If you attended a typical Australian school, you will have had the unfortunate experience of wearing a school uniform. The severity of said uniform would depend on whether you attended a private or public school – private school seem to take their uniforms VERY seriously.
I attended a public school for both primary and high school, and my relationship with my school uniform was complex, to say the least. Ever since primary school I’ve had an issue with being put in a uniform. I used to wear bright yellow or pink coloured jumpers over the uniform, and orange pants under my uniform dress because I grew up in Victoria and I was cold! Then I moved to NSW to attend high school and I became even more rebellious and neglected my uniform altogether. I figured they couldn’t force me into the uniform I hated, and they couldn’t expel me from a public school for that reason.
I was constantly in trouble for ignoring the dress code, but I honestly did not care. Uniform, in my opinion, is an attack on freedom of expression. This is especially true in high schools; adolescents are trying to find out who they are and should be able to express themselves through their fashion choices.
Teachers and boring people will tell you that uniforms are there to provide structure to children or to prevent bullying and make everyone look the same, or to instil some sense of pride in their schools.
I’m extremely biased on this topic but let’s dig deeper into some of these claims and see if uniforms really are warranted in Australian schools.
Let’s start with the bullying claim. I did get bullied when I was wearing a uniform. In my first high school, I was too skinny to fit into the uniform’s smallest size. I had to use a hair tie to bunch up the shirts and skirts so that I didn’t look like I was swimming in my clothes. In my second school, my bust was too big for the uniform and my buttons kept popping off, which was embarrassing. I also got bullied as people noticed in senior years, I was still wearing junior colours because my parents couldn’t afford new uniforms. I also got bullied because I preferred the boy’s uniform. It was far comfier!
Some students do believe that wearing a uniform prevents bullying, by putting everyone on the same playing field. I understand that uniforms can reduce bullying in some circumstances – for instance, some kids can afford brand clothes, while others will wear handmade or second-hand clothes. However, I strongly feel that bullies will always find a way. For instance, backpacks, pencil cases etc – my family couldn’t afford brands like Roxy or Billabong and no one was shy about pointing out I had a Kmart bag and pencil case. I suppose it depends on how supportive the school environment is and how little they tolerate bullying between students, and the nature of the students themselves.
Next comes the idea that uniforms create a sense of pride and social cohesion. This is an idea that many child psychologists stand behind. Uniforms are also supposedly a way to increase levels of belonging between student cohorts, as well as foster school spirit. Again, I feel this depends on the school and the kind of value it places on its students. It shouldn’t depend on a uniform.
Some other reasons that uniform is seen as a positive include decreasing the pressure to be ‘trendy’ and increasing the safety of students through making them easily identifiable in a crisis. I’d counter that because if there is a predator around, wearing a school uniform scream to them “I WILL BE AT “XYZ PUBLIC SCHOOL FROM 9 AM UNTIL 3:30 PM, COME KIDNAP ME”. Another reason is the morally ambiguous policing of people’s bodies – uniforms make life easier for teachers who don’t have to decide what skirts are too short, or who is showing too much skin – here’s an idea: let people make those decisions for themselves.
I firmly believe that being able to dress in your own clothes and not a uniform instils a sense of self, independence and a way to express yourself. However, at the end of the day, there is scientific evidence that supports both wearing uniforms and not wearing uniforms. I think that you should be able to operate a sense of agency and choose for yourself whether you want to wear a uniform or your clothes.