce the hierarchy between teacher-student because the students are dressed in ties, etc. just like the teachers (albeit the teachers are in their individual styles). This makes the classroom more of a collaborative setting than “oppressive.”

    Our school has special days when students can wear whatever they wish (“Free Dress Days,” we call them), and the kids love them! But, I notice that the students are less focused and respectful on those days.

    As for the school that kept changing the rules because the kids kept bending them, it sounds like the administration was afraid to stand behind the rules they created in the first place. Poor administration.

    Think of uniforms as just another school expectation – like being on time, being respectful, doing homework. This is how school works: with control and codes of order and curricula that everyone has to follow and consequences for breaking the rules, yet no one calls the school systems themselves “totalitarian.”We just instill uniforms with this notion of “totalitarianism” because it’s such a visible component.

    • Ross – I will totally be writing a response to this (all valid points you make) – but I have to wait until I have a bit of time.

      • Ok Rosemary – here we go… all with respect and a little tongue in cheek…and a little devil’s advocate.

        For frivolous and for me, that would have created a lot of stress every day of my life. EVERY DAY. As a kid, me deciding what I’m wearing everyday is part of growing up and making decisions about myself.

        I guess I’m not really that enthusiastic about self-discipline, why do I have to maintain self discipline with my appearance? And I would not be so thrilled about looking like everyone else; I had pride in my appearance no matter what I wore – I would have had far less pride if I was forced into a uniform – I would have been angry, uncomfortable etc. I was able to be prideful about the school I went to without having a uniform. I see where you are coming from but I don’t know that I would have the same opinion about cause and effect –

        I don’t know if I agree about the hierarchy – can the students call their teachers by their first names? if not – there’s some hierarchy. And teachers have a dress code not a uniform – so they can stand out but not the students. As for the ties – well, if we’re all wearing shirts – than would the hierarchy be gone? As far as collaboration – if everyone is sitting in rows of desks looking at the teacher in the front of the room – that’s not conducive to collaboration – it’s raising your hand, waiting to be called upon, possibly having to stand up to talk – all things that are about regimented styles of response.

        Free Dress Days: another disagreement with cause and effect – is the cause wearing casual clothing or the cause the special-ness of getting to do that? I was completely respectful at school in a tee shirt and doc martins. I’d be less respectful if we suddenly had a day where I was made to dress in a uniform. Probably b/c I’d be pissed off…

        I totally agree about poor administration – they also sent the soccer girl home for wearing gang colors. They got too focused on making it a tug-of-war with the kids.

        I can’t think of uniforms as you described in your last paragraph – school should be about learning to think, questioning things, be excited about kindling the fire you your brain – not a description of working in a factory. Respect comes when all parties feel respected – not because we are all dressed alike.

        But again – I see your points and they are valid – I just have a different point of view. All is welcomed in my world!

        • rossmurray1 says:

          Thank you for your application to our school but we feel you are not a good candidate at this time…
          Seriously, good points. I had a brief conversation with two kids at lunch today, one of whom is a Cree girl from Northern Quebec in her sixth year boarding here, the other a boy from Wisconsin, just starting, boarding for the first time. She liked the uniform because it put everyone on an equal playing field (in a field where there are clearly extremely rich kids and some [mine] not). She also noted the “respectful” element. The boy wasn’t crazy about the blazer — not out of philosophy but more because it was uncomfortable — but was in favour of a dress code.
          I have less problem with the uniform than I do with restrictions on hair length — for boys! Yeah, that’s right: boys. Girls can wear their hair any length but boys have to keep it short. A topic for another time, perhaps.
          At any rate, you’ve given me a possible subject for our alumni magazine.

        • I think the hair restrictions are in line what my basic philosophy.
          That’s really cool that you talked to some students at your school about this topic – like I say, I am open to all different opinions that are brought about in a respectful and open-minded way.

          The equal playing field is always so interesting b/c we send out kids to these schools in hopes that they go to a great university so they can get a great job and make good money …which puts them out of an equal playing field. See where I’m going with that? 🙂

          Ha ha – I bet they’d have LOVED me at your school. I’d have shaken things up a bit. And rocked the mini skirt. with my black tights and big boots.

        • rossmurray1 says:

          I don’t have a problem with getting a kid into a good school and being successful in life (whether or not they define “success” by $$, which I don’t). Once they’re in the adult world, the field can be slanted as all git out. But here at school, it’s one less distraction to deal with.
          That sounds like a good look, by the way.

    • Jennifer says:

      Wanted to comment, and this is as close to what think, but written way better than I could manage.

  18. The Hook says:

    My wife likes the idea of uniforms, but I’m on the fence.
    You make some great points though – as always!

  19. Ironically, I would not wish uniforms on others (especially kids), but I have always been fond of wearing them. I get lost in the fashion maze and was never capable of making a statement with my clothes (except maybe, “help me”).
    It was one of the better things about serving in the military. Slap me in some camo and send me out the door. Even as a civilian – what? I can only wear khakis and a blue shirt to work? Awesome, I can sleep in another half hour – no decision making necessary. My ideology is tinged with socialism and laziness.

  20. Smaktakula says:

    I’m not sure why this would piss somebody off–I think people get WAY too upset about the opinions of others.

    Having said that, I don’t feel strongly about school uniforms. I imagine I probably wouldn’t have wanted to wear one, but it doesn’t seem that big a deal to me. I’m more concerned with what the schools teach than with what the kids wear.

    • The discussions I’ve had about uniforms in the past have made people very heated –

      I think a lot of it, for me, is that I’m very weird about clothing (ok, buttons) and it would have made it virtually impossible for me to cope if I had to wear a golf shirt daily. And I don’t want to be told what to wear – especially in public schools. For me, it smacks of control. But like I said – it’s just my opinion.

  21. Carrie Rubin says:

    I don’t have strong feelings on it one way or the other, though I do believe children have a right to show their individuality. That being said, I probably would have liked a school uniform when I was a kid because I never had the good clothes. Oh, how I coveted those Calvin Klein and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans all the other girls wore!

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