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Dress Code/Uniform Policies in Education

By Brad Duvall, Melissa Arrowood Faklaris, Blair Fisher, Matt Moody, Patricia Njagi, Chuck Wilson



In an effort to decrease school disciplinary issues, school safety, and low academic standards, strict uniform policies have been proven to help enhance the school climate.  As an integral part of changing and improving school climate, professionalism and safety are two key factors that a uniform policy can fulfill.  In addition to these key factors, uniforms will also help place the emphasis back to a focus on education rather than peer pressure, violence, and the lack of motivation in students.


Dress Code/Uniform Policies in Education

The unprofessional dress of students has a negative impact on student behavior, safety, and academic achievement.  As fashion and trends change, students become more concerned with how they look and how they are perceived than they do with their academic success and achievement.  The fashion of low rise jeans, bagging jeans, large trench coats, low cut shirts, and many others contribute to behavior problems and safety issues in the classrooms and in the hallways of schools today.  Students have also lost the professionalism involved with education; students do not feel that school is a place of work but rather a place to hang out with friends and socialize.  Their unprofessional behavior is reflected in the manner in which they present themselves.  According to Isaacson (1998)


In recent years, schools across the country have experienced violence, gang activity, and thefts of clothing and accessories.  Many school boards, mindful of their responsibility to provide safe school environments for students, have implemented policies specifying dress codes or the wearing of uniforms (Isaacson, 2004, para. 1). 


In order for a school to be successful it must meet the minimum requirements of being safe and well disciplined.  When children feel safe and secure in their learning environment they are more likely to focus on educational achievement and the values of good citizenship.  There are many benefits to the implementation of uniforms; the four basic benefits are:  “enhanced school safety, improved learning climate, higher self-esteem for students, and less stress on the family” ( Anderson , 2004, para. 2). 


Before instituting a uniform policy, many careful steps must be taken.  According to Lane (1994) the most important steps to follow are:  “be able to justify the action demonstrating the link between a kind of dress and disruptive behavior; consult with a school attorney; and make sure the policy is enforceable and does not discriminate against racial/ethnic minorities” (Lane, 2004, para. 22).  Lane (1994) also goes on to state that, “successful implementation depends on developing positive perceptions among students and parents, making uniforms available and inexpensive, implementing dress code/uniform policies in conjunction with other educational change strategies” (Lane, 2004, para. 25).  A survey conducted to local residents in 2001 by the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System showed that uniforms were believed to have many positive advantages for young people.  Among those advantages were ideas such as: diminishes exclusion of students based on what they are wearing, places stronger focus on academic performance, decreases opportunity for showing gang affiliation or hiding weapons, reduces family tension, decreases participation in violent activities, leads to higher academic performance, creates atmosphere of teamwork and pride in personal appearance and school, promotes safety; make it easier to identify strangers in schools, increases self-esteem and reduces peer pressure, most cost effective to parents in the long run, reduces absenteeism, puts students on a more common ground, and reduces discrepancies in administering dress-code justice (Anderson, 2004, para. 8). 


Research and evidence clearly shows that a uniform policy can and does increase the safety of school, reduce the number of disruptions based on behavioral problems, positively benefit the school climate, promotes a professional setting in which the focus of the school is on education and academic success. 


Above all benefits of school uniforms, the benefit of school safety and the reduction of discipline problems is by far the greatest.  According to Isaacson (1998), “One of the chief benefits of school uniforms, say proponents, is that they make schools safer.  Uniforms are said to reduce gang influence, minimize violence by reducing some sources of conflict, and help to identify trespassers” (Isaacson, 2004, para. 4).  Long Beach, California served as one area of study linking uniforms and the decrease in school violence, crime, and disciplinary issues.  According to Chaika (1999) “In 1994, the Long Beach , California , school system began requiring that students wear uniforms.  The system recorded a drop in suspensions, assaults, thefts, vandalism, and weapon and drug violations and an increase in attendance” (Chaika, 2004, para. 5).  As evidenced in many other studies concerning this same school system, there was a dramatic drop of thirty-six percent in all violent related crimes at school (Mancini, 2004).  The Superintendent of the Long Beach school system, Carl A. Cohn, went on record stating, “that during the first year [of uniform implementation] suspensions decreased by 32%, school crime by 36%, fighting by 51%, and vandalism by 18%” (Cohn, 2004, para. 10).  The research is definite and shows a direct and substantial link to school uniforms and the decrease in school crimes, violence, and gang activities.


As part of a complete school climate change, uniforms can and do boost the school climate.  As researched by Caruso (1996), “Proponents say uniforms enhance students’ self-concepts, classroom behavior, and academic achievement” (Caruso 2004).  Another important aspect of developing the positive school climate is found in Krystyniak’s (2001) research on connections between uniforms and school climate.  He states that, “[uniforms] enhanced image of students and the school in the community, minimization of the effects of economic variations among students, and reduction in the overall cost of student wardrobes” (Krstyyniak 2004).  Because of the simple fact that not all kids have the same monetary advantages, it becomes difficult for some students to “fit in” in the average school climate.  Uniforms put all students on the same common ground as far as materials available for the school setting.  This then leads to a reduction in peer pressure, negative self worth, and undue stress on families.  Uniforms help take the emphasis off of the “school fashion show” and place the emphasis back on high achievement and professionalism in schools.


Students have lost the idea of school being a professional setting in which the primary focus is education.  Schools today are seen as “hang outs” and a place to catch up on the latest news and trends for teenagers.  Uniforms help to erase that negative image by placing the importance back on education and a work type atmosphere.  Students do not see school as a job for them, but rather a past time until college or work.  One reason for this lackadaisical attitude is because many students dress as though they are going to the movies, out to dinner, or to the beach.  This lack of seriousness then leads to a decrease in attendance, low-test scores, and overall low achievement.  According to Isaacson (1998), “Uniforms are also claimed to help erase cultural and economic differences among students, set a tone for serious study, facilitate school pride, and improve attendance” (Isaacson, 2004, para. 5).  The school system of Cherry Hill conducted research on the same topic, and after nine years of uniform implementation, Millon (1996) found that, “attendance is up, suspensions are down, children are more focused on schoolwork, and test scores are going up.  Students are very proud of themselves in uniforms…they know that they are coming to work” (Millon 2004).  This type of positive, professional attitude is what is needed in schools to make them schools of excellence and schools of high achievement.


Many schools have dress codes; however, most of the time these dress codes are ignored and not enforced.  After researching the disciplinary actions of three high schools in the Metro-Atlanta area, the findings showed that the standard dress code included guidelines such as:  no pajama type clothing or shoes, no hats, no undergarments may be shown, no midriff shirts, and no clothing with reference to sex, drugs, alcohol, gangs, and/or racial slurs.  These guidelines are then backed up with disciplinary actions such as:  calling home to parents for a change of clothes, detention, wearing of a laboratory coat to cover clothing, or perhaps assigned days of In School Suspension.  Students however are very aware of the lack of strong disciplinary action in regards to the school dress code and therefore they push the rules to the limit.  A uniform policy would alleviate this problem by only allowing students to wear certain clothes to school.  According to Anderson (2002), “dress codes state what must not be worn; uniform policies sate what must be worn” (Anderson 2004).  This eliminates the loopholes that students find in dress code issues.  Anderson (2002) also states that, “Part of the problem schools face with implementing dress codes is that youth fashions change frequently and radically.  It’s difficult for administrators to keep up; therefore, many schools adopt general dress codes” (Anderson 2004).    


By implementing a policy adopting school uniforms, administrators would not be faced with this problem or changing trends.  Students have a lack of respect for authority figures and this is shown in the insubordination of students who are repeat offenders.  The students are very aware of the policies and guidelines for dress code; however, they constantly push what they can get away with and continuously challenge adults to push the line further and further.  There are many steps that must be taken before adopting a uniform policy.  As indicated by the U.S. Department of Education there are eight basic steps to implementing a uniform policy: get parents involved from the beginning, protect students’ religious expression, protect students’ other rights of expression, determine whether to have a voluntary or mandatory school uniform policy, when a mandatory school uniform policy is adopted, determine whether to have an “opt out” provision, do not require students to wear a message, assist families that need financial help, and treat school uniforms as part of an overall safety program (2004). 


By following these guidelines and continuously researching the advantages of a school uniform policy, the concept of school uniforms will help with the safety in schools, will decrease the disciplinary issues facing schools, will help to promote a positive school climate, and will place the focus of schools back on professionalism and excellence in education.




  1. Anderson, Wendell (2002, Fall).  School Dress Codes and Uniform Policies. Retrieved February 2004, from http//:www.eric.uoregon.org
  2. Caruso, Peter (1996, September).  Individuality vs. Conformity:  The Issue Behind School Uniforms. Retrieved February 2004, from http://www.eric.uoregon.edu
  3. Chaika, Glori (1999). School Uniforms: Panacea or Band-Aid? Retrieved February 2004, from http://www.education-world/com
  4. Cohn, Carl (1996, September/October).  Mandatory School Uniforms.  Retrieved February 2004, from http://eric.uoregon.edu
  5. Isaacson, Lynne (1998, January).  Student Dress Codes.  Retrieved February 2004, from http://eric.uoregon.edu
  6. Krystyniak, Frank (2001, June).  Educators’ Dress Code Study Shows Numerous Positive Effects.  Retrieved February 2004, from http://shsu.edu
  7. Lane, Kenneth (1994, March).  Student Dress Policies.  Retrieved February 2004, from http://ericfacility.net
  8. Mancini, Gail (1997, December).  School Uniforms: Dressing for Success or Conformity?  Retrieved February 2004, from http://ebscohost.edu
  9. Million, June (1996, April).  Do the Clothes Make the Student?  Retrieved February 2004, from http://naesp.org
  10. U.S. Department of Education (1996, February).  Manual on School Uniforms: Where They Are and Why They Work.  Retrieved February 2004, from http://ed.gov/updates/uniforms.html

Copyright February 25, 2004, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission of Melissa Faklaris.