The importance of self expression is paramount: it’s the way people identify who they are to the world and create a sense of self. Individuality, however, can be difficult to promote in educational environments where students are required to wear uniforms. School uniform policies do have understandable reasons, but it doesn’t excuse the negative impacts on children’s development of personal identity and self expression through fashion.
Those who argue in favor of school uniforms claim “wearing a uniform improves pupils’ behaviour both inside and outside school” and “helps to reduce bullying” (Clark). A deputy headmaster at Harrow School said students at well established private schools whose histories date back centuries build a “connection to the rich history of the school and…its distinguished community” by wearing uniforms (Metcalf). Many schools say “school uniforms are designed to help kids focus…diminish peer pressure,” and enhance the learning environment (PBS). Another rationale for uniforms is “to create a level playing field. So…no one is teased for not following the latest trends” because they can’t afford it (Jacobs).
Despite the supposed benefits, school uniforms are still stifling overall. Furthermore, uniforms aren’t “going to replace good teaching, good principals, small classrooms” (PBS). School uniform designs can also send a subconscious messages about education being work, which implies learning isn’t fun. Furthermore, having to wear a “uniform suppresses [students’] right to express [themselves] through clothes” (Jacobs).
“Students flourish when they’re treated as free-range individuals, rather than battery-hen units that must conform” (Whitehead). Uniforms are supposed to equalize students for discipline purposes, but “kids customise whatever they wear,” so “no two of them ever look the same” (Whitehead). Schools also start focussing on enforcing strict adherence to the established uniform, which distracts from education.
“Serious discipline and academic issues are unlikely to be solved by” uniforms (Brownlow). “Uniform rules can be taken too far,” and students can become frustrated and rebel (Metcalf). This results in further discipline issues, which makes uniforms counterproductive. “If the rules weren’t there, kids wouldn’t try to break them” (Whitehead).
As with most controversies, compromise is possible, even with school uniforms. Instead of continuing outdated traditional English standards of uniform dress, schools who wish to maintain a uniform policy can involve their students in the uniform design process. This would further design education and teach students more about clothing production. It also provides students with the opportunity to express their unique sense of style while still wearing a uniform.
Little Hands Design students are taught to value their individuality and ability to express themselves. Designing and making clothes is an excellent medium for self expression because students can create clothing no one else will have. We’ve seen how much this boosts students’ self confidence, which is why involving students in the school uniform creation process would be a beneficial compromise. This solution harmonizes self expression with the positive aspects of school uniforms. Because at the end of the day, self expression does not need to be sacrificed for discipline and community.