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How important is what you wear for your learning?

uniform
The argument for a dress code is often that it creates a serious environment in order to optimise productivity. Source: Shutterstock.com

Pretty much everyone will have to wear some kind of uniform at some point during their life, whether for work or study. But does how you look on the outside really effect what is going on inside your head?

Deputy headteacher at a UK secondary school Steven Cooper* told Study International uniform is important for four key reasons: ethos, community, discipline and support for vulnerable students.

According to Cooper, having a dress code for school enables students to all identify as a community.

“How students present themselves is very important,” Cooper said. “It provides individuals with a clear expectation of standards that need to be maintained as a member of the school.

“Students gain pride from their membership of their school and uniform gives them an opportunity to show this pride visually. This supports a sense of community inside and outside the school.”

Does uniform help create a more serious environment?

The argument for a dress code in offices, schools, colleges and universities all over the world often runs that it creates a professional and serious environment in order to optimise productivity.

But does it really?

A 2015 study into the matter found, across 39 countries, wearing uniform in school helped students behave.

However, another US-specific study found students in their own clothes performed better academically than those in uniform, yet behaviour and attendance were not affected either way.

“Educating large numbers of students requires high standards of discipline,” Cooper told Study International. “A strong uniform policy, successfully adhered to, provides the first opportunity to praise and support students.

“It sets the standard for successful behaviour for learning in a school.”

Many people, however, simply feel more comfortable in their own clothing – or at very least clothing they have some say over.

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It can help curb bullying

Arguably one of the most important aspects of uniform is it stops signifiers of wealth.

“Many students attending school are from families with complex social and economic issues,” Cooper told Study International.

“Having a school uniform takes away potential problems for these students as they are not worried about the clothing they would otherwise have to wear – including what others may think of them,” he explained.

“When students attend non-uniform days, it is visually clear on occasions where home clothes are unkept, dirty or in disrepair. Without uniform, this could invite poor choices by other students including potential bullying.”

It stops students being able to express individuality

Despite this, many students despise their school uniform and often use the argument it prevents them from expressing themselves.

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Cooper disagrees with the claim uniform extinguishes students’ expression of themselves.

“Students today are more than ever able to express their individuality in many forms,” argued Cooper.

“Students are actively encouraged to express their individuality in school through the curriculum and extracurricular activities,” he said, adding that they are also able to express themselves “through their use of social media”.

However, some students find it hard to pick clothes

Having a uniform eliminates students having to make a decision on clothing every day. When students leave school and have to begin choosing their clothes every single day, many miss the simplicity of wearing a uniform.

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Children even miss school due to uniform

Most schools which implement a dress code or uniform are very strict on it. In the UK it is common for children to be punished for incorrect uniform. In some cases, students even miss school after facing suspension for inadequate uniform. In an extreme case, in 2016 one UK secondary school turned 50 students away one morning because they did not meet uniform standards.

Students often feel frustrated that the way they present themselves can seem more important than their attendance and willingness to learn.

What about at university?

In most Western universities students can wear what they like, with students often turning up in sweatpants and sometimes even pyjamas.

And in the US, one student even managed to wangle his way around wearing any clothes at all on campus. Despite this being back in the 90s, “Naked Guy” has become a Berkeley (University of California) legend, going to show how far freedom of expression can go on US campuses.

At the University of Oxford, while students are allowed to wear what they like for lectures and seminars, it is mandatory to wear “formal academic wear” for exams. The university is strict on the matter, providing clear guidelines detailing what little choice students have over their formal wear, including details on the type of robe they must wear.

In Asia, however, it is more common for universities to implement a dress code. Students are often required to wear suits or at least a collared shirt at all times on campus, not just for exams.

It seems there is no one-size-fits-all remedy when it comes to uniform, but like it or not it’s likely to be here to stay.

* Name has been changed.

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