Universally United with Uniforms

We’re not as different as we may seem.

Sarah O’Connell studied as an international student at Concordia International School Shanghai for her senior year of high school. She knew wearing flip flops was against the dress code, but wore a pair to school anyways. “When I walking down the hall, the head master stopped me, looked me directly in the eyes, and said, “There is a rule against flip flops. This is why.” And stepped on my foot. It hurt!”

“When I walking down the hall, the head master stopped me, looked me directly in the eyes, and said, “There is a rule against flip flops. This is why.” And stepped on my foot. It hurt!”

All across the globe schools enforce dress codes that are applicable to their cultures. For girls, skirts and collared shirts are seen almost across the board. While some nations have stricter policies because of societal views of modesty and respect within their world, others are more relaxed in their school dress codes.

School uniforms were first introduced in England around 1870. Uniforms were provided at charity schools for poor children and served as an effectively as an identifying characteristic. Soon uniforms were adopted by most educational institutions in Europe and are still required today.

In the United State of America, popularity of required school uniforms drastically increased after former President Bill Clinton supported them publically in 1996. Clinton stated “School uniforms are one step that may help break the cycle of violence, truancy and disorder by helping young students understand what really counts is what kind of people they are.”

This statement relates to prejudice that street-clothing has been known to create in schools in the U.S. When students are not required to wear uniforms, their clothing of choice may reveal their socioeconomic stance. By requiring students the wear uniforms, there is less chance of bullying or violence due to socioeconomic status and class.

Popular clothing company H&M now offers a line of clothing that meets school uniform requirements.

Student uniforms are also used to help identify and differentiate students from non-students. If a visitor is on campus, it allows administration and teachers to quickly identify that individual as an outsider and help protect students from potentially dangerous situations.

Schools internationally enforce uniforms or dress codes to help protect their students from various things. The uniforms may protect against bullying from other students, as well as protecting their modesty.

In countries such as Myanmar (Burma) school aged girls wear a traditional Burmese blouse called a yinzi, with a sarong called an htamein. In Burmese culture, it is not acceptable for women to show skin, particularly their legs and shoulders. The more covered up a female is, the more respect she will receive from her community. Through school uniforms, this cultural norm is instilled in girls at a young age.Several young Burmese girls are ready for the school day.

China, where Sarah studied, has an interesting approach to female modesty in their uniforms. Like most schools globally, their female student uniform consists of a skirt and collared blouse for their summer uniform. Chinese students attend classes 10 ½ months out of the year so their uniforms change with the seasons. Winter uniforms in China are not gender-specific. All students wear a zip up sweater , pants and a collared shirt. As clothing trends in China become more Western-oriented, both in and out of schools, females are not held to extreme standards of specific cultural dress as they were in the 1960’s.

Several Chinese students in the their gender-specific summer uniforms.

Several Chinese students in their gender neutral winter uniforms.

Other schools have a more relaxed approach to dress code or school uniform requirements, while still maintaining standards for their students.

Chaing Mai International School in Bangkok, Thailand implements a dress code rather than a uniform. CMIS, “acknowledge[s] the need to dress in a way that is respectful of Thai culture,” by forbidding clothing that display “inappropriate messages” or are “ripped… excessively tight, short, skimpy or revealing” as well as shorts that are more than 15 centimeters above the knee. However, CMIS does allow “culturally appropriate nose studs,” as part of acceptable student dress.

In Thailand and other Asian countries, nose studs are a part of cultural dress.

Abigail Watkins grew up in Kiev, Ukraine, attending Kiev International School, a religious private institution. She recalls her school did not have a specific school uniform or strict dress code. Students were simply told they “could not wear sweatpants or short shorts”.

Watkins also spent a year studying at Faith Academy, a religious private school in Manila, Philippines. She recalls “My school in the Philippines had uniforms. Khaki knee-length skirts and blue polo shirts.” Interestingly, Faith Academy was thought to have the loosest dress code in town – most other schools in Manila had ankle length skirts that did not reveal girls’ legs at all.

Students, in uniform, at Faith Academy, during their annual flag ceremony.

While dress codes at schools across the globe are indeed different, the same concept is behind each one. It is important to respect cultural values and protect modesty so that the main focus is on education.