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This essay will look at the issues and impacts surrounding uniforms and in particular the uniforms worn by children at school. It will also briefly look into the uniforms worn by the by those who have the honoured profession of the fire-fighter. Looking more deeply into two uniforms in particular and how these uniforms have evolved, helps towards an understanding of how uniforms can develop in general. Although there are thousands of professions and different roles an individual can have, which then results in thousands of different uniforms, the issues surrounding uniforms spreads across all professions. This essay will tackle issues such as how uniforms can offer cultural restrictions and the impacts this has had on certain individuals. Also the problems of sexualisation and the sexual connotations surrounding uniforms which has resulted in some devastating stories told by school children. As-well as this, how uniforms are presented in the media and the effects this can have will be briefly be discussed. Alongside these issues, positive impacts of uniforms will also be mentioned, such as how they help to provide equality in a workspace and also how in some cases, without a uniform a job couldn’t be done. The main outcome for this essay however, is to try and come to a conclusion on the huge issue of creativity linked to uniforms. Do uniforms limit creativity? Coming to an understanding of this issue by looking at how uniforms can suppress an individuals self expression but also how uniforms can encourage creativity is the aim. ‘To me, clothing is a form of self-expression, there are hints about who you are in what you wear’ (Jacobs, not date, cited in Hutchings, 2017: online).
School uniforms are one of many different types of uniform and one a lot of individuals have to wear in their lifetime. ‘The earliest school uniforms date back to the mid-sixteenth century where they were adopted in so-called “bluecoat” schools in England. The first school to adopt a uniform was Christ’s Hospital in London and other charitable foundations soon followed’. (Craik, 2003: 136-7) It is often questioned as to what the purpose of uniforms are and if they really do benefit children in any way. However with ‘children spending around thirteen hours a day in their school uniform’ (Park, 2011, cited in Park 2013: 163) Park shows how the importance of the matter is very high.
‘As the name suggests, uniform in a literal sense means to be the same throughout’ (Reddy, no date: online). Unfortunately bulling to this day is at a huge high and school children face unimaginable struggles on a daily basis at school. From being bullied about their intelligence, wealth, home situation, appearance and pretty much anything that makes a person stand out in some way, bulling is going on in most schools around the world. ‘The uniform makes for brotherhood, since when universally adopted it covers up all differences in class and country.’ (Baden-Powell, 2013: online) As Powell believes, many agree that the uniform helps eliminate some issues that could result in an individual being bullied. If everyone is wearing an identical uniform, then nobody’s attire differs from another individual in that school, therefore maybe reducing bulling linked to appearance. If children could choose on a daily basis their own outfits, this would differentiate children in a greater way as some children may be able to afford designer clothing and others may not. This could lead to children feeling less superior to other individuals which may nock their confidence and effect their academic performance at school. However, it can be seen that uniform brings people from all backgrounds onto one platform, it doesn’t matter if they are rich or poor, everyone is treated just the same (Reddy, no date). As Reddy shows, equality is a great advantage of not only school uniforms but uniforms in general. Issues that go on in school don’t just stop when children leave school, these issues are present in many workplaces adults are in, and as a result why uniforms can be seen as a very useful tool for enforcing equality.
‘In the 2000’s, school uniforms started to be recognised as an important fashion code that could help youth express their identity’ (Lee and Lim, 2010, cited in Park: 165). As children spend so much time in their school uniform, still being able to express themselves and feel confident in a uniform is important to many. Celebrities, for many teenagers play a role in their life and they idolise and look up to various different celebrities styles, trends and opinions. The way celebrities dress can have an impact on the way children express themselves through their uniform as they may copy certain dress styles and traits of people they see on TV or in the public eye. ‘Many young people follow the school uniform styles worn by their favourite starts on television’ (Lee and Lim, 2010, cited in Park: 165). This however raises a controversial issue about the sexualisation of uniforms and if this issue is as a result of the way celebrities have perceived uniforms. An example is that of Britney Spears ‘Baby one more time’ music video which was released in 1998. In the video Britney is wearing a school uniform with an unbuttoned school shirt and her hair in bunches so she is viewed as ‘sexy’. ‘The sexual and sensual connotations associated with uniforms suggest that some deep-seated issues concerning the formation of sexed identities and gendered persona are associated with and inscribed in the nature of uniforms and how they are worn’ (Craik, 2003: 138). If children have viewed this video and adapted their own uniform to replicate the way Britney has presented herself in the uniform then a serious problem is left. ‘With school uniform skirt lengths growing shorter and shorter, some schools announced that they would send girls home if they wore skirts that were too short’ (Park, 2013: 167). As Park explains, by girls altering their uniforms to be seen as more attractive or sexy, this way of wearing their uniforms does in a way effect their education as if they are sent home they are missing valuable learning time. A more serious consequence of these alterations and just the sexual connotations around the uniform in general is the sexualising of girls by older men. The danger that can come as a result of the sexualisation is that of young girls being targeted and attacked on their way to and from school by much older men. ‘When I was 13 and 14, I was sexually propositioned on three different occasions by adult men during my journey to or from school’ (Jones, 2014: online). This experience Jones went through is frightening and young girls shouldn’t have to feel anxious and on edge in a situation as common as a journey to school, this has consequences again on a child’s learning and academic progression. If they are having to face problems such as these attacks it may result in them not being able to concentrate on school or even no longer wanting to attend school. This issue however isn’t helped by the media, advertisements and many other forms of presenting something in the public eye. ‘Schoolgirls are considered sexy, and not just in he mind of the occasional pervert, but in normalised, mainstream, popular culture’ (Jones, 2014: online). Jones shows how this is evident in an advertisement made by American Apparel, the add labeled ‘back to school’, presented girls bent over in miniskirts showing their underwear, being a popular brand targeting young girls, ads like these can be damaging and hence why the ad was eventually banned. ‘If you are fetishising a school uniform, then you are fetishising the exact part of the image that signifies childhood. And surely we can expect advertisers to avoid actual child as bare minimum’ (Jones,2014: online). Although maybe some issues can be helped by the way things are perceived in the media and advertisements, individual people that perform these attacks cant be stopped completely. This could mean that the issue of school uniforms needs to be looked into more deeply as a way of trying to stop these sexualised connotations around a uniform happening, which evidently can lead to something very serious.
‘On first encounter, a stranger is categorized on the basis of external characteristics, such as dress, accent and posture’ (Stone, 1962, cited in Joseph and Alex, 1972: 724) Stone is addressing how important first impression and appearance really is. Having a uniform enables a workplace to ensure their employees/students are presentable which then gives off a good impression of the company/school. As well as this if an individual feels professional in the way they look it could be said that this helps give them a professional mind set and therefore helps them to be more productive in their line of work. ‘The uniform creates a professional feel and sets the standard of the customer of what they expect from the employee. Also, the citizens tend to trust uniformed individuals because uniforms make it easy for people to recognise the individual as an authorised personnel in that area’ (Reddy, no date: online). Some may agree with Reddy and believe that by in-forcing a uniform, it is making an individual trustworthy to their customers. Someone that has a clear identity of the workplace may be more approachable as people have certainty in the person they are addressing. Uniforms also help differentiate an individual’s professional life to their social life, again bringing a professional mind set once the uniform is put on.
In some cases if uniforms weren’t present then a job couldn’t be done, for example a firefighter. A firefighters uniform is essential to carry out their profession, entering extremely high temperatures without the suitable attire would be seriously dangerous and in this case a uniform is mandatory for protection. The first ‘fire office’ was established in 1667 after the great fire of London, by a man named Nicholas Barbon. Then in 1699 its own ‘fire brigade’ was formed. The uniform started with a blue tunic and trousers which didn’t really give much protection at all (Fire-fighter Foundation, no date). As a result in an advance in technology and materials, fire-fighters uniforms have evolved to what they are today. ‘The uniforms of police and fire departments, and the organisations themselves, generally have higher levels of prestige than the sanitation department or other groups’ (Joseph and Alex, 1972: 721). As Joseph and Alex show, a fire fighter has a high level of prestige and having such an iconic uniform that links to such a recognised and honoured profession shows how a uniform can identify a job and the connotations around this job almost immediately. For the person wearing the uniform this is a privilege and honour and shows how a uniform can have positive impacts on an individual. ‘The uniform identifies group members, helps insure that organisational goals will be attained, and orders priorities of group and status demands for the individual’ (Joseph and Alex, 1972: 719).
For some however, set uniforms can cause huge problems in relation to an individuals cultural and religious backgrounds. Often various religions believe that certain head pieces, robes or hairstyles should be adapted in order to prove your dedication to that religion. Undoubtably this has caused some problems previously as a number of workplaces believe that these garments shouldn’t be worn to work as they are not part of the uniform. ‘A Muslim woman said she was fired as she refused to remove her hijab at work’ (Revesz, 2016: online). Revesz shows how having a uniform can be a limitation of being able to do the job you love as in this case the woman was fired for breaking the uniform rules by adapting it to suit her religion. This is a huge problem and shows how uniforms can restrict a persons productivity in a job. This problem has however started to be dealt with in some professions to try and resolve the issue of individuals being culturally restricted. ‘New firefighters uniforms have another notable feature, being designed for the first time “for a modern, diverse workforce” – including hijab and turban versions, as well as maternity uniforms for pregnant female staff’ (Addley, 2009: online). Addley shows how Firefighters have adapted their uniforms to suit the needs of all individuals to make sure everyone has the opportunity to enter this profession. ‘We want the widest range of applicants to join the fire and rescue service’ (Khan 2009, cited in Addley 2009:1).
‘Creativity is the ability to devise new, surprising, and valuable ideas’ (Boden, 2004, cited in Park, 2013: 162). Although uniforms do have their advantages, a huge argument in disagreement for uniforms is the view that uniforms limit creativity. ‘The uniform suppresses individual idiosyncrasies in behaviour and appearance’ (Jospeh and Alex 1972: 723). Often people believe, as Joseph and Alex believe, that uniforms are limiting. If you are being told what you have to wear for your working life, which for some is the majority of their week, then it could be seen that this repetition day in day out may make an individual bored of their job and diminish their passion for that job. ‘Fashion is often considered as something that covers up the “true” nature of the body’ (Craik, 2005, cited in Park, 2013: 162). As Craik is stating, clothes do cover up what an individual truly is underneath, therefore what someone wears should replicate and show an individuals identity that is hidden underneath clothing. If clothing cant show an individuals personality then the idea that this limits creativity could be a cohesive one. Judy Park has a strong view on the argument for uniforms limiting creativity and explains some valid points and her opinion on the matter. ‘Clothes can therefore comparatively restrict or liberate a person because of the design, and people often choose their clothes based on their vales and how they want to act’ (Park, 2013: 163) It is evident when we see a mix of people together how different dress styles can be and these dress styles do often match an individuals personality. Many express themselves through their clothing and what they feel comfortable and confident in, therefore if you are stuck wearing a uniform you feel self conscious or uncomfortable in then this would restrict an individual in some way. This is why uniforms at school are such a controversial issue as this is one of the most valuable times of a persons life in relation to learning and growing, and if this time is being restricted then it may also restrict growth. ‘If school uniforms can be considered a part of fashion, they can indeed be considered a type of fashion that covers up the “true” appearance of students’ … ‘Creativity, as with other aspects and abilities of the mind, largely develops during school years, and clothing is frequently described as an expression of creativity’ (Park, 2013: 160-1).
Judy Park carried out interview’s with Korean school children to get opinions from the perspective of the wearers of the uniform. She stated that ‘none of the students were satisfied with their uniform’ and ‘none of the students interviewed said they wore their uniform without altering it’ she found that ‘the main complaints were that the design was not unique, pretty, or trendy, and too boring’. For this to come from young school children it shows their creativity is limited, to feel ‘boring’ and ‘not unique’ are not the feelings of confidence that children really do need. Park spoke to one boy who seemed to have a very strong opinion and valid points for his argument. ‘He said he did not like that everyone looked the same, and instead of a sense of belonging, he felt trapped. He added that he believes wearing school uniforms decreases creativity in students, making them less creative than students who do not wear uniforms, and that students could probably develop in a more creative way if they did not wear uniform’ his main question is an important one and something that does really need to be considered ‘How can we be expected to grow into creative adults if we are not even allowed to express ourselves in a creative way?’ These feelings and thoughts are evident of the limitations uniforms can bring and coming directly from school children makes the matter even more worrying.
From the research evaluated it can be said that uniforms do have their positives. They do create a sense of equality amongst people in a workspace as Reddy showed, uniform literally means same throughout. This equality provides a good working environment for individuals as people are less likely to judge one another if they are all on the same platform. Also we have seen that uniforms enable individuals to look professional and have a professional mind set, which helps with productivity in the workspace. However we have also seen a number of rather serious issues surrounding uniforms which conclusively show that the negatives are stronger than the positives, and that removing uniforms should be looked into. The cultural restrictions they can sometimes offer is a huge problem and has resulted in a number of people loosing their jobs, which in this case completely goes against uniforms helping with productivity. Also we have have seen the awful attacks that have taken place as a result of the sexual connotations surrounding uniforms. When looking into the arguments surrounding uniforms linked to creativity, it it evident to see that conclusively uniforms do limit creativity. Uniforms result in individuals having limited ways to express themselves and by trying to make everybody the same, everybody’s ideas may also be limited to being the same. Individuality and personality is needed in the world and to contribute to this being achieved, uniforms should be removed. As Apfel says, ‘When you don’t dress like everybody else, you don’t have to think like everybody else’ (Apfel, no date, cited in McCarty, 2018: online).
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