Initially I didn’t think I had strong views about school uniforms, although so far I haven’t been interested in a school that uses them. I can see their advantages, which might most simply be distilled to the fact that they are, well, uniform. There’s something to be said for leveling the class playing field and for cohesion. But their disadvantages also distill to the fact that they’re, well, uniform. Because there’s something less to be said for sameness.
I’m not talking here about some assertion that one should be able to wear whatever one wants and bear no social consequences. This is, to me, absurd, since the truth for almost all of us is that we dress in ways that attend to how we want to be received by our world: whether to stand out or blend in or rebel or fade away.
Rather, I worry about how a school uniform can be limiting in more fundamental ways. It’s understood that boys wear one set of clothes while girls wear another and Nathalie has already spoken to how the sexism of this can be damaging. Also, especially somewhere like Canada, how is the bursting collection of diversity that makes up our population reflected in one type of pants or a knee skirt?
The constraints of the school uniform do not end there. I remember as a girl feeling so uncomfortable in skirts; I never felt like myself in them and would have hated to have worn a skirt just because I was a girl. More pointedly though: what about the children who don’t necessarily or always identify with the body they were born in, and certainly not to its allocated clothing? Where do they fit into a school where there is no spectrum to express who a person might be, but only two discrete end points?
As it turns out, my problem with a school uniform isn’t only because it’s uniform, but because it’s binary. You are either a (specific kind of) boy or a (specific kind of) girl. A school uniform posits these two exclusive options, and basically I think they are too few. It excludes quite a few of us, for whom getting dressed in the morning becomes not much different than putting on a costume, except more painful. Here the argument against a school uniform becomes an assertion not only of a person’s individuality, but of the right to be recognized as a whole person regardless of sexual and gender identity.
There may be times when the good of the many outweighs the good of the few(er). But the school uniform? I’m not sure it’s one of them.