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The Pros and Cons of School Uniforms

Did you go to a school that required uniforms? Do your kids wear school uniforms now? If you answered “yes” to either question, you probably have strong feelings about uniform requirements in schools. Even if you don’t have a personal connection to uniforms, you might be interested in the topic. If so, check out our guide to the pros and cons of school uniforms.

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Pro 1: They can break down class barriers between students. 

When students don’t wear school uniforms it can be easy to spot kids with the most – and least – economic privilege based on what they wear to school. One argument used in favor of school uniforms is that when kids wear uniforms visible class markers between rich kids and poor kids are decreased or eliminated, which may lead to more social mixing along economic lines.

Pro 2: They can increase student focus. 

Another argument that’s often raised in favor of uniforms is that they may increase student focus. The evidence for this seems to be thin, but many proponents of uniforms argue that when students don’t have clothing to notice, comment on or respond to, they can spend more mental energy on learning. Uniforms, this argument goes, add to a sense of disciplined learning in school.

Pro 3: They can increase the sense of community in a school.

Pros and Cons of School Uniforms

Uniforms may also build community in a school as students of all ages – and alumni, too – bond or commiserate over the outfits they all associate with their school days. When schools that have traditionally required uniforms toy with removing the uniform requirement, it’s often the alumni who speak out in favor of preserving the tradition of school uniforms.

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Pro 4: School uniforms can promote safety. 

In areas where students may be gang-involved, uniforms can increase safety by preventing students from wearing clothing that declares – intentionally or inadvertently – gang affiliation. Some proponents of school uniforms argue that uniforms can increase student safety in school and outside of school, as well as increasing students’ ability to blend in and focus on learning without having to worry that their clothing choices might make them a target.

Con 1: They can be expensive for parents. 

Keeping a child in school uniforms may be more expensive for parents and guardians than buying regular clothes would be. Often, uniforms are only available from a limited number of suppliers and the lack of competition (and captive market) keeps prices high. Or, a uniform will include pricier items like blazers and dress shoes, which some families might struggle to afford.

Con 2: Uniforms limit student self-expression.

Another argument made against uniforms is that they limit students’ self-expression. Teenagers in particular are famous for needing to express their emotions and their tastes in music, fashion and art through clothing, hair and piercings. School can be tough on kids and teens as it is, without taking away one of the few areas where they can exert some control and express themselves, say opponents of school uniforms.

Con 3: Uniforms may be sexist.

Some uniforms may strike students and parents as sexist. For example, if a uniform requires girls to wear skirts and pants are not allowed, some students and parents may object, leading to conflict with the school administration. Not all girls want to wear skirts and some may resent being told to wear traditionally “feminine” garments. Also, if a student is unsure of their place on the gender spectrum or is experimenting with different forms of gender presentation, school uniforms can present a real challenge.

Con 4: Uniforms lead to more policing of students.

Pros and Cons of School Uniforms

If a school has a uniform policy, it generally tries to enforce that policy by monitoring students’ clothing and punishing students for violating uniform requirements. Of course, even schools that don’t require uniforms may police student clothing that’s deemed too revealing or offensive, but uniforms may add to the attention focused on student dress. This can make students feel that they’re being scrutinized and punished for their appearance, which could have negative effects on student self-esteem or attitudes toward the school. And if students are sent home for uniform violations, they will miss valuable learning time. Plus, policing student uniforms takes time and effort on the part of administrators.

Bottom Line

If back-to-school shopping in your household involves shopping for a school uniform, you might be familiar with some of the arguments for and against uniforms. By some accounts, school uniforms are becoming more popular in the U.S., which means more households may find themselves debating the merits of uniforms in the years to come.

Update: If you have questions beyond school uniforms, SmartAsset can help. So many people reached out to us saying they wanted help with financial planning, that we built a tool to match you with a financial advisor who can meet your needs. First you answer a series of questions about your situation and your goals. Then the program narrows down thousands of advisors to three fiduciaries who meet your needs. You can read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while doing much of the hard work for you.

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Amelia Josephson Amelia Josephson is a writer passionate about covering financial literacy topics. Her areas of expertise include retirement and home buying. Amelia's work has appeared across the web, including on AOL, CBS News and The Simple Dollar. She holds degrees from Columbia and Oxford. Originally from Alaska, Amelia now calls Brooklyn home.
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