On Dress Codes and Uniforms

uniformAt a recent poker night with a bunch of jeans-clad parents (age 35 to 55) I heard the following comments:

“I like uniforms for school kids because it removes the competition over dress and makes it easier to get them dressed and off to school in the morning.”

“The kids might as well get used to it. They’re going to face dress codes of one kind or another the rest of their lives.”

“I don’t think suits and ties are necessary any more, but I think people should dress properly at work — sloppy dress is a sign of disrespect towards the customer.”

“One thing I hate is being in a store or restaurant and not being able to pick out the employees — they at least should have to wear a uniform, and a distinctive one.”

“What they allow on the golf course now is ridiculous — jeans and frayed short shorts and t-shirts don’t belong on the golf course.”

“All I know is the people at work who dress the most conservatively get promoted fastest and most often, so until that changes I’m wearing a suit and tie.”

“Where I draw the line is the t-shirts that have political or drug messages or profanity. That’s too much.”

What happened to these people when they grew up? Talk to young people and they almost all would prefer if life were free of dress codes and uniforms. Is this really just “a phase they’re going through”. Or do we really get inculcated with the conformist propaganda of our culture as we get older, and go from being part of the solution to part of the problem? And is there perhaps a bit of jealousy involved (“I have to/had to wear a uniform so it’s only fair everyone else should too”)?

The official propaganda from the US Government is that uniforms for schoolchildren improve discipline and concentration and reduce violence, theft, and peer pressure, and also ‘red flag’ outsiders and gang members. There is absolutely no compelling evidence for this claim (and even some striking evidence to the contrary), so why would the government make such claims? Because they want their citizens to be obedient, passive, and as much alike as possible. This is why the military demands uniforms, taken to an extreme degree, even though varied attire would be harder for enemy troops to spot. Employers, of course, want the same thing. So, I suspect, do a lot of parents.

What is the matter with us that we don’t see uniforms and dress codes for what they are: An attack on our freedom and individuality, an attempt to make us conform and behave as much alike as possible, to be as much alike as possible? It shows how perceptive ee cummings was when he wrote:

to be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day,  
to make you everybody else
means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight,
and never stop fighting
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33 Responses to On Dress Codes and Uniforms

  1. Aleah says:

    Actually, I have heard some very cool people who, because they feel that teen fashion is so expensive and so difficult for them (parents) to budget in, are favor of (unisex) uniforms. Growing up I recall how awful it was when I would come to school in no-name brands. Kids were very aware of who could afford them, and those kids were deemed “cool.” I realize that kids will accessorize with all the latest hair, skin and foot ware, but the uniform does alleviate some of the pressures of buying brand name clothes. Kids will still have freedom to express themselves thru this. They can dye their hair, pierce their nose, whatever. Even as I kid I wished for basic uniforms (not the ridiculously short skirts the Catholics favor), but some basic pants and shirts that are unisex. Why? That’s how bad it was to not fit in to the whole label pushing scene.You’re right – I am sure the uniform is used to make everyone “an obedient citizen.” But we are supposed to be little brand monkeys, too. Hardly a call to be different in the fashion world.What’s more important about being unique is inside, not hitched to our clothing. I want my kids to know they can express their individuality in their actions, words and creativity.

  2. Rayne says:

    Bravo, Aleah. Second that. Dave, I’ll bet you’ve not had to deal with an 8-year-old unleashing her innermost creativity in the last 15 minutes of pre-commute time in the morning, crying hysterically that her friends will hate her for not wearing the coolest outfit or for wearing PINK. OH.MY.GOD.NOT.THE.PINK!!! or the lace or a dress or whatever is uncool at the moment. And cool changes with the wind; pink was da bomb but is now so last week…There is a middle ground here; the Catholic school I attended asked that all students wear navy blue slacks or skirts, any color button-down shirt from Monday through Thursday; Friday was “free day”, where anything was permitted except jeans or sleeveless shirts. Worked quite well; I never felt like I was looked down on by my wealthier peers, never felt out of place or self-conscious, still could express myself, didn’t cost my parents an arm and a leg (those plaid wool numbers can cost a mint!).In the end, it really is about the learning, not about the fashion. It’s about the material they cram into their heads, not what they wear on their bodies. If I don’t put my foot down and draw a line on this value, where will my kids learn this? Giving them free rein whenever and on whatever they like when they really aren’t able to make fully informed decisions is neglectful — no different than expecting a child to pick out the right foods to eat. They need forming and guidance, and that comes with boundaries. That might be the most important thing I teach them, that there are limits and they need to recognize them even when noone else will.

  3. Raging Bee says:

    Damn right, Rayne. The most important lesson kids can learn is that true individuality comes from what’s inside, not what is worn on the outside. Uniforms — or at least a bare-bones dress-code — help to erase class and cultural barriers and reinforce the all-important message that we’re all subject to the same rules, and judged by the same standards.Bringing tired old slogans about “fascist conformity” into this debate does the kids no good at all. In fact, it only reinforces the wrong message, that you are what you wear, not what you learn or do.

  4. Raging Bee says:

    Another note about “fascist conformity:” 95% of a kid’s clothing decisions are made based on peer pressure and/or group (gang?) identity, NOT on individual self-expression. Why is that less “an attempt to make us conform and behave as much alike as possible” than clothing decisions mandated by adults?

  5. Emily says:

    While we grumped at the time, I remember very much appreciating the fact that at my school, we wore uniforms. I was by far the poorest kid in my class and it was a huge relief to be able to dress the same as all of my peers. There was something about wearing uniforms that increased feelings of belonging and solidarity.

  6. When I was just a kid I worked for a Catholic skirt & etc. company. I don’t think being forced to wear something ever did anything to these young girls. I think I’m sorry that I’ve never felt the “right” way about these same girls since those days. Hmm. Ugh…

  7. Indigo says:

    I too was one of the poorer kids in my community and always out of fashion. I remember getting a $500 scholarship from a community group when I was in high school and using it all to buy clothes in an attempt to finally fit in. I also remember being ridiculed for many years and on many occasions for wearing no-name everything, or worse, home made clothes (my mother is a great seamstress). In a way I might have felt a sense of safety hiding behind a uniform, but then I might have fretted over being able to afford the uniforms! Who needs to be picked on for having only one blue skirt? As much as I might like to pretend that there is an easy answer for the kids now facing the discomfort I once faced, really I think the answer is much more challenging. Parents who can’t compete in the brand wars will have to find a way to instill a sense of self-worth in their children that is not about fitting in with peer groups that focus on outer appearances or economic status. There must be a community of peers the children can find that are raised with deeper values. We must hope that if we raise our children that way they will be able to find other children who also have been prepared for true self-esteem.. Then whether their school requires uniforms or not, they will be prepared to accept that no matter what you wear some people won’t like you, and that’s about them.

  8. medaille says:

    No offense, but you guys are missing the problem. The problem isn’t so much, how do we prevent kids from feeling badly by giving them uniforms and preventing others from criticizing them. I think it is instead how do we prevent them from having to needlessly suffer from the forces created by our cultures desire for conformity. Instead of having to change every single person in our society to a conformist ideal and then to fix all the problems it spawns, it would be much more efficient to change the culture so that it automatically encourages people to grow into who they already are. If people were actually comfortable with themselves and how they are different than everyone else, there would be much less animosity towards those whose parents can’t afford to conform. It would be killing two birds (or a whole flock) with 1 stone.Thats just my thoughts though.

  9. medaille says:

    School uniforms are a band-aid just like every other “solution” our government and our society promote. It doesn’t fix the problem, it just prevents you from seeing what the actual problem is. This results in the problem manifesting itself in other hidden ways and makes it harder to solve.There is no money to be made if their are no problems for companies to fix for us.

  10. Dave Pollard says:

    Thank you Medaille! That was precisely my point. And Indigo has pointed out the enormous challenge we face to overcome it. Our children are the only hope for the future, and if we can’t show them how to rise above the petty jealousies and superficial one-upmanship and cliquishness of the agonizing teenage years, there is no hope for us. As in all things we need to set an example, by flaunting the dress codes that dog us everywhere in our adult years, and celebrating each and every blow against fashion slavery, everywhere, at every age.

  11. Cyndy says:

    As I was raising my kids, I often thought uniforms would be a nice way to go simply for the ease and not having to hear them whine about the ‘cool’ brands that were in and 3 times as expensive as others. In retrospect I think I would have missed out on an important aspect of teaching them that clothes don’t make the person. My son still remembers a talk we had while waiting in line to purchase school clothes one year. I had refused to buy something and kept telling him he wasn’t a cow going to feed with the other cows. It made an impression.My daughter, who lives in Chicago in the midst of fashion, loves to come back home and shop instead at our second-hand clothing store. Neither are slaves to brands. I think that had they worn uniforms in school they could feasibly be trying to compensate now because they didn’t have to deal with the peer pressure early on. Workplace dresscodes drive me nuts. We are adults and we can make judgements for ourselves. If, in my job, I am crawling around on the floor often, say installing computers, but the dresscode of my department says I need to wear a skirt because that is the professional thing to do, you can bet I will buck the system in a very determined manner. I dare say that since the Bush admin came onboard, and instilled the dresscode for women in the white house, requiring them to wear skirts, corporate US has followed and conformed right in step.

  12. Raging Bee says:

    …it would be much more efficient to change the culture so that it automatically encourages people to grow into who they already are. Um…that’s kinda what uniforms — or minimum dress-codes of the type Aleah describes — are supposed to help accomplish: by restricting kids’ leeway to obsess on clothes (and waste their parents’ money following pointless fads devised by God-knows-who for God-knows-what purpose), we encourage them to find other, more meaningful ways to stand out among their peers. And, judging from the anecdotal evidence I’ve read here, it does have a real, positive effect, at least on some kids. Part of growing up is learning from one’s elders that clothes aren’t as important as learning and experience.The very least I can say on this issue, is that I’ve NEVER heard ANYONE say that their personal growth was noticeably enhanced by the unlimited freedom to wear whatever they wanted (or whatever their peers expected them to wear), accessorize without limit, and keep up with the Joneses 24/7 in grade school, high school or college. Nor, so far, have I heard anyone say that being required to wear a uniform was, in itself, a spirit-crushing, traumatic experience. My grandmum wore a uniform in college and was a fun-loving, intelligent, free-thinking person for as long as I knew her.(PS: How does one “grow” into “who they already are?” Isn’t it the point of growth to become someone BETTER than who one already is?)

  13. Aleah says:

    Dave, You are arguing a very idealistic point that loses its ground when you consider the reality of the situation. You argument reminds me of the argument some hard-core animal rights activists have against animal welfare groups like the Humane Society. HSUS declares it a victory for chickens when battery cages are no longer used by certain corporations. Animal Rights philosophy says, “Whoa, don’t be glad about that! You are selling out to a band aid solution.” (I.e. accepting the offer of no battery cages rather than firmly demanding that chickens not be processed or eaten, period.)While I respect your philosophy, I think the argument Rayne and I were making is simple: When you are arguing ideals with a crying child, or you are that crying child, ideologies mean nothing. The reality is this, you can make the lives of kids easier and teach them compassionate values at the same time. If this is inconsistent, well, people are inconsistent – The world is inconsistent. Teach them to understand that they live in a world that unfairly judges people based on property and value. Explain the significance behind uniforms, the good and the bad. They are still getting the full spectrum of the issues at hand and will be more prepared to make their own healthy decisions as adults.Just as I am not happy that chickens are slaughtered en masse, I am willing to bend to the whims of those with more power, if it means the chickens will live battery-cage free (I.e. suffer less) in the meantime. If that makes me a sell-out, well so be it. No matter how spectacular I am as a parent, I know my child will come face-to-face with kids who were raised by parents with completely different values. At least they will understand that clothes are clothes – and not “statements.” It occurs to me that we are all of like mind in wanting to dismantle the current value based system, but have different thoughts on the MO – where the academic versus front line perspectives clash.

  14. Howard says:

    I would like to suggest that for those that believe wearing uniforms mitigates the effects of peer pressure, promotes fairness, makes life more convenient, etc., they are in fact merely decieving themselves of the truth of society. The pressure, the unfairness, inconvenience, or what not is always going to be there; we face these things as long as we are a part of society. There is nothing wrong with letting kids face this reality, it is a process that everyone will go through; why not let people learn to deal with these things early, under a relatively more controlled school environment? Suppose one lives all of his school life under the “protection” of a uniform, what happens when he leaves school and faces reality? Can we expect him to be better adapted than someone who actually dealt with the problems associated with the clothing one wears? As much as most of us dislike it, clothes do “make the man”. All other things being equal, one with more financial resources has a definite edge in our current capitalist oriented society. Class distinction is inevitable in our society, and we should teach our children not by hiding them from the problems, but by letting them have a chance to actually confront the problems. To sum things up, making children wear uniforms does have its advantages, but it does not help to solve the problems that it purportedly tries to prevent, it merely hides them, and unfortunately that is often enough for some people to pretend that somehow the problems can be solved this way.

  15. Raging Bee says:

    Suppose one lives all of his school life under the “protection” of a uniform, what happens when he leaves school and faces reality? Can we expect him to be better adapted than someone who actually dealt with the problems associated with the clothing one wears?Do you have any evidence that people who wore uniforms in school were in any way worse off for it than those who didn’t? I don’t.

  16. Tim says:

    Generally I would call myself rather liberal, but in this case I have to agree with those who are in favor of school uniforms. It makes the pupils alike, that’s true. But in this case I don’t think it’s a bad thing! It takes the ‘stress’ and competition away that children or teens have to endure all the time as to who has the hippest, coolest and most expensive clothes etc. I don’t see it as a brainwashing thing. And the kids can still wear what they want outside the school.

  17. Raging Bee says:

    …making children wear uniforms does have its advantages, but it does not help to solve the problems that it purportedly tries to prevent, it merely hides them…How, specifically, is this true? What problems, exactly, do uniforms “hide” rather than “solve?” The anecdotes posted here strongly indicate that some sort of dress-code does indeed solve several real problems, most notably by reducing clothing costs, and helping to break down class barriers that are otherwise reinforced every school day when the richest kids are allowed to wear the flashiest clothes and rub the poorest kids’ noses in their “inferiority.” This does not erase the real gap between rich and poor, of course, but it does reduce its impact on the educational environment; and this is a good thing in itself.

  18. Kang says:

    Great comment! Uniforms are exactly that…a way of achieving conformity and control. The best comment I heard from anyone one this subject was my son’s Cub Scout Den Mother. She was from Germany and lived through the NAZI regime during WW-II. She simply said that “the NAZI’s demanded that all school children wear uniforms…and look where that got them…” While I am sure that equating NAZI’s with school kid’s uniforms is extreme, it is still a valid historical point. America is about “Freedom”…the right for us to be an indiviual is the very core of who we are. They will have to conform later on in the corporate world regardless of what they do in their childhood; so let them be children!

  19. Raging Bee says:

    While I am sure that equating NAZI’s with school kid’s uniforms is extreme, it is still a valid historical point.No, it’s not. The Nazis also had cops to police their streets; does this fact alone mean that a free society shouldn’t have cops?

  20. medaille says:

    I think the big misconception here is that “reality” is what it is and we can’t change it. In my mind, “reality” is constantly changing. I think it is clear that reality has changed quite a bit even in the last hundred years. I mean can people even imagine what reality was like before the internet or tv or radio? Can you imagine what reality was like before millions of people started wasting millions of person-hours a day sitting in rush hour? The point I was trying to make is that reality is going to change into something different than what it is now, so shouldn’t we try to steer it in a direction that makes it easier for us to live how we please. Wouldn’t it make sense to have reality be supportive of us and not trying constantly pressure us into a bad situation. I realize that its hard to argue with a small child and that uniforms make it easier but I’m not talking at all about uniforms specifically. I’m talking about culture, society, and reality. The issue of peer pressure is certainly not limited to clothing. It also has a lot to do with other more difficult issues such as binge drinking, depression, suicide, abusive parents, the overexposure and desensitivity to violence and sex, high divorce rates and unhappy marriages, teen pregnancy and abortion, the lack of the ability to think for one’s self (even though most people think they are thinking for themself), the inability for people to realize that their lives are constantly a struggle just to “make ends meet” while all of their money goes to some guy who owns an oil field or a large corporation. Those are all problems that simply changing clothes doesn’t fix. You can either try to fix them all separately. This will result in significant struggle because you would be fighting directly against the forces reality (as it is now) exerts on the citizens, but if we could (which we can) change reality to try to allow the forces to help us instead of working against us, then we wouldn’t have to struggle so much fixing the problems or letting them manifest in the way they currently are.

  21. medaille says:

    If reality didn’t encourage conformity, parents could spend less time trying to teach their kids how to “deal” with reality and instead could teach them how to better fulfill their potential, or become better people spiritually (which should be at the top of everyone’s list assuming they are spiritual to being with). Do we really need to deal with things such as holocausts or genocides that occur solely because a population fails to accept differences in others? Do we need to live in a society where half the population thinks the other half are the enemy. Why are we all being encouraged to eat fast food more often? Surely, the creator didn’t think that injecting artificial chemicals into food was proper or (s)he would have done it (him/her)self. (as if adding the s & her allow me to not limit the definition of God :) ) The reason that Uniforms are a band-aid is that they don’t fix the forces that pressure people into conforming (manipulation in a bad direction), they only fix the symptoms (ie. peer pressure as it deals with brand name clothing and whining children that parents have to deal with in the morning). As far as what I mean by becoming who we already are: If we were to live in a society that didn’t try to change us at all, we would become one version of ourself and I think that is pretty close to who we are (or our soul is), whereas currently we are heavily influenced into being an alternate form of ourselves, one that is coincidentally a lot like everyone else (or what you see on tv) in this country. This current form I think is really different from the first version in most peoples cases and I think that it is tied directly into peoples’ desire for material possessions as fulfillment since they cannot be content with who they are (since their soul is didn’t change, but their conciousness did. I’m speculating here though).

  22. Rayne says:

    Wow. Bet you didn’t expect this kind of reaction to school uniforms, huh, Dave? ;-)Look, I don’t think school uniforms are enough to make people blindly conformist. (Wearing uniforms did NOT make people Nazis; it was their values or lack thereof that did.) My kids are the least conformist I know — but that’s a state of mind, not what they wear. Kids already do wear a uniform of sorts; here in our public schools they all wear blue jeans every day. It’s a uniform of choice. It’s driven in part by kids’ innate need to have a sense of belonging. Think about it; in cultures used to dense population, it’s easy to pick off the one that stands out too much, not unlike a school of fish. There may be a hardwired and necessary reason why kids seek uniformity even when they have choice. I don’t think we’ve done enough research into this area of behavior yet.We also can’t assume that kids are learning any real values just because they can freely choose their clothing; the kids I know who are permitted utter freedom to do so are some of the most spoiled brats I’ve ever run into. Uniforms don’t prevent brats, either…it’s about the parenting, not about the uniform, not about the clothing. Good parenting means being able to say no and mean it, even when it’s challenging and hurtful to say no.It took about two years and a number of tearful mornings before my daughter figured it all out; it’s a dialogue, a lengthy one, that needs to take place in order to transfer the right values. We won’t wear a designer’s name on our bodies since we are not billboards. We don’t need to pay a premium for a brand-name when all we need is a simple, well-made t-shirt. We don’t abuse our clothing, discard it and expect to run out and buy new to replace it without making any attempt to repair the damage. We buy natural fibers whenever possible, not synthetics made from oil…and so on. Believe me, in this consumerist day and age, my kids are definitely non-conforming when they live these values — uniforms or no.

  23. otterhound says:

    Wow, something strange happened in the last 30 years. When I was in high school, in the early 1970s, brands were irrelevant. It was a complete non-issue in my middle-class public school. Shows how well marketeers have improved their brainwashing skills in the last 30 years.

  24. Howard says:

    In response to Raging Bee’s “Do you have any evidence…”. I do not have statistics, but let me elaborate from personal experience: If uniforms indeed help to educate people about proper attitudes and values, it should be safe to assume that in a society where everyone is made to wear uniforms, everyone would have the “correct” ideas about the “true” meanings of clothing, however, this is definitely not the case, at least in Taiwan, where I recieved my primary, secondary, and post-secondary education, almost every school under the college level requires students to wear uniforms, yet even so, when students finally do get into college, materialistic attitudes are still prevalent, and the “rich” (or those who would like to be percieved as rich) quickly show discernable differences from the “poor” with regard to their style of dress. Now, in response to Raging Bee’s next comment “How, specifically, is this true?” I would like to say that the example I have produced illustrates this. If merely enforcing a dress code can indoctrinate students with a “healthy” attitude towards their perception of how they dress themselves, then it should follow that after undergoing a long period (at least twelve years here in Taiwan) of such “training,” we could expect to see these student abide by this kind of attitude even after the dress code is removed, as when they move on to college, but it nonetheless glaringly obvious here that many of them are still bent on flaunting their affluence among peers. As such, I say that uniforms merely hide problems since the problems immediately resurface after the uniforms are no longer required. P.S. Could someone tell me how to format these posts? Do I need to use HTML code? Or is the simplicity by design?

  25. Raging Bee says:

    If uniforms indeed help to educate people about proper attitudes and values, it should be safe to assume that in a society where everyone is made to wear uniforms, everyone would have the “correct” ideas about the “true” meanings of clothing…Please note the word “help” in the above quoted text. A reasonable restrictive dress-code is PART of the solution, not a whole or final solution: it sends a clear message, and improves the educational environment in which it is enforced (and saves parents money). Of course, not everyone will take the message to heart — but that’s true of any message you put out to large numbers of people. Not all kids come out of a school equally smart; does this mean the school is a failure?Just because a particular policy does not solve some huge problem in its entirety, does not mean it is a failure, or counterproductive, or “hides” the problem, or doesn’t offer a significant improvement that makes it worthwhile. Don’t mock short-term solutions — sometimes they’re all that’s available, and they’re better than no solution at all.This is why many would-be reformers fall on their faces and sink into a funk of irrelevance: in their search for the One Big Final Solution to Everything (or merely to avoid tough choices), they mock, ridicule, and disregard other people’s ideas as “shortsighted” or “band-aid” solutions, and thus have no backup plan when the One Big Final Solution fails to materialize. The perfect is the enemy of the good.PS: Use two [br] tags for paragraph breaks.

  26. Raging Bee says:

    Incidentally, if anyone here is tired of talking about clothes and looking for a REAL “attack on our freedom and individuality,” a REAL “attempt to make us conform and behave as much alike as possible, to be as much alike as possible,” to get pissed about, then check this out:http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050526/NEWS01/505260481

  27. medaille says:

    Raging Bee, [br][br] I don’t think that anyone doubts the short term merits of school uniforms in their ability to reduce peer pressure due to clothing. I think the effect is limited only while they are wearing them. Any benefits with regard to being able to cope with the pressures don’t come from wearing uniforms, but from being taught by parents or teachers or something. So, in my mind, since you have to teach them how to cope anyway, why not do it when they are young and easily malleable instead of after they’ve had enough been taught how life is by MTV for a decade.[br][br]I’m certainly not trying to mock school uniforms, but if the solution is to use school uniforms to fix the problem, aren’t we as a society forever bound to buy massive amounts of school uniforms? I mean how else are our children going to be able to cope? It seems to me to be exactly the same as overprescribing ritilin to “cure” ADD, or being tied to high blood pressure medication, when a possible solution would be to lose weight and be free of the medicine completely.[br][br]When looking at your REAL attack, It doesn’t seem any more REAL then the problem of what causes peer pressure (which is different from the problem most of the people have been talking about which is “how do we protect them from peer pressure” instead of “how do we make peer pressure nonexistent?”). The only reason why I think you see it as being REAL is that the solution is incredibley easy in comparison. In fact its equally as easy as implementing school uniforms. All it requires is making a law that says “dont hate pagans” or “don’t ridicule other students based on their clothing.” It like school uniforms is just a method of trying to regulate peoples actions creating an arbitrary law. While regulating peoples actions is important to ensure the short term well-being of the downtrodden, it doesn’t fix the problem. It doesn’t make people say, “you know what, those pagans aren’t so bad. they’re not really that different from me after all.” It just uses a police force to say, “If you don’t agree with us (through actions), then you’ll be punished.” There is no possible way that any police force on earth could enforce all the laws required to regulate all of our civilizations problems and all it would result in is lots of people being punished and imprisoned. Wouldn’t it make sense to teach people how to just get along instead, rather then punishing them for stepping out of line?[br][br]Am I making any sense to anybody here? Could somebody rephrase what I’ve been saying so I know that you guys are actually understanding what I proposed.

  28. Dave Pollard says:

    I knew this post would spark comment, but I didn’t expect this much. I was hoping to hear more views about the psychological damage of dress codes on adults. This is an intriguing discussion, but I’m still with Medaille on this. I’m not averse to compromise, but the latest one in the US Congress is about to confirm a whole slew of right-wing extremists who put ideology above the law — into positions of legal power, for lifelong terms. I also applaud Otterhound’s comment (which resonates with my own high school experience) and Howard’s.

  29. Lia Pas says:

    I went to Catholic schools that had a dress code but didn’t require uniforms (though I still don’t understand why we weren’t allowed to wear shorts, but girls could wear short short skirts). I was raised in a family where individuality was wholly encouraged, and when the question of name brands came up, there was always the “why would you ever want to be like everyone else” talk matched with an attempt (usually successful) to find a piece of clothing that looked almost exactly like the one we wanted, but without the brand name attached (and therefore about 1/3 of the price.)Being raised in this environment I have prized my individuality and creativity to the utmost and have worked in creative employment for a long time because of it. However, at the moment I am teaching English at a Senior High School in Japan. I am required to dress a particular way (though I refuse to wear a suit jacket to anything but the most official ceremonies), and all the students at my school are required to wear uniforms, have the same hairstyles, have no piercings and to wear no makeup. Conformity is the norm here and I have seen it leach out into the rest of society. Coming from a highly individualistic household and living and working in Japan as a foreigner means I will NEVER fit in here – and I wouldn’t want to. But as far as making people not compete with each other, I have found the uniforms create an even more bloodthirsty type of competition. Name brands are everywhere in Japan. If someone doesn’t own a Louis Vuitton bag they are outcast. The same students who wear uniforms during the day dress in micro-miniskirts, high high-heeled boots, wear a lot of makeup and tight tops when I see them downtown. But they are still all dressed the same. As for the psychological damage on adults – here they conform to the work and societal dress codes. Anything different is seen as potentially damaging to “the group” and “the culture.” Of course, Japan has its own history and culture andafter living and working here for 2 years I can’t even begin to try to understand most of it, but I know that my work environment is a bit like a factory farm, churning out like-minded clones of conformity.On a happier note – this summer I’m returning to school to get my MA in Theatre. I’m sure the culture shock is going to be something else!

  30. Howard says:

    I concur with Medaille. To rephrase, as Medaille says, I would say that many of the positive effects of a dress code disappear as soon as the dress code is no longer in effect. Those who want to show-off will do so as soon as they take off their uniforms. The dress simply alleviates the symptoms for the few hours during school time. The problem is in fact exacerbated since it is often the case that the rich kids can switch on their fancy accouterments right after school, while the poor kids might be seen hanging out after school still dressed in uniform or otherwise less fashionable attire–the contrast is so obvious. This has been my own experience as someone who went to school in uniforms for twelve years before entering college. Also, Lia Pas’s experience (school hours vs after school) with Japanese students closely mirrors my own observations growing up in Taiwan. I think the core of the issue is really that wearing uniforms simply addresses the various problems on the surface level. If we could say(as Raging Bee put it) that it is only natural that some students will “get the message” through wearing uniforms while some will not, then by the same logic we could say that “getting the message” is really an affair independent of uniforms since it is clear that wearing uniforms is not the deciding factor, at least in the cases that I and Lia Pas have observed.

  31. Raging Bee says:

    I think the core of the issue is really that wearing uniforms simply addresses the various problems on the surface level.This is true — but here’s a little secret: kids tend to perceive and function on a surface level! That’s why they get so hung up on clothes, remember? So as long as we know kids perceive on a surface level, why not take this fact into account, and use it to give kids, at every opportunity, the right surface-level message? A message consistently reiterated, for six hours a day, about 180 days a year, is a message that will sink in. And the message that sinks in should be: “You’re here in school to learn, not to show off; you’re all subject to the same rules; your wealth or poverty should not dictate your identity; and you will stand out by your actions, learning and achievements, not by what you wear.” (Anyone have a problem with these messages?)If we don’t try to reinforce these messages, then what alternative message will we allow to sink in?Yes, yes, yes, of course kids will revert to their own fashion “choices” on their own time. So what? I put math out of my mind at the end of every school day, but that doesn’t mean the math classes didn’t do me any good. Some lessons don’t really register for years after they are “learned.”

  32. I have mixed feelings about school uniforms. On one hand I deplore the sameness, the lack of individuality. On the other hand, school was my least favorite experience in life, and clothes were part of the reason. In spite of being an above average student, often labeled gifted, I would lie awake at night dreading school the next day. Why? I was extremely introverted, so I didn’t blend into the group very well to begin with. On top of that I grew up in a household with little money for school clothes, and I was the youngest of three sisters, so that meant a lot of my clothes were hand-me-downs. I was very rarely in fashion. During my teen years I attended a school in a more upscale neighborhood, which made my lack of fashionable clothing stand out even more, at least from my perspective. All of this made for a self-esteem crushing experience.I don’t like the suit and tie types of uniforms. Something more playful or casual is appropriate for kids. They should have fun while learning. Ideally there would be a uniform requirement, but a relaxed style and a wide range of color choices, so kids could express their individuality without fashion and money matters entering into it.

  33. Kevin Carson says:

    Uniforms are all about branding you as property of the organization that issues the uniforms. At one hospital where I worked, I spent several weeks floating from the ward to an office job, where I wore street clothes. When I first saw one of my coworkers from the patient care ward, she said “Oh, they’re letting you wear people clothes!” Exactly. Every day when I finish work, I can hardly wait to strip out of the hospital scrubs that identify me as the chattel of the shithole that employs me, so I can feel like a self-owned human being once more.

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