28 September 2022

School uniforms - equaliser or outdated?

| Zoya Patel
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School uniform

Canberra Girls Grammar school uniform (not available at Lowes). Photo: CGGS Instagram.

Sitting around the dinner table with family recently, our conversation turned to the youngest members of our clan who are in or about to enter high school. They’ll be attending a private school (I have my views on that, but I am in the minority at this particular table), which has a fairly strict uniform protocol.

We started discussing the punitive measures some among us experienced in our high school years – getting detention if they wore their hat incorrectly or didn’t tuck their shirt in, girls forced to kneel on the ground to check their skirt lengths etc. It sounded absurd to me.

I went to a public school with no uniform, and I have always felt that school uniforms are unnecessary and reinforce a sort of bland homogeneity that quashes individuality.

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Once again, at this dinner table, my views were in the minority. So I’m putting the question to you – are school uniforms really necessary in this day and age? Or should we eliminate them from high school onwards, encouraging independence and allowing young people to be themselves at school?

I can already hear the protests ringing through the comments section. What about decency? Won’t kids rock up in ripped jeans and mini skirts (neither items I personally have a problem with)? Well, you can have a dress code without a uniform. We had a colour code at my high school, which helped to ensure you could identify students for security purposes when we were on the oval, but allowed us to purchase clothes within our budgets and that suited our personal requirements and preferences.

And at my college, there was no colour code but a basic dress code that enforced the wearing of proper shoes, required everyone to wear a shirt and had some language around appropriate attire for classes. No one went crazy, everyone got to express themselves and chaos did not occur.

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Another common argument is that uniforms mean that kids won’t be bullied for their fashion choices and that people who can’t afford cool clothes won’t suffer socially for that, either. To which I would respond that, firstly, kids are still bullied for their fashion choices with uniforms – haircuts, glasses, school bag choices – so uniforms aren’t the issue here; school culture is and that has to be addressed via other mechanisms regardless.

When you only get to dress in your own clothes on weekends and uniform-free days, it actually places more weight and pressure on your fashion choices and increases the likelihood of your peers judging you on what you wear. There was absolutely no novelty attached to our clothing choices at my college, where everyone wore whatever they wanted. I can attest that after the first few weeks, enthusiasm waned and dressing for the day took zero time and made zero impression on my peers.

And uniforms are often pricey, especially when they are very specific (ie, you can’t buy a budget version from Lowes, you have to purchase the school’s shop version).

The final argument I’ve heard is that it’s stressful for kids to have to think of what to wear every day. I fundamentally don’t get this. Being able to dress yourself feels like a fairly basic life skill, and the sooner young people learn to manage it, the better. Presumably, they manage fine on the weekend.

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On the scale of things to be concerned about when it comes to young people, considering issues like today’s youth mental health crises, uniforms are fairly low on the agenda, but I was genuinely surprised to be in the minority on this one. Uniforms feel like an outdated concept from a time when education was more regimented and schools were more hierarchical and disciplinary in their approach.

But clearly, some endured strict uniform policies that advocate for them. What about you? Would you ditch uniforms for young people and let individuality flourish? Or is it more important to have consistency at school for the sake of social equality?

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I have seen a small number of people opining along the lines that Zoya is not in a position to comment on uniforms, or not with any cogency, because she did not go to a private school (implicitly, wear uniforms at secondary level).

Zoya reported experiences of people who did, and gave her opinion as a person who did not (wear a uniform). How does the fact she did not personally attend a uniform-obligatory school remove her right to comment exactly as she did, please? I welcome an explanation, one which includes the converse position of why anyone who wore a uniform should be entitled to comment on non-uniform wear.

People are welcome to argue possible benefits of economy or reduced classism. Either is properly moot. I have objected principally to the implied claims (by just a few people) of privilege for commentary. Those are truly absurd.

I don’t like the pseudo-19th century uniforms of some schools but support having a basic uniform of school shirt/jumper and coloured pants/skirts. Some kind of uniform is cheaper and easier and a social leveller (imperfect but it helps).

“Uniforms feel like an outdated concept from a time when education was more regimented and schools were more hierarchical and disciplinary in their approach”.

To paraphrase:

Uniforms feel like an outdated concept from a time when kids had to follow rules and there was consequences for non-compliance.

Of course the “have nots” within the community are further exposed in schools without uniforms because the kids with money flaunt it like an influencer.

There is a lot to be said for uniforms.

Capital Retro4:14 pm 29 Sep 22

In a previous article Zoya you said you were connected with three countries. Did you go to public schools in all of these countries? How about some details?

Why might such details be significant, CR?

There are eight possible answers if we assume one school per country, excluding not being of an age to attend at the time:
Is this an exciting game? What conclusions will you draw from each possible answer about schools?

As usual, CR has no continuation from his [un]original thought bubble.

Try again, CR, why might such details as you requested be significant?

Uniforms reinforce the elite status of some schools, the privileged education and the head start to a good future these kids will be able to access, in contrast to those in public schools.

The only good thing about uniforms is that the public can identify the schools of the students behaving badly on public transport or elsewhere. That helps people to see where not to send their kids. Sadly, some schools don’t act effectively on such information. They could use it to teach respect for others in the community. Instead they focus on trying to hide their responsibility for these selfish entitled students, setting an awful example for how to behave.

This is quite possibly the worst take ever, almost on par with Zoyas level of ignorance.

I asked you to explain your claim of Zoya’s factual ignorance below, chewy, and none has appeared as of this writing. You are not just smearing, are you?

(I agree psycho is over the top here)

Sorry not bothering today.

You’ve posted 10 or so comments on this article replying to others, perhaps instead of that you’d like to outline your own position rather than sniping.

Have a good one!

Capital Retro11:17 am 30 Sep 22

Am I in danger of being challenged, chewy?

chewy, at the point you posted your lack of bother I had made eight comments in a few of which I pretty clearly showed what I thought. Too subtle?

However, you have made a claim and a smear which it seems you will not or can not defend.


You know that most* of the public schools have a uniform that students are required to wear when representing the school, don’t you? And that they were introduced **because parents demanded them**? Quite the hot topic at P&C’s a few years back.
*Interestingly Deakin High, one of the wealthiest public schools, was the one that pushed back on uniforms.

You can definitely tell that Zoya never went to nor has much experience with private schools considering some of the clearly incorrect statements in the article.

I am curious about your comment, chewy. As is usual in a Zoya article, I see mostly personal experience and opinion, with which anyone can disagree. The only “factual” comments I quickly noticed (there may be something I missed) was: “getting detention if they wore their hat incorrectly or didn’t tuck their shirt in, girls forced to kneel on the ground to check their skirt lengths etc”
Do you think none of that occurs or has occurred? They are reported experiences from other adults around the dinner table, and are not extraordinary in relation to private schools in the past. So which did you have in mind when you said “clearly incorrect statements”?

Typical comments from someone who did not go to a private school… oh, and don’t worry about that war we have going on, these articles are way more important…..

What if someone who went to a private school were to agree with Zoya about this, Remelliard? Or are you proposing that everyone who goes to a private school becomes a mindless automaton in tune with their uniform habits?

Also, let us know what you are planning to do about that war, or are you proposing everyone huddle in terror, excluding any other thought? Did you manage to eat breakfast? For shame, there is a war on you know.

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