Dress Codes in School

Dress codes are rules on clothing choices. Schools usually have dress codes for their pupils and for their teachers. These rules may require students to wear a uniform in school as well as when traveling to and from school, or at sporting occasions. Clothing has a social significance, and historically dress regulations in schools were intended to promote egalitarianism among schoolmates and remove the peer pressure that children suffer because of the way they dress.

In most cases, school dress codes concern the policy on what students can or cannot wear in class. Policies vary, from school to school. Dress codes in some primary and secondary schools define only the types of clothes and symbols that must not be worn. In other schools, pupils have to wear a uniform, a standardized set of clothes.

In schools where uniforms are the preferred choice, usually boys have to wear dark short or long trousers and light-colored shirts. A tie is sometimes required. Girls' uniforms usually consist of a dress or a blouse matched with a skirt or culottes or worn under a pinafore. In some countries girls can also wear trousers. Boys and girls may be required to wear a blazer or a suit-like jacket in many countries.

In most cases dress codes are less restrictive than uniform policies. Most dress codes do not allow students to dress seductively or provocatively. In some schools the dress code requires students to wear certain colors, and bans images or logos on clothes. Some may even include rules about jewelry or the pupils' hair length. Scarves, curlers, bandanas or sweatbands inside of school buildings can also be banned. In some countries, mainly in western Europe, dress codes ban students from wearing religious attributes such as crosses or headscarves.

Dress codes provoke disputes in schools and societies worldwide. There are two main opinions: that uniforms are beneficial, and that unifying students stifles their individuality and imposes an unnecessary means of control. The supporters of uniform policies say that this type of restriction on clothing hides the differences in students' social status. Uniforms also prevents gang members from identifying themselves and forming lobbies within schools. According to surveys strict dress codes prevent students from being robbed of expensive clothes and jewelry. Uniforms also help school administrators identify non-students, trespassers and other visitors on the premises.

Surveys also show that dress codes reduce family tensions on what their children wear. For some students school uniforms increase their sense of belonging and school pride. This is specifically the case with most private schools worldwide that have dress codes.

Opponents of dress codes say they violate the students' right to freedom of expression and are a financial burden for poor families. Critics claim that there is no conclusive evidence that dress codes and uniforms help better academic performance or decrease violence in schools. According to critics uniform policies may provoke negative behavior such as rebelliousness. Surveys among students also show that dress codes do not eliminate the competition over clothes. In most countries uniforms are easier to enforce than dress codes as there are cases of students challenging dress codes through the courts.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Student Dress Code Debate
Swafford, Melinda; Jolley, Lee Ann; Southward, Leigh.
Techniques, Vol. 86, No. 1, January 2011
The Student Dress Code Debate (Part II)
Swafford, Melinda; Jolley, Lee Ann; Southward, Leigh.
Techniques, Vol. 86, No. 2, February 2011
Safety and Security in a School Environment: The Role of Dress Code Policies
Workman, Jane E.; Freeburg, Beth Winfrey.
Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Vol. 98, No. 2, April 2006
Civil Behavior, Safe-School Planning, and Dress Codes
Studak, Cathryn M.; Workman, Jane E.
Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Vol. 99, No. 3, September 2007
Teacher Dress Codes in Employee Handbooks: An Analysis
Workman, Jane E.; Freeburg, Beth Winfrey.
Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Vol. 102, No. 3, Summer 2010
The First Amendment in Schools: A Guide from the First Amendment Center
Charles C. Haynes; Sam Chaltain; John E. Ferguson Jr.; David L. Hudson Jr.; Oliver Thomas.
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2003
Librarian’s tip: "Student Dress and School Uniforms" begins on p. 74
Constitutional Law - Free Speech Clause - Fifth Circuit Upholds Texas School District's Dress Code under Intermediate Scrutiny
Harvard Law Review, Vol. 123, No. 8, June 2010
CHALK TALKS- Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in Public School Dress Codes: The Necessity of Respecting Personal Preference
Smith, Natalie.
Journal of Law and Education, Vol. 41, No. 1, January 2012
Rationale for Student Dress Codes: A Review of School Handbooks
Freeburg, Elizabeth W.; Workman, Jane E.; Lentz-Hees, Elizabeth S.
Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Vol. 96, No. 1, January 2004
Dress Code Blues: An Exploration of Urban Students' Reactions to a Public High School Uniform Policy
DaCosta, Kneia.
The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 75, No. 1, Winter 2006
Wearing Ideology: State, Schooling and Self-Presentation in Japan
Brian J. McVeigh.
Berg, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Learning to Wear Ideology: School Uniforms"
Undressing Religion: Commitment and Conversion from a Cross-Cultural Perspective
Linda B. Arthur.
Berg, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "School Uniforms as a Symbolic Metaphor for Competing Ideologies in Indonesia"
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