How Ugly School Uniforms Will Save Education

5 minute read

A middle school in Illinois made headlines this week because it got a little more stringent with its ban on students wearing yoga pants and leggings. It’s not the only school with dress code issues; almost every week there’s a local story about some kerfuffle over what kids wear to school. It’s a debate that sucks up a lot of time for school administrators. And parents. But it’s the world’s easiest education problem to solve: school uniforms.

I know, nobody likes school uniforms. I wore one for 13 years, and cursed it every single day. (I’m one of the girls patting the cat). But this is exactly why I’m such a fan. To me, it seems that almost any problem facing schools today could be solved by uniforms. Here’s a sample of their magical powers:

(MORE: When Enforcing School Dress Codes Turns Into Slut Shaming)

School Uniforms Alleviate Bullying/Harrassment
They are great levelers. With a strategically chosen uniform, body type disappears. And it’s hard to distinguish who is cool and who is not. It’s harder to discern the differences in socio-economic background. Nobody wants any item of clothing that the other is wearing; all are equally undesirable, so thieving and general adolescent covetousness are reduced. Every student can find commonality with another; a repulsion for what they are forced to wear. And if schools really are worried about boys being distracted by the female form, the right school uniform is a stiff antidote.

School Uniforms Empower School Staff
A uniform is not the same thing as a dress code. There’s no arguing about whether Ariel’s shiny aqua micro mini is in accordance with the requirement for a “blue skirt.” There’s a uniform; no shades of grey, just the one drab hue the manufacturers managed to come up with. No endless back and forth between child, parents and school. Moreover, when a kid’s in uniform, he or she sticks out like a sore thumb. The local community knows where that kid belongs. It’s harder for kids to skip school or get into trouble outside school. They’re too easily spotted. At the boys’ school near mine, the young men were obliged to pick up any litter on the street, even if they did not drop it. They were also obliged to doff their hats to any car that stopped to let them cross the road. Australia isn’t exactly known for its formality, so this was not normal behavior. But since the boys were in uniform, people expected it of them. The result of all this courtesy training? Well, Hugh Jackman went there.

School Uniforms Empower Students
School uniform violations are like tax dodges. A lot of people transgress a bit, but most people still pay their taxes. At my school, we were not allowed to wear sweaters outside the school grounds unless they were covered by the school blazer or a raincoat. (It was a very strange rule, obviously established in the era of the sweater girl but made no sense in my time, the era of the Great Oversized Pullover) Clearly, raincoats were only supposed to be worn when it was raining. But the rebels among us sometimes wore them on cloudless days. Or we made tiny, visible-only-to-the-teenage-eye adjustments to the buttons or collars. Or we wore our gym tunics (yellow, with, I kid you not, bloomers) on a day we did not have P.E. We will not be silenced! we thought, as the teachers carefully smothered their laughter.

School Uniforms Fund Education
Kids change out of uniforms the moment they get home. They don’t wear them on weekends. Nobody ever wants to hang on to them for one second longer than they have to. Consequently, they can be donated back to the school. People who can’t afford new uniforms can purchase pre-loathed ones, with the money going to fund school programs. And since uniforms are never fashionable (or unfashionable), and the schools can easily identify their potential customers, the demand for them is very predictable and robust. Parents who can afford new uniforms, on the other hand, will enjoy being spared the daily airing of opinions as to what is and what is not an appropriate thing for a student to wear in a learning environment.

School Uniforms Create Better Citizens
What do bridesmaids, military personnel and emergency service workers have in common? They all have to wear what they’re given without whining, no matter how puffy the sleeves or hideous the shoes. Oh yeah, and they also are there to serve somebody else. Nothing says “this is not just about you,” more than an ugly uniform. And where else could we learn a lesson in sacrifice and serving the common good with so little actual sacrifice? So you look bad at school. Get over it.

School Uniforms Create More Interesting Human Beings
What does a person wear after they get to choose their own clothes for almost the first time in their sentient life? Anything they damn well want. My school had restrictions on haircuts and jewelry as well as uniforms, so I pretty much dressed like a tinkly punk clown for my entire undergraduate career. For people with actual talent and taste, the results are even more remarkable. Countries that have school uniforms, including Britain, Italy and Japan produce designers like Vivienne Westwood, Miuccia Prada and Rei Kawakubo, whose clothes straddle the boundaries of fashion and art. Countries without school uniforms produce designers like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, who make great clothes, many of which look a lot like uniforms.

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