Leah Horner is a journalism junior and Mustang News study abroad columnist.
At Abbotsfield School for Boys in West London, students are required to dress in formal attire almost every day of the year. This includes black slacks, a white buttonup shirt, a red and black striped tie and black loafers. This is not an unusual requirement for schools in England. In fact, almost every English school has a similar dress code.
In England, students wear uniforms in both primary and secondary school until the age of 16. It doesn’t matter if a school is public or private; all have similar dress codes.
Robert Dan, a second year English literature student at the University of Brighton in England, attended Abbotsfield. Not only did they have certain clothing requirements, but they also had specific ways they had to be worn. The boys’ ties had to have a particular amount of stripes to ensure they were long enough, shirts had to be tucked in, buttons done up to the very top button and black dress shoes were to be worn at all times.
“(It) was really big on its values and morals and saying that every time you wear this uniform, whether you’re inside or outside of school or on your way to school, you’re an ambassador for the school,” Dan said.
Cal Poly music sophomore Viola Cella alternated between both public and private school in Utah while growing up. Unlike Dan, she and most other Americans associate private schools with uniforms and public schools with free dress.
However, areas in the U.S. are moving toward England’s standards. According to the Long Beach Unified School District, Long Beach, California was the first district in the U.S. to require all students at both public and private schools to wear a uniform, starting in January 1994.
Other schools are also aiming to have stricter dress codes. In a study done by the National Association of Elementary School Principals and Lands’ End School Uniform in 2013, U.S. school principals found many positive reasons to switch to uniforms. Eighty-six percent of leaders of schools with formal dress codes see a positive impact on peer pressure and 64 percent see a positive impact on bullying. Classroom discipline, community image, student safety, school pride and ease of getting ready were also surveyed, with a majority of leaders seeing an improvement in all areas.
These surveys reflect what Cella experienced when she wore free dress to school. Growing up was a tough time, and Cella felt the pressure. In middle school, the kids in her class would judge each other based on what they were wearing. She felt most comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt, but the other kids had a different idea of what should be worn.
“There was definitely a lot of Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister, and you didn’t get made fun of if you weren’t wearing those but people immediately judged you … You got put into a certain clique or a certain group based on what you were wearing,” Cella said.
In England, this isn’t an issue. Every student is dressed the same at school, so children can’t critique each other’s clothes. Dan said it was actually fun to get to know a person for who they were, not what they wore, then be surprised on a free dress day when they showed up in something completely different than expected.
Louise Hambridge is a mother of two young students in Brighton, England. Her kids, Shylah-Rose and Mitchell are just starting school. She sees both economical and social advantages to a uniform.
“For parents who don’t have a lot of money, if their children are not dressed as well as other children they will be penalized from the other children themselves,” Hambridge said. “I think it’s good that all the children are wearing the same, they can’t be bullied for what they’re wearing.”
“I think uniforms are equalizers,” she said. “I think they put the focus on the academics and not so much where you are or where you come from, but what you can do. And I really appreciated that in high school.”
Looking back on her time with a uniform, Cella says it was mostly positive. Expressing yourself is important when growing up, but she believes there are other ways to show who you are that aren’t through clothes. She says wearing a uniform encouraged self-expression through her music, which has helped her become the person she is today.
Today, Cella wishes she could throw on the same skirt and blouse every day.
“It was such a God-send,” she said. “Like, God bless uniforms. I know a lot of people hate them, but I wish I still had a uniform.”