While some kids and parents believe students should be free to dress the way they want as an expression of free speech, most schools have a say in how students dress. The school might have a dress code that gives guidelines for appropriate clothing, or it might require students to wear uniforms. Schools with a uniform policy usually have good reasons for implementing it, and some cite research to back their guidelines.

Uniform Styles

Uniforms vary widely by school. Some are quite formal, requiring dress shirts and ties for boys and jumpers or dresses for girls. Others are little more than a sweat shirt emblazoned with the school's logo. Some schools offer a wide range of options and colors for uniforms, such as khaki or navy dress slacks that are found at most department stores. Other schools require that the students purchase clothing from an official school store or uniform supplier. It's not just private schools that require uniforms, either: Many public schools also require them, from kindergarten through grade 12.

Five Social Reasons to Wear Uniforms

A safe, encouraging school environment is a much better place to learn than a school full of conflict and discipline problems. Proponents believe school uniforms can help make the school environment more student friendly.

  1. School uniforms level the playing field. When all students have to wear the same thing, none of them can brag about wearing the latest, most expensive fashions. Whether they're from the upper, middle or lower class, all students dress the same.

  2. School uniforms can also increase student safety. Students cannot wear gang-affiliated clothing or colors: Individual style, in this case, is sacrificed for a safer learning environment. Even something as simple as a teacher being easily able to spot her students on a field trip -- or spot an intruder in the school -- is an important benefit of school uniforms.

  3. School uniforms make it easier on families to shop for school clothes. Uniforms are usually cheaper than other clothing, and not having to decide what to wear saves time.

  4. Uniforms can increase self-confidence when students don't feel pressured to wear certain types of clothing. Uniforms also make it almost impossible for students to be bullied over clothing choices. A study by the University of Nevada, Reno found that middle school students felt safer and more confident when wearing uniforms.

  5. School uniforms can foster school spirit. When students are wearing their uniforms, they are representing their schools. Such school unity can be increased with activities such as logo design contests and voting on uniform changes.

Five Academic Reasons to Wear Uniforms

School uniforms might also help students academically.

  1. Uniforms save teachers and administrators valuable time. Schools that have dress codes in place rather than uniform policies often struggle with gray areas: How short is too short? Is a girl's shirt cut too low? What about that boy's T-shirt: Does it cross a line? Instead of dealing with more important, academic issues, administrators are left making judgment calls -- and calls home to parents to bring a change of clothing.

  2. School uniforms lessen distractions in the classroom. No one is sidetracked by someone's T-shirt message or where a friend got her awesome leggings. Instead, students are concentrating on the work at hand.

  3. School uniform policies have been shown to reduce tardiness and absences and to increase graduation rates, according to a study by Youngstown University.

  4. Schools that implement school uniform policies tend to experience a reduction in discipline referrals, although the reason for this is not clear. Some think it's because students are respected more by teachers when they are in uniforms rather than baggy pants and baseball caps. Others think the reasons are more complicated than that.

  5. Some studies have even shown an increase in academic test scores in schools that have implemented uniform policies.

What the Research Says

Experts disagree on whether school uniform policies make a significant positive impact on student behavior and academic performance. Some studies show positive results; others don't. Professor David Brunsma of the University of Missouri published a book compiling research on whether uniforms really do improve behavior and academic performance. In The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education, Brunsma concluded that there is no strong empirical data to support those claims. It doesn't mean that uniform policies aren't beneficial -- only that those benefits are difficult to prove.