As if back to school shopping weren’t a big enough industry already, many schools, including public ones, are backing uniforms as a way forward for students. And it’s not fashion-forward.
And school uniform requirements are definitely on the rise. The National Center for Education Statistics found that “..from 1999–2000 to 2015–16, the percentage of public schools reporting that they required students to wear uniforms increased from 12 to 21 percent.”
If your school opts for the uniform route, get ready for the country club era magic of collared shirts and khaki pants, of plaid skirts that look adorable on a kindergartner and just plain awkward on a high school senior. And, if your school is still free dress, prepare to still pretty much hate whatever your child decides to don. Some things are just universal.
Why Uniforms are Popular
There’s a prevailing opinion regarding uniforms in schools that they’re a great equalizer. Rather than allowing for displays of expensive clothing on a daily basis, or clothing based upon social status, uniforms are supposed to make everyone, well, uniform in appearance.
This uniformity is supposed to cut down on violence, exclusionary social tactics, as well as raise grades. Some of this might be accurate; some simply isn’t backed up by real science.
One uniform study from the University of Nevada surveyed students from three middle schools (that’s a 49 question survey given to 1,350 students, a difficult task in a population that can’t turn reliably turn in homework on time). While 90% of the students surveyed said they hated the uniform policy, “…various benefits to wearing uniforms were reported, including decreases in discipline, gang involvement and bullying; and increases in safety, ease of going to school, confidence and self-esteem,” the U of N researchers reported.
But while this self-reported information might have some merit, other researchers haven’t found convincing causation when it comes to academic performance. Virginia Draa, an assistant professor at Youngstown State University, told Vittana there’s simply “…too much variation in curriculum, instructional methods, and other complicating factors of school attendance to make such a connection. There is evidence that suspension rates, attendance rates, and graduation rates are improved, which can lead to the claim of better learning, but no direct correlation to individual grades. “
Still, schools with uniform policies do seem to be more peaceful places. The Journal of School Violence (yes, there really is such a journal, although it sounds totally fake), found students thought their peers were better behaved when wearing uniforms, leading to an increase in perceived safety and a decrease in bullying. And, nine out of ten teachers agreed bullying appeared to subside.
Uniforms Are Thought to Be Cost-Effective
One of the driving “yes to uniforms” beliefs is that a uniform saves money. Those back-to-school dollars, once spent at Target and beyond, are now confined to Dennis Uniform and Land’s End (there’s really only a few uniform companies, creating somewhat of a monopoly). Buy a few uniform options and you’re all done for the year.
Well, not really.
A 2009 article in Family and Consumer Sciences had this to say about the supposed “savings” created by uniform policies:
“The results suggest that, on average, consumers do not substitute uniforms for other apparel purchases. Rather, uniforms and nonuniform apparel appear to be complements in consumers’ purchases, resulting in greater household expenditures on non-uniform apparel. These results are a first step in understanding the economic effect that uniform purchases, mandated by employers, schools, or others, have on household clothing expenditures.”
In other words, uniforms might actually be a financial burden for some families. Maybe that’s why, for decades, uniforms were the sole provenance of private schools.
Blogger and author Christina Simon of the blog and book “Beyond the Brochure,” sends her kids to private Los Angeles schools. She likes the uniform policy.
“Viewpoint has uniforms for lower and middle school and no uniforms for high school,” Simon tells Parentology of her kids’ school. “I’m a big fan of school uniforms, especially for middle school, which is difficult enough without having to worry about what to wear.”
However, she admits there are always workarounds in any policy. While private schools often have free dress days, there are other ways for wealthier kids to display on a daily basis.
“Our school has enough free dress days to make the kids feel like they have some freedom,” Simon says. “Of course, shoes, jewelry and other accessories allow kids to express themselves. Sometimes, a school uniform worn with $800 shoes seems to defeat the purpose of the uniform but that’s the exception. Overall, my kids were relieved at not having to focus on their clothing every day.”
Also, there are private schools that not only have uniforms, they have seasonal uniforms. That means every year, you’re spending on two different uniform sets, plus all the other clothing your kid will wear the rest of the time. That’s no money saver.
If your school has uniforms, haunting the used uniform sales for gently worn, not too smelly other people’s outgrown items will become de rigueur. You’ll be in good company — think the frenzied scene at a Filene’s Basement sale.
If the Jury’s Out on Uniform Benefits, What About Free Dress?
Most schools that don’t have uniforms do have some sort of dress standards, probably along the lines of “no shirt, no shoes, no scholastics.” Unless the school is being sexist and outlawing leggings, shorts and sleeveless tops just for girls. Yes, this has occurred to many a teen’s and parent’s outrage.
Still, most free dress schools are pretty mellow about what kids wear. This allows your child to express themselves through their wardrobe choices. This can be a good thing, at least compared to the rebellions that can occur in a uniform setting.
The 1980’s trends at Los Angeles‘ Westlake School for Girls (now Harvard Westlake, coed, and with no uniform policy) included super-short, pleated skirts with wildly colorful boys’ boxers underneath, often rendering the skirt more the size of a large cummerbund. Not exactly what the school administration had in mind.
Some benefits of free dress include more student creativity, less cost to parents (the aforementioned double clothing costs), and virtually no difference in academic performance.
The downside? That age-old situation of hating virtually everything your teen wears. Take hesh, for instance. Once a skater trend, hesh has hit the middle and high schools hard.
According to The Urban Dictionary, “hesh” is defined thusly:
“ in the skating world; hesh is the style that says you don’t give a f*ck. Except, now that’s it’s been labeled, no one is really hesh. You dig? The dudes with the tighter pants, smaller shirts, mesh back hats, and high top shoes…are generally hesh…but sh*t, if you say you’re hesh, then you’re not really hesh! You’re not supposed to care, dumb*ss.”
On the plus side, you’ll save money because hesh is primarily a thrifting expedition to Goodwill and beyond. It’s cheap. On the downside, it’s clashing and decidedly unflattering, causing one befuddled private school dad to comment, “I just don’t understand why my daughter wants to look like a sister wife.”
So, whether it’s high-waisted hot pants or floor-brushing prairie skirts, jeans that won’t stay up or pants waiting for a flood, a nose-piercing or a full-on ear party, there will always be something for you, as the parent, to hate.