Should universities have uniforms?

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Hailie Pentleton
Online Team Member

“At a university, with around 29,000 students, it can be hard to experience that feeling of close-knit community that I both loathed and loved about secondary school. Perhaps we could use uniforms to fix this?”

Amidst the boredom that has ensued in my time in self-isolation, I blew the dust off of my school yearbook and flipped through its colourful pages. It was a nice reminder that, no matter how frustrated I become with being stuck inside my tiny studio, I would rather be trapped anywhere but secondary school. It has been three long, eventful years since I wandered those halls in an oversized blazer. I remember the day the yearbook photos were taken vividly. We assembled a sea of blazers and ties, braces and badges, to commemorate our completion of six years together in the form of a year-group photo. As we separated, I finally understood what my RE teacher had been reminding me of as I had spoken to him of my anxieties around the next chapter of my life: everyone is in the same boat. None of us knew what lay ahead of us when we walked out those gates clad in our black and gold ties, but we were all set out on that journey together.

My 11-or-so years of schooling featured some vogue worthy outfits. The stripy knit tights and polo-shirt combo from primary seven or the way I wore my junior tie in a weird box-shape over a chiffon shirt. When the senior tie was bestowed upon me, I finally had my ticket to freedom from the sweaty dining area for a Sainsbury’s meal deal. In our school, if you didn’t have a senior tie, going out for lunch was an offence punishable by a green-sheet or a bollocking from the headmaster. In the countless assemblies surrounding the issue, we were constantly reminded that when we left those doors we were ambassadors for our school. Our uniforms made us recognisable to the wider community and our actions reflected upon our own.

Naturally, I have heard the uniform debate hashed out a lot over the years. It was the subject of a mock debate in national five English, an argument between the year head and that rebellious student who had dared to wear a Hollister jumper instead of her blazer, or a general gripe when I couldn’t be bothered getting out of my pyjamas in the morning. Why should the clothes I wear to school matter? The length of my skirt did not determine the depth of my knowledge, nor did my blazer symbolize my desire to learn.

Advocates for the uniform often praise it for saving money, discouraging bullying, and encouraging students to feel as smart as they look. The most convincing argument for me, however, is that surrounding the feeling of community that they can inspire amongst wearers. I am certainly not nostalgic for my school days, or to wear my old school skirts, but I do appreciate the way that uniforms allowed us to feel part of something wider than ourselves. Uniforms served as a reminder of our similarities rather than our countless differences and encouraged us to think about the way our actions reflected the ethos of our school.

At a university, with around 29,000 students, it can be hard to experience that feeling of close-knit community that I both loathed and loved about secondary school. Perhaps we could use uniforms to fix this? It seems impossible to imagine a University of Glasgow with uniforms without a nod to its wizarding doppelganger, Hogwarts. Maybe we could take a leaf out of their book and have our students cut about Gilmorehill in ankle-length robes with a different coloured tie for each college. Or maybe we could have a specific dress code for each college instead. For example, we could formalize the wearing of mom jeans and dad shirts with an optional vegan fringe in the College of Arts (@myself).

Truthfully, I see no reason for University students to be forced back into pleated skirts and tapered trousers (although I am partial to wearing both on the regular). When we shed our school uniforms and step out into the big bad world, we become entirely responsible for our own journey, without the much-needed guidance of our teachers or the threat of suspension. Our clothes, choices, and actions reflect only on ourselves. That does not mean, of course, that we cannot cultivate our own place in the university community, or indeed the wider world. We can still act like children together, learn about the world alongside each other, and recognize that – for the most part – we are all in the same boat. We just don’t need ties to do it.