School uniforms have to fulfill multiple design requirements. They’re supposed to immediately identify the wearer as a pupil of specific educational establishment. They must be smart and recognizable, easy to wear and wash and capable of protecting the wearer against the different weather types common in the United Kingdom throughout the different terms.
The basic principle behind the school uniform is twofold. On the one hand, it’s there to give pupils a sense of identity, the idea that the school they attend is a communal body of which they are an integral part. It is, in other words, intended to foster the school spirit required to encourage the pupil to behave in a way that represents that spirit whenever he or she has the blazer or tie.
On the other hand, the school uniform is there to show members of the public which institution the pupil attends. This in itself is a requirement that has several implications.
If pupils are well behaved (if, in other words, they buy into the school spirit of which the badge and uniform are symbols) then the uniform becomes an advert for the quality of discipline and teaching at the school in question. However, if pupils misbehave publicly, the uniform becomes a tool for bringing individuals to justice or for ensuring that responsibility for the behavior of its pupils comes back to the correct institution.
For the most part, the school uniform is worn by a child or teenager. As such, it must be designed to withstand the pounding its wearer is likely to give it. A uniform design doesn’t work if it’s made from a fabric that won’t take kindly to roughhousing, or playing football in breaks or attendant of any of the other horrors on being a pair of boys’ trousers, or a girl’s skirt.
Polyester is used in the majority of school uniforms. It is extremely tough, it’s easy to clean and it will hold its shape despite the content activity of young limbs. It’s also cost effective which is good for the manufacturer and for the retail outlets that sell the uniforms on to parents.
Cost effective school uniforms are also good for the ultimate consumer, the mother or father who puts his or her hand into his or her wallet every year.
Having school uniforms made from cost effective elements has another effect. It makes it much harder to visually identify pupils from richer or less affluent backgrounds. In essence, the uniform visually levels all pupils so none can be singled out as “different”.
There are two strands to the ideas of difference here. Uniforms have always been used to quell difference; both to make sure that disparate people are visually associated with a single company, place or ideal and to discourage individuals from expressing their personality over and above the wishes of the institution in question. There is, in other words, a subliminal disciplining about the act of wearing a uniform, which is intended to make pupils more likely to think, feel and behave as members of an establishment rather than as unruly individuals.