The Controversial History of School Uniforms in America

Table of Content


School uniforms have always been a controversial topic in school education. In the year 1995, United States brought media attention by implementing a compulsory school uniform policy for every student. With the implementation of this policy, in less than a year, the schools in Long Beach, California, published outstanding outcome, encouraging President Bill Clinton to mandating the uniform policy for all the schools (Clinton, 1996). This resulted in the implementation of uniform policy in around seventy schools for approximately sixty thousand students. Despite the fact that some people consider school uniforms as the sign of the future (Tooms, 2002), other people are apprehensive for the individualism that students have to give up as overshadowed by the advantages obtained in putting uniform policies into practice (Wilkins, 1999).

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The concept of mandating uniforms in the schools is not novel in any way. The trend of uniform had been set by universities like Oxford and Cambridge. The school uniforms have recognized students with different schools, whether best school foundation, or government schools. As far as private institutions are concerned, the uniforms depict a way of identifying class; whereas, in the government institutions, uniforms usually present anti-discrimination effect for the financially unstable people who otherwise come to school give the impression of being underprivileged. Paradoxically, nonetheless, it is the public schools who started the school uniform convention. Traditionally, in Britain, elite class clothed their children as they liked and it was basically the public schools that lay down present criteria for uniforms in private school for the upper class. With the passage of time both the public and private school implemented uniform policy and the school dress code was toned down to a single school uniform.  However U.S. has not undergone any such experience. In their research, Brunsma and Rockquemore (2001) indicated that Catholic institutions in U.S. have a comparatively very old practice for school uniforms and that these narrow-minded schools report for about sixty-five percent of the students following the uniform policy. (Paliokas & Rist, 1996) The parents of the students in the Public school have an evident opinion that this kind of standard assists in making Catholic teaching and learning successful, together with the existence of protected, safe, and disciplined educational atmosphere.

Literature Review

School uniforms, as regarded by the state law, offer assurance that all organizations can be managed and controlled. It is also supposed as a symbol that organizations have become passive which is noticed in the performance of students who oppose uniforms. In several attributes, school uniform is called upon to operate as they work, for instance, it serves as a means of reducing individualism, placing the person on a punitive framework that disciplines their personality. The implementation of uniforms is emblazoned in a sequence of procedures that also tell regarding the manner in which the policy is written on the back of its subject matter. To discipline organizations is a fundamental concern in schools, provided the dominance of ‘safety issue’ in school premises. School uniforms come into view as part of the steps that schools have to take in order to build a more productive, disciplined and safer surroundings for the students.

Even though the system of U.S. public schools does not have an extended background regarding school uniforms (Dussel, 2005), but the public school system had put into effect the dress standards since decades. In his study, Anderson (2002) indicated that for the duration of the 1950s and 1960s, particularly, schools were bound to have dress codes, for instance banned females to wear short-pants, specific lengths for shirts and skirts, blue jean convention, discouraged big boots or leather pants, fancy clothes and as MeCarthy (2001) believed that the Tinker Supreme Court resolution of 1969, stopping schools to discipline students for non-verbal language of communication if it disturbed the classroom environment, altered the dress standard environment in public education. Throughout the 1970’s national appellate judges propagated a series of varied rules and a number of which promoted student privileges to freedom-of-expression using selection of their clothes. The 1980s, on the other hand, shortened the tendency with courts declaring that students are not allowed dress-up in means incoherent with a restricted school’s objective, while the schools were not able to implement these rules out of school premises. Steep shirts (Stover, 1990), cross-dressing, and group insignia are cited as examples (DeMitehell, Fossey, & Cobb, 2000).

Correlation Of School Uniform And Violence And Its Impact On Academic Achievement And School Discipline

There is a possible correlation between school uniform and school violence and academic achievement. The fashion style at schools, particularly city schools, is chiefly subjugated by students wearing gang-related or gang-like clothes. The challenging concern of gang and school violence has been talked about in numerous researches. Regarding gang-related attire, gang fellows often wander on the roads in the vicinity of schools and frequently come into schools. Therefore, the colors of clothes that students are dressed in can cause them to be a probable target of deliberate or unintended violence. (Portnet, 1996) Additionally, the way of attire in style amongst young people today arises from the outfits of inner-city gangs, who wear loose-fitted pants and extra-large shirts that can conceal weaponry and drugs from law regulation officers. Due to this kind of clothes which are allured by media, many youngsters prefer to wear same fashion of loose-fitting, extra-large shirts and pants to school. This kind of clothes can act a way of carrying arms or drugs into school and as a result not directly augment violence in the school.

Young students’ desire to be stylish takes a new aspect to the relationship between clothes in fashion and school violence. Students may be envious of other student’s outfits and not have the financial income to buy same fashion. Consequently, students have been violently wounded or even put to death for their expensive and trendy outfits, sneakers, or proficient sport-team things. School uniforms may lessen these incidences. Additionally, necessitating students to be dressed in the similar clothes communicates that they all belong to the same team, which may reduce violence toward other team members or class fellows or even school fellows for that matter.

The Case For Uniforms

The school is ought to present a protected and regimented erudition milieu for students. Violence in schools obliterates such an environment and can pessimistically affect student inspiration for learning. Everett and Price (1995) that due to increased commonness of school violence, one in five public school students feels less enthusiastic to go to school every day, one in seven feels less inclined to pay attention to learning in school, and one in 10 stays home from school or cuts class. In unsafe school atmosphere, teachers cannot teach to their maximum impending, and students cannot learn to their full ability.

Youths who feel safe, secure, and gratis from threats of aggression perform better academically. Those who fear for their shelter in school or on the way to school may not learn efficiently, and they may turn to non-attendance as a practicable choice to facing the daily intimidation of hostility. One of every 10 to 12 kids who stay away from school does so because of fear. In their response to growing school violence, several teachers, principals, parents, and students believe uniforms could help reduce violent behavior.

Many people consider espousal of school uniform policies will lead to increased school safety, student discipline, and student learning. More purposely, many have disagreed that school uniforms help in plummeting school violence and larceny; preventing gang activity, such as students wearing bunch of criminals colors and bunch of hooligans insignia; provided that discipline in students; helping students to muse on their school work; helping students to resist stare anxiety; and helping school officials easily distinguish school trespasser. In a survey of the United Teachers of Dade County, Florida, approximately 60% of the group members supported mandatory uniforms for school youth. (Gursky, 1996) Similarly, of the 5,500 principals examined as attendees of the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ annual conference in February 1996, more than 70% believed that necessitating students to wear uniforms to school would reduce violent incidents and obedience problems. (Portner, 1996) Moreover, greater than 80% of Long Beach Press Telegram readers supported school uniforms. (Long Beach Unified School District, 1996)

Some school staff believes students and teachers tend to behave the way they are permissible to dress. (Stephens, 1996) Instead of adopting a policy for obligatory school uniforms, several schools have implement a obligatory clothing code policy for teachers as well as students, which aspires to begin clear emergence and behavioral standards for all. As pointed out before, Long Beach Unified School District was the first large urban school district in the United States to necessitate school uniforms for all students in grades kindergarten through grade eight, and it afterward experienced remarkable lessening in school violence, crime, and negativity.(Portnet, 1996) The White House Manual on School Uniforms (1996) exposed that several schools with obligatory uniform policies have shown subsequent decreases in school violence and absenteeism and increases in positive student conduct.

The Case Against Uniforms

Whilst most teachers and parents look for to make sure the security and safety of their school going kids, some of them thinks adopting a compulsory policy of school uniform is not the suitable way for ensuring such safety. Two groups contrasting compulsory school uniforms are civil libertarians and older students. (Editorial Projects in Education, 1996) Loren Siegel, the director of the ACLU Public Education Department, (Siegel, 1996) has affirmed that no one knows for sure if school uniforms are truly advantageous. While Long Beach Unified School District declares that obligatory school uniforms resulted in diminished school offense and violent behavior, added steps to perk up student behavior –for instance more teachers guarding corridors during class changes — were put into practice at the same time as the school uniform policy. Because of these possible perplexing variables, the ACLU has avowed that it is presently impracticable to conclude if uniforms were to blame for the consequences. Additionally, no experiential studies demonstrate that uniforms persistently produce optimistic changes in student actions over time.

The ACLU has also tagged mandatory school uniform policy as not productive, since such a policy only serves as a “band aid” to a set of severe troubles that involve versatile, multidisciplinary proceedings. (Siegel, 1996)   The ACLU stresses that, in its place of being aimed en route for uniforms, possessions should be heading for producing added striking, dirt free, and secure school buildings; smaller classes; well reserved libraries; effortlessly admittance to computers; more voluntary courses, like music, drama, and art. Such actions could help schools promote long-lasting, constructive changes among school children. (Siegel, 1996)   Some folks feel that obligatory school uniforms may educate students an unconstructive message about conventionality. (Gursky, 1996) Some think that students should base life options on their own in-house standards, more willingly than on regulations and rules capriciously set for them, and that this is critically vital to their prospect fitness and discipline. (Paliokas, Rist, 1996) Such a dispute taps openly upon the rights of liberty of term for all U.S. citizens. Sequentially, the ACLU has disagreed that obligatory uniforms breach students’ free expression rights. (Editorial Projects in Education, 1996)

However younger children appear to be agreeable to uniforms and even like them, many older students, especially youngsters, react very unenthusiastically to school uniforms. (Siegel, 1996)  One Long Beach seventh grader stated, “It’s like we’re all in jail.” (Editorial Projects in Education, 1996) Adolescence is the era when youths try to find their own individuality and eccentricity in various ways. One means is through fashion. While many opinionated cartoonists joke that today’s youths already wear uniforms of baggy pants, T-shirts, and baseball caps worn backward, these uniforms are obtained by free selection, not imposed by power figures. (Orpinas, Parcel, McAlister, Frankowski, 1995)

An additional disagreement against putting into practice school uniforms engages student clothing as a barometer for likely personal issues, such as drug use, gang participation, or sexual abuse. (Paliokas, Rist, 1996)  Students’ school uniforms may cover up such troubles that their clothing might otherwise reveal. In addition, some disagree that a mandatory uniform policy tends to reprimand everyone as opposed to addressing the children who cause the mainstream of problems.


Even if there have been astonishingly few logical research studies evaluating the results of uniform policies, some data suggests lowered violence (Gursky, 1996, gang influence (Wade & Stafford, 2003), and academic development in students (Elder, 1999; Pate, 1999). However, detractor (Wilkins, 1999) suggests that the successes of the independent variable in the studies (uniform policies) are perplexed. That is, such schools show development due to variables such as augmented teacher enforcement and association with students as well as parental connection with the school process and structure. Advocates and detractors alike agree that creating a sense of order (Bruchey, 1998; Brunner, 2006), consistency (Tooms, 2002), and creating a positive school ambiance (Murray, 1997) are necessary goals for successful education. However, the dispute rages as to whether or not a school uniform strategy fetch into being those tops—and if the policy does—then is it the most fruitful and least limiting means of doing so? Brunsma (2005) disagrees convincingly that there is no clear answer to these intricate issues. Caruso (1996) offers the following pros & cons regarding school uniform policies.

Arguments for the strategy include growing student presence, dropping commotions, provoking school spirit, and decreased clothing operating expense, enhanced classroom behavior, weakened donations to juvenile felony, heightened school recognition, and rising academic recital. Point of view beside uniforms include the potential of violation on first alteration rights, secretarial power abuse, economic privations for parents, non-deterrence of gang movement, no outcomes on social class demarcation, and lack of empirical research screening helpful conclusion for school uniform policies.  Huss (2006) testimonial results from a study conducted in an urban, public elementary school. He found teachers reporting uniforms to promote student learning and to enhance associations among teachers and students. Opportunity of students by teachers also was reported to be improved as a result of the school uniform policy. Students were depicts as taking their cues from peers, generally responding congruently with how they perceived their peers vis-à-vis uniform accomplishment. As afore stated, moderately little empirical research has been accomplished to date for how the realization of uniform policies have worked and not worked effectively.

Implications For Research

Paliokas and Rist (1996) distinguished that for many folks, the appeal of obligatory school uniforms is based on conservative wisdom and an instinctive conviction that amplified arrangement results in better child manners. However, there is not much experiential data to sustain a cause-and-effect connection between school uniforms and hostility. Other variables may be superseding with and dependable for possible turn downs in violence in schools compulsory uniforms, and Paliokas and Rist (1996) posed several questions that must first be answered before refuses in school violence can be specifically accredited to the completion of school uniform programs. Was the realization of the uniform policy only one aspect of a inclusive safety plan that included discriminating safety measures and firmer rules? Were local community-policing programs employed at the same time? Was the fashion of violence in the school at its peak and ready to refuse? Was there collapse of the trends of violence within that specific school or school district? Were the diminished in school violence credited to the Hawthorne Effect in which short-term consideration to and visibility of a problem caused the decline? Was parental involvement a crucial factor in the reduction of violence?

Three research modus operandi have been recommended to guarantee authority and trustworthiness of data. (Paliokas, Rist, 1996)  First, an analysis of drift occurring within the school and/or school locality must be performing to determine if the decline in violence represents a true change or an unsurprising change in trend. Second, data should be obtained from both an investigational group (those required to wear uniforms) and a manage group (those not required to wear uniforms). Third, data regarding to possible superseding variables should be attained and restricted for during numerical examinations.


An invention only opens a door; it never forces anyone to pass through it. The revision of the history of white smocks and school uniforms is inscribed in a history of the forms of the regulation of power and disciplining of bodies. This history has to be read locally and nationally, that is, it is interwoven with the formation of national imaginaries that have articulated identity and difference with specific traits. The notion of uniform bodies in schools, present since the organization of modern schooling and its structuring as a pastoral power, has adopted particular characteristics in each national school system. It can be said that the ways in which the appearance and disposition of the bodies in schools was and is regulated are indicative of the methods of cultural and political intervention in a given social formation. In the case of US schools, there are clear links between the disciplining of bodies that is central to its political imaginary. The scaffolding of discourses that is supporting the spread of uniforms in contemporary America is dominated by a disciplinary function that emphasizes the surveillance and control of dangerous populations over the production of autonomous subjects with the capacity to self-regulate and self-monitor. However, as has been emphasized, like any other device, uniforms are employed as well in other tactics, by movements and politics that carry other aspirations for social justice, and which cause dislocations and accommodations that are not easily predictable.

In conclusion, the most important objective of setting up a school uniform policy at schools is to reduce competition, teach students to dress-up properly, increase academic achievement, reduce non-academic activities, and instill discipline. The school administration, teachers and parents believe that all these aims are achieved by implementing the school uniform policy.


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