Armani, Socks and Shoe Heels – Why School Uniforms Continue to Attract Debate


Ever since schools have issued a dress code, the issue of school uniforms has been contentious. Every year as children prepare themselves for their year at school, issues around school uniforms make the news. Over the last 12 months, School Governance has reported on how schools are implementing gender-neutral uniforms to accommodate transgender students and giving female students the option of wearing shorts and pants as well as dresses or skirts.

Recently, debate has shifted from whether altering school uniform policies to accommodate student need, to focus on the strict application of a school’s uniform policy or even, whether schools should have a school uniform at all. There have been recent media reports of schools around Australia disciplining students for not wearing the correct school uniform.  The media has reported about schools in Brisbane and Melbourne are strictly applying their uniform policy, causing debate.

What happened?

Let’s start in Brisbane where ABC News reported about a high school giving students detentions for not wearing the correct uniform. Students were given detention for wearing the wrong sized heel on their school shoes.  This made parents furious, causing them to vent on social media about the school’s uniform requirements. The school claimed that students who were wearing the banned shoes were given detention for not complying with the school’s uniform policy.

In Melbourne The Age wrote about at least 17 students from a government high school in Melbourne’s western suburbs being sent home for wearing the wrong socks.  It is also believed that a further 15 students received internal detentions for breaches of the school’s uniform code. The school’s principal defended the decision to send students home, saying the school had a strict uniform policy that had been in place for 20 years.

It is open to debate whether the size of a heel or wrong sock merited the reaction from the schools in question.

No uniforms?

Now one way to avoid any angst regarding school uniforms is to not have a school uniform at all…or is it?

One school in Brisbane has decided not to have a school uniform. Students are allowed to wear reasonable make-up and tattoos (as long as they are covered up), and simple jewellery such as a nose piercing.  While the school does not have a uniform policy in the traditional sense, they have a dress code that includes wearing clothing of an appropriate length.

The removal of a school uniform requirement has caused debate. While students at the Brisbane school enjoy the freedom and flexibility of having no school uniform, experts have come out stating that it could cause more problems like bullying and peer pressure.  Dr Justin Coulson, a psychologist and parenting expert, says that uniforms help reduce social pressures on kids to be “cool” like their peers. “When you’re wearing a uniform you’re just like everybody else … Especially when they’re teenagers, when they know that they’re different, and their clothing exemplifies and highlights that difference, the psychological pressure they experience and the accompanying bullying issues can be exacerbated so much without uniforms.”

Another psychologist, Kelly Wozencroft said that instilling a sense of pride, rather than discipline, would convince teenagers to present themselves well.

Again another contentious angle to the uniform debate!

International uniform quarrels

The issue of uniforms also seems to grip schools overseas. A government school in Japan has reached the headlines for introducing a new policy, announcing that students will be required to wear Armani-designed uniforms that cost ¥80,000 ($940 AUD) which is more than three times the price of the current uniform.  This, of course, raised the eyebrows of parents and made them understandably furious.  One mother said that she “was surprised, and wondered why such luxury brand-designed uniforms have been picked for a public elementary school.”

The principal of the school said that it decided to adopt the Armani-designed uniforms because it was aimed to create a suitable atmosphere for such a school.

Practical issues around school uniforms

As can be seen by the cases above, within school communities uniforms are a touchy and contentious subject.  Schools around Australia are allowed to set a uniform standard, but what the uniform standard actually is must be decided by the school.

A school uniform policy actually encompasses quite a few rules on topics such as:

  • hair (style, dyed colour and length)
  • facial hair such as beards
  • make-up
  • nail length
  • general appearance
  • grooming standards
  • tattoos and piercings
  • wearing of jewellery
  • shoes
  • the wearing of certain religious items.

School uniforms not only aim to set a standard of dress, but support or even create a sub-culture or sense of identity among the school’s cohort.  School uniforms are essentially the brand of a school that not only assists in providing recognition in the education market but also assists to formalise the expectations of how pupils of the school are expected to behave, build a sense of community, and represent the school’s values.

Schools invest a significant amount of time and money into how their school uniform looks, how it is sold and the range that they require their pupils to wear. If a uniform is changed, there could be community backlash against the change as the uniform often forms part of a schools recognisable and integral fabric of a school’s history, culture and tradition. Additionally, if schools were to change their uniforms to respond to the latest trends, this may incur substantial financial and administrative cost.

So what’s the solution?

To be honest, there isn’t one. No matter what a school decides, someone will have an issue with the school’s uniform.

Ultimately, schools are free to have a uniform or not. How they enforce their uniform policy is also their call – and by now they must be aware that how they do so can attract media attention.


About the Author

William Kelly is a School Governance reporter. He can be contacted here.

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