Plaid Kilt or Mini Skirt? That Is the Question

The debate on school uniforms and dress codes is intensifying as many parents and educators are increasingly concerned about the trend toward inappropriate dress in schools. They feel that implementing mandatory uniforms or dress codes will keep students focused on learning. On the other side some argue that standardized dress stifles individual expression. With the growing movement for freedom of opinion and teenagers' tendency to reject convention, allowing room for individuality in schools is very important. However, is there a limit to freedom of expression when it comes to dress in schools? Does exposing too much skin or wearing clothing with racy slogans draw attention from or offend fellow students? A uniform establishes limits and, well, uniformity, so that students are not distracted by clothing or the lack thereof and puts the emphasis on education rather than appearance.

A dress code or uniform creates an academic environment focused more on learning and less on fashion. The purpose of school is to enhance students' knowledge not to show off a new top. Allowing students to wear whatever they want leads to many teenagers dressing in provocative or controversial ways. Our culture supports challenging norms and asserting one's opinion, but this rebelliousness may veer too far in schools, if unchecked. Female students show up to classes wearing micro-skirts or shirts emblazoned with suggestive slogans; boys wear their jeans hanging so low that their underwear is exposed. This kind of dress may be an individual's prerogative during after-school hours, but it is distracting and inappropriate in the school setting. The focus should be on academics, not on expressing your beliefs or making a fashion statement. Just as there are rules as to how students can behave, so too must there be rules as to what students can wear. Uniforms remove a good deal of the focus on appearance that should be left for deciding what to wear to Saturday night's party.

Having attended a school with a uniform, I can attest to the fact that the specified dress code alleviates much anxiety for those who are indecisive (like me!) about what outfit to wear. Instead of agonizing over what to wear, I can spend those extra few minutes in the morning getting a little more sleep or eating a better breakfast. A uniform also eliminates the unspoken hierarchy in the class and the insecurities that teenagers feel when other students are dressed with the latest fashion trend. From a financial perspective school uniforms help bridge the gap between students of different economic means, eliminating the function of clothes as a mark of status. Although some students have ample money to buy a whole new wardrobe each season for school, there are many families that either cannot afford or do not wish to do so. Less privileged teens are embarrassed or even ridiculed because they are not sporting the newest fashion trend. Similarly, religious students who do not wish to wear such fashions are ostracized for their dress. Mandating uniforms prevents clothes from becoming a status symbol and eliminates the social pecking order based on clothing. Families would only have to purchase one outfit, not nearly as expensive as a whole assortment of clothes.

Although some argue that uniforms prevent students from expressing themselves, there are still many ways for students to assert their individuality without offending or distracting anyone. Teens can personalize their outfits by wearing a hairband or piece of jewelry. And if a student wants to show their support for a certain group by wearing a shirt with a logo then he/she can save it for after school.

From another perspective, uniforms make the school look more like a professional setting rather than a fashion runway. When you dress to a certain standard, your manners and conduct usually match that standard. Students behave more appropriately and have greater respect for each other in an environment where everyone is dressed professionally. In addition, uniforms prepare students for the real world. Most jobs require some sort of dress code, so having a uniform teaches students what this is like. After all, isn't the purpose of school to prepare students for the work place?

In our society the increasing focus among teenagers to rebel and break free from the rules of adults makes it crucial to allow room for individual expression. However, school clothes should not be the means for doing so, as this can cause a number of problems including distraction, financial insecurity and intimidation. There are so many opportunities for students to express themselves in a constructive way that benefits society instead of spending time focusing on fashion. A uniform keeps teenage rebelliousness in check, creates a sense of equality among students and maintains learning as the priority.