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School Dress Codes


Over time, different opinions have been presented as to what students should or should not wear to school. It is important to note that these opinions do not abound only from the fashion conscious but school administrators, parents, teachers as well as the school-board members have voiced their concerns on the issue. To some, the formulation of a dress code and the adherence to the same is of great importance as far as improving student behavior and enhancing student performance is concerned. Others feel that the enhancement of dress codes in schools eliminates socioeconomic differences amongst students and hence goes a long way towards enhancing the confidence of students.However, we still have dissenting arguments from those who believe that conformity to dress codes in School settings has little effect, if any, on student behavior as well as discipline. Those who are against the setting of dressing code standards in both primary as well as secondary schools feel that such a move infringes on the students’ freedom  choice and is against the spirit of the First Amendments rights.There are many arguments for and against the setting of dressing codes in both primary and secondary schools. However, in the midst of all this, the role dress code setting plays in the support as well as enhancement of the learning process cannot be overstated.

School Dress Codes: a brief history

According to Hamilton (2007), a school dress code can be defined or described as laid down policies and standards put in place by a school or any legislative authority dictating which kinds of clothing students should have wear in school. The origin of school dress codes can be traced back to the 1950s and 1960s where the prevailing delinquency (juvenile) called for the adoption of measures to curb the same. It is at around this time that a number of schools came out strongly to restrict some kind of clothing’s including slacks for girls. The mantra then was “dress right, act right”. Brunsma (2006) notes that it is also at around this time that school administrators started flexing their muscles as regards dressing codes in both primary and secondary school settings.Although the particular dressing code to adopt largely remained to be at the discretion of the school administration, quite a number of school administrators came out strongly to issue specific standards that were to be followed as far as dressing in the precincts of the school was concerned. Though in the recent past we have seen a substantial shift as far as the reasoning behind dressing code in schools is concerned, the 1950s and 1960s saw the banning of a number of attires mostly in secondary schools which in the informed opinion of the school promoted juvenile delinquency. Minow et al.

(2008) notes that the various attires that were linked in one way or he other to gangs included black leather jackets, motorcycle boots as well as some types of jeans trousers i.e. the blue jeans.The 1980s brought about a shift that forced a reexamination of school dressing codes in both secondary and primary schools. This shift was informed by the increasing activity of gangs and with this came a push driven by school officials to take into consideration the adoption of uniforms. As Hamilton (2007) notes, this was also the time that more restrictive dress codes were put in place as school authorities sought to stop gang influence upon students.Cherry Hill Elementary in Baltimore was the first public school on record to embrace uniform dress code adoption. This was in 1987. However, it was not until 1996 that dressing codes attracted official sanction in the form of uniforms for public schools endorsement by President Bill Clinton. Brunsma (2006) notes that it is after this endorsement by president bill Clinton that a manual of school uniforms was mailed to the various United Nations School Districts by the U.S Department of Education. It is with these guidelines in place that school administrators as well as boards set about to formulate uniform policies and dress codes.According to Minow et al. (2008), the number of schools enforcing either a uniform policy or dress code is largely unknown. However, what remains clear is that the trend of dictating what students in both primary as well as secondary schools should wear is quickly catching on going forward and as Minow et al.  (2008) argues, so is the debate.

 The significance of dress code to the learning process

According to Bluestein (2001), dress codes actually act on the students psyche in a way that aids the learning process. The premise here is that students tend to take the education more seriously when required to dress up in prescribed way so as to attend classes. This is based on the fact hat they watch their parents dress up appropriately in a prescribed way while planning to attend work. Brunsma (2006) notes that when students dress up in ‘work’ clothes rather than ‘play’ clothes, their perception of school and its activities shall inevitable change and hence they will take school work more seriously. Therefore, according to Hamilton (2007) dress codes add a ‘professional’ touch to school going and hence in such a way, it can reliably be said that dress codes in both primary and secondary schools aid the learning process.Dressing codes are also veritable aides to discipline in the school setting. To begin with, Bluestein (2001) notes that when dressing codes were first adopted as a way to curb juvenile delinquency, they proved to be very effective in the aversion of arguments, violence as well as fights tied to fashion. With dress codes in place, it is now easy to avoid the infiltration of gangs in the schools as it is no longer possible for students to dress in gang ‘uniform’ as well as colors to school. Those who support regulated dressing are of the opinion that there exists a definite as well as clear link between violence in schools and clothing styles (Minow et al.  2008). This assertion makes sense though it is not supported by any documentary evidence or research thereof. It is hence important to note that more research needs to be done to expound on the relationship between school violence and clothing style. However, according to Brunsma (2006), there have been reports of students becoming victims of violence as a result of sporting a clad or combination of color identified with a given gang. For instance, a popular trend that boys tend to favor includes sporting pants that are baggy and shirts that appear to be oversized. This is a popular style among gang members (inner city) and it has been noted that gang members clad in such a way so as to conceal weapons as well as drugs which is such a case could find their way into the school precincts quite easily. With this in mind, the issue of school safety also comes into the picture.  We have also had instances where students have been killed or hurt as they are robed of their expensive accessories, jackets as well as shoes.

 It is also important to note that with dress code rules in place, inappropriate dressing is done away with. Hamilton (2007) in his own words notes that “give students freedom to wear anything to school and you will have some showing up in extremely revealing clothes all in he name of fashion……”. In the same breath, some believe that some rape cases are motivated by the way a student is dressed. This to some is what arouses some demonic tendencies amongst individuals in the school setting and this is not only a preserve of students as teachers have been caught on the wrong side of professionalism and ethics by making inappropriate advances on their students. Though such behaviors are not entirely driven by inappropriate dressing, it does surely play a big role in he same. Discipline and professionalism is an essential ingredient to the learning process and hence with dress codes in place, it is difficult to see how the education process will benefit.Similarly, dress codes avert distractions as far as learning is concerned. Many school administrators believe that dress code policies ensure that students report t school in he appropriate clothing that is neither too revealing not too outlandish. To echo these sentiments, Minow et al.  (2008) argues that the absence of dress codes in mostly secondary schools turns schools into fashion perpetual display places where students go to show off their newest clad. This essentially divers the attention of a majority of the students from the learning process as students tend to have lots of time focused to how they look at the expense of their class work. Dress codes also ensure that there is no distraction in class where you may have some students having clothes which are so revealing that they distract the attention of others in the classroom. Similarly, a dress code that is fixed enhances the academic performance of students as they are more inclined to concentrate more on their academics as well as their class work as opposed to their wardrobes. This is an assertion Hamilton (2007) supports.

 There is also the issue of cost effectiveness. Many parents argue that the prescription of dress codes helps them shelter some dollars. This is based on the premise that in the absence of dress codes, students tend to demand more clothes for school going as well as for showoff which may not go down well with their parent’s economical situations based with the high cost of living today. According to Brunsma (2006), clothes that are fashionable are not the cheapest and keeping in mind that dress codes are not meant to enhance the wearing of such clothes, parents could save a tidy sum of money is dress codes were adopted across the board for both primary as well as secondary schools. Parents also note that though it seems insignificant, dress codes go a long way towards enhancing peace at home. They note that by fact that what a student have to wear to school being pre-determined, unnecessary arguments on what or not what to wear to school are averted and hence contributing to a more harmonious familiar interaction. Further, it is important to note that in cases where dress codes dictate the wearing of school uniform, the costs of acquiring the same are relatively low as it is easy to source the uniforms at discount prices. Further, they could end up lasting longer as they are designed to withstand repeated wear and washing. The resources saved in this case can then be utilized for other purposes including the enhancement of the learning process by purchasing learning materials etc.

 Dress codes have also been associated with an enhancement of the school spirit and pride. By students feeling that they are not discriminated against based on what they are wearing, a unique sense of belonging is established. The enhanced spirit of belonging is what enhances the learning process as there are no discriminations based on what one is wearing. Brunsma (2006) notes that clothes in one way or the other dictate of are taken to be a reflection of an individual’s social status or standing. Based on this, the absence of dress codes in schools essentially means that those who are economically restrained report to school dressed ‘less appropriately’ as per their colleagues’ standards. Hamilton (2007) also notes that according to a 1999 study labeled social behaviors amongst the youth, students are more likely to be ridiculed by others based on what the wear as opposed to any other aspect in the course of their interaction with their colleagues or friends. According to this study, 67% of the victims of ridicule who were interviewed claimed they were misjudged based on the clothes they wore to school. Such studies demonstrate how difficult it can be for a student whose clothing do not conform to the prevailing fashion trends. In that regard, dress codes can be considered to be the greatest equalizers as far as the elimination of status connotations as a result of clothes is concerned. Brunsma (2006) also argues that dress codes mask the familiar income and in that regard, another distinction mark is removed or eliminated. Also, I tend to think that the enhancement of dress codes in our education institutions shall be the first step towards banishing the notion that an individual’s dress has anything to do with how he or she thinks or reasons. It is hence clear that dress codes go a long way to eliminate or reduce social conflict based on stereotypes. 

 Though not discussed often for fears of stroking religious or personal hearted, the freedom to attend school without and regard to the dress code can be abused for criminal purposes. To begin with, dress codes make it easy to identify as individuals who are not members of he school community. This is the case in both secondary and primary schools. In the same breath, many security threats are hence averted and with that in mind the leaning environment is made more conducive for studies to take place. Further, in the current day and age, we have had cases of terrorism as well as targeted violence on the raise and as Hamilton (2007) notes, there is absolutely nothing to hold back a terrorist from for instance dressing up in a Muslim Hijab that hides his or her identity and blowing up a school or other institution. As the National safety Centre director, Mr. Ronald Stephens once stated after the Columbine shootings, dress codes are a necessity in the current day and age where school shooting appears to be a common occurrence other than a rarity. This is his own informed opinion was one of the most effective ways of curbing such crimes and acts of violence. There is hence an existing obligation to protect our students from attack by individuals with ulterior motives. Though the enforcement of a dress code is not conclusive on its own for purposes of guaranteeing security of our students in both primary as well as secondary schools, it can be taken to be the right step in the right direction.

 To wind it up, it is important to note that in a study carried out by the Clarksville- Montgomery County School System in 2001, a majority of those interviewed in the local community lauded the enforcement of dress codes in both primary and secondary schools. Some of the benefit they fore so include;

·         The elimination or reduction of prejudice as well as exclusion based on what a student is wearing.

·         Enhancement of discipline as well as academic performance

·         The elimination of familiar tension

·         Enhanced self esteem amongst the students.

·         The enhancement of safety

 Dissenting arguments

According to Cruz (2001), research and studies carried out so far do not identify a clear link between the performance of students as well as behavior and dress code. The lack of this clear link has led some individuals to the conclusion that any relationship between dress codes and student performance and behavior is largely influenced by individual perceptions and not by any substantial evidence. According to Brunsma (2006), schools that want to enhance dressing codes must first have a clear reason to do so as well policies which can be seen to be justifying.To begin with, those who feel that dress codes are ill-advised say that such measures are only meant to enhance tensions between the administrators and students. They further fear dressing codes in both primary and secondary go a long way to inhibit the child’s ability to express him or herself. This is more so in primary school settings. However, Hamilton (2007) disputes this argument by noting that dressing cannot be taken to be the only way of self expression and even if that was the case, students still have the chance to express themselves during holidays and the weekends when they are not in school. This essentially means fears that the enforcement of dressing codes in schools ends up stimulating expression ways that are inappropriate are unfounded.

 Others argue that by enforcing dressing codes, students are deprives of their right to individuality. However, this is only true to some extent. Proponents of this argument like Cruz (2001) are of the opinion that in an increasingly diverse world in terms of religion, culture as well as race; dressing codes end up robbing the student of his or her right to enjoy as well as celebrate diversity. It is important to note that this is one of the hotly contested issues as far as dressing codes are concerned especially with some institutions banning religious attire in schools in the recent past. However, Hamilton (2007) notes that there is no way dressing codes can kill diversity as students still have other avenues of celebrating diversity apart from by use of attire. Further, Hamilton (2007) notes that self expression as well as individuality is not in any way “….enhanced by designer clothes.”Cruz (2001) is of the opinion that the enforcement of dressing codes in primary and secondary schools actually reflects negatively on student performance contrary to popular opinion to the contrary. He argues that in some cases, some attire prescribed by institutions interferes with the very comfort of students and this may go ahead and affect the students’ participation, attention and performance in class. I however find this unfounded as it in most instances, students have the absolute discretion over what to wear and what not to wear as far as it falls within the boundaries of the prescribed attire. The issue of discomfort should therefore not arise in this instance.


Dressing codes have come to be appreciated as a way of enhancing sanity in the education system. It is clear through the arguments presented herein that some dressing styles may prove offensive as well as disruptive not only to the students but to the instractors as well. It is for this reason that dress codes must be used as a standard to set and stabilize behavior patterns in both secondary as well as primary schools. Though some still oppose dress codes and the motives behind them, it remains clear that there is more to be gained in the education system by embracing dress codes.


Bluestein, J. (2001). Creating emotionally safe schools: a guide for educators and parents. HCI, 2000

Cruz, B.C.School Dress Codes: A Pro/Con Issue. Enslow Pub, 2001

Hamilton, J. Dress Codes in Schools. Russell Sage Foundation, 2007

Brunsma, D.L. Uniforms in public schools: a decade of research and debate. Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2006

Minow, M. & Shweder, R.A. Just schools: pursuing equality in societies of difference. Russell Sage Foundation, 2008

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