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Secondary School Dress Codes: Necessary or OTT?

Love it or hate it, we all remember our secondary school uniform; Esme Johnson takes a look at whether the pros outweigh the cons.

I remember very clearly how it felt to wear a uniform at school. The ease of waking up in the morning and throwing the same thing on, the sense of school identity, and the copious amounts of stuff I could fit into the many pockets of my blazer. But I also remember the rustling sound of that hideous grey and red kilt, the endless rules about trouser tightness and skirt length, and rolling my eyes at having to ask for permission to remove my blazer.

The benefits of uniforms are clear, and obviously most schools agree that they outweigh any cons. They reduce the pressure to dress fashionably, level the playing field for those of different socioeconomic backgrounds, and arguably prepare young people for having to dress professionally as adults. It can bolster school spirit, save money for students’ families, and instil a sense of pride in dressing for the day.

But the disadvantages are nothing to sniff at. Uniforms oppress individuality, are usually uncomfortable and impractical, and can be very expensive, especially when you need logoed items or when there are pernickety rules about the specific shade of blue your socks must be. They’re ugly, certainly don’t prevent people bullying each other, and make it harder for young people to know how to properly dress for the future because they have always been told what to wear.

“It felt like I was given a constant barrage of reasons why I needed to hide myself behind a swamping blazer”

Looking back, I find that uniforms were a huge waste of time. I understand their benefits, but the effort and stress involved with adhering to unexplained and arbitrary rules was a serious annoyance for me and countless others. As a female student, I felt this issue all the more sharply. I couldn’t wear coloured or black bras because they could be seen through my shirt. I had to wear a skirt a size too big because my actual size was deemed too short on me.

Compared to the boys, it felt like I was given a constant barrage of reasons why I needed to hide myself behind a swamping blazer—90% of the time I guarantee that it was mostly because it made middle-aged teachers ‘uncomfortable’, or because my knees were seen as distracting.

“This fostered an extremely unhealthy environment between students and teacher”

This is not only sexist, heteronormative, and really disdainful towards guys and girls (not to mention completely ignorant of any other identities and issues), but made me highly conscious of how my appearance was something I should sculpt in consideration of others. It infuriates me even now, almost three years out of school, especially when my 14-year-old sister tells me about how her cropped short hair was deemed ‘inappropriate’ for the school environment. Cue an eye roll and fist-shake worthy of an award.

When I was at secondary school, there was constant regimenting of students’ uniforms. This fostered an extremely unhealthy environment between students and teachers, especially as I got older. It is incredibly patronising and infantilising to have to ask for permission to roll up my sleeves when it’s hot, or to see a teacher nag someone over and over because their trousers don’t adhere to some vague rule. I’m sure teachers don’t want to have to constantly be checking their students’ uniform either.

“I can express myself and be confident through my clothing”

Not having a uniform hasn’t distracted me from my work. At uni, I see all kinds of looks and haven’t been made ‘uncomfortable’ by it. University has taught me, if anything, that I can express myself and be confident through my clothing; a mentality I think should be encouraged at school and not quashed in the name of so-called ‘student equality’. Uniforms just seem like a blanket solution for a much bigger problem.

Esme Johnson

Featured image courtesy of William Murphy via Flickr. Image license found here

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