School Dress Code: Uniforms vs. Personal Fashion

school girl

Since the dawn of educating there has been in-depth discussion regarding school dress code. (Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.) The idea being that school should be a place where children focus on learning, not fashion. Therefore there should be rules and regulations in place to allow for the least distracting of outfits.


I remember way back in the day, the school I attended did not require uniforms, but rather had a strictly enforced dress code. Every morning, especially during the warmer months of the school year, potential dress code offenders would be lined up against the wall at the entrance of the school as the Assistant Principals checked each one.

The tolerable ones were allowed to go on to class. The ones that were just outside the suitable boundaries would be given a warning and then have to either change clothes, or wear a sweater or jacket over the offensive clothing. Those that either had received the maximum number of warnings or were undeniably in violation of the dress code were either sent home to change or were given in-school suspension.

All of that to say, as a person coming from a dress code only background, the idea of wearing uniforms to school is a new one to me. My husband, on the other hand, attended an all boys prep high school. Therefore, wearing a uniform is not such a foreign concept to him.

This year we decided to send our kids to a charter school that has a very strict uniform requirement. This ignited the uniform vs. dress code debate in our household, as well as with family, friends, and acquaintances.

The Uniform Argument

Wearing a uniform to school alleviates the fashion and label wars that children go through. There is no worry about “who” someone is wearing, where it was purchased, or how much it cost. Everyone wears the exact same thing.

It also negates the question of what a student is going to wear to school today, tomorrow, or next week. There is no worry about peers noticing if an outfit is worn too often, because every student is dressed in the same outfit every day. The only concern is making sure it is clean and relatively wrinkle free.

Additionally, the uniform is required to be somewhat neat (i.e. shirt tucked into pants that are worn in an appropriate manner and with a belt), which promotes pride in appearance. Students, and their parents, are expected to put time and effort into what their clothes look like on a daily basis. This idea will hopefully carry through to how they dress outside of and after completing school.

Finally, uniforms can save on the back-to-school clothing budget. Uniform pieces can be found reasonably priced at most common retailers. There are also specialty clothing stores that only carry uniforms for work and school at year-round low prices. All of these options allow parents to stock up on uniform pieces at a fraction of the cost of stocking up on regular clothing. It also means that purchasing replacement pieces can be done economically economically, without waiting on holiday or clearance sales. This is great news for parents with limited school clothing budgets.

The Dress Code Argument

School dress code parameters primarily promote age and school appropriate outfits that are not offensive or too revealing. It enables students to express themselves fashion wise, within certain parameters. Students wear styles, colors, and fabrics that they are comfortable with, thereby promoting each student’s individuality.

Additionally, wearing attire based on a dress code allows for more clothing options. Individual pieces can be mixed and matched to create three to five times more outfits. This is great news for budget conscious parents because clothes don’t wear out as fast. This means that fewer pieces can go further.

Shoppers also have the freedom to determine how much money they want to spend, and where. There’s a greater chance that purchasing multiple outfits on sale will come out cheaper than purchasing school monogrammed uniform pieces. For example, shirts being sold at 2 for $20 is a much better deal than school specialized polo shirts sold at $18 each.

A final dress code perk for frugal shoppers is that clothes can serve double duty. This reduces the amount of clothes needed to be purchased before a child goes back to school. In other words, there is no reason to purchase separate school clothes and play or casual clothes. Although some pieces may not fit into the dress code limitations, there are more clothes that will overlap both categories.

After hearing multiple people weigh in on the discussion, it’s easy to see that both sides have valid viewpoints. So, maybe the more appropriate question we should be asking ourselves, and our children, is how much is a student’s ability to learn affected by the clothes they wear? In other words, which students do better in school and beyond — the ones in uniform or the ones in dress code? After all, regardless of which side makes more sense to your personal preference, ultimately the most important thing should be the quality of education our children are receiving. Right?

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