School uniforms: yea or nay?

Gerry Phelan
Published on October 18, 2013

No one is talking about them here, but school uniforms are reportedly making a comeback in the United States.

And the main reason is obvious: cost.

In St. John’s, private schools already have them. Lakecrest’s website notes: “The school uniform is part of everyday life at Lakecrest. There is a full dress uniform for formal occasions and a less formal ‘everyday’ uniform that allows some options.”

Their everyday uniform consists of a polo shirt or turtleneck with school crest, school cardigan, dress pants or skirt and dress shoes.

The full dress uniform includes a cardigan or optional blazer, dress pants or skirt, dress shoes and a white button-down shirt with school tie. They have several dress-down days each month when students may wear whatever they like.

St. Bonaventure’s College also has school uniforms, including ties.

In my day, we all had school uniforms. Grey pants, blazers or sweaters and dress shirts and ties were part of my life. Things had started to change by the time my son entered school. His early years were the final ones when uniforms were expected. By the time he reached high school, they no longer existed.

Uniforms represented exactly what the word implies. They made everyone the same. It didn’t matter if your parents were doctors, lawyers, bakers or store clerks, everyone wore the school colours and similar clothes. Now the playing field is completely different.

Lots of students went back to school last month wearing the newest and smartest fashions, and that costs big money. Ask almost any parent about the price of footwear alone. If you are trying to fit out even one child, August is harder on the pocketbook than Christmas. The early grades are a little easier, but I’m told junior high and high school is when clothing costs really hit the ceiling. Especially in high school, where students seem more intent on displaying their individuality.

Some say uniforms are old-fashioned, but there’s something special about school colours and crests. Talk to those who take part in the annual St. Pat’s reunion, for example. The green and gold is fondly remembered. Indeed, a history of St. Patrick’s Hall Schools, authored this year by Brother Joseph Darcy, has the school crest prominently displayed on a green cover. I guess that kind of pride still exists in our schools today, just captured in different ways.

A USA Today report in August, quoting figures from the U.S. Department of Education, indicated that nearly one in five public schools required uniforms in 2010, up from one in eight a decade earlier. The Aug. 18 article, by reporter Greg Toppo, said about 57 per cent of schools now have a strict dress code, up from just over 47 per cent more than 10 years before.

Some people who like school uniforms say one advantage is that they give bullies one less target for insults — it’s difficult to tease someone about what they’re wearing if you’re wearing the same thing.

The U.S. National Education Association estimates 160,000 children miss school every day because they fear being attacked or intimidated by other students.

My experience, though, is that bullies will be bullies, no matter what. You can’t dress a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I haven’t heard of any movement to bring uniforms back in this province. Maybe they’re regarded as a thing of the past, a remnant of the old denominational education system. Indeed, given the recent fuss over religious symbols, it’s likely not a matter most people want to discuss.

Still, floating the concept might prompt discussion about the “school fashion show.”

Do school uniforms make schools and students better? I’m not sure, but it’s an interesting conversation.

If there was a vote on uniforms for school children, would you say yes or no? My bet is that students would turn down the idea.

Parents? The vote would probably be closer.


Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at