School Dress Codes: Impact on Behavior and Performance

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Although many adults have adopted business casual dress, children enrolled in Catholic schools continue to dress for success by donning uniforms. And it makes a difference: On the occasions that students at Schenectady’s Marian Academy can dress out of uniform, the staff notices a change in behavior. “When we have dress-down day, the atmosphere is slightly different,” said Ninette Kondratowicz, associate principal. Sister Mary Ellen Owens, RSM, principal of Holy Cross School in Albany, agrees. While many Catholic schools allow students to wear gym clothes to school on gym days, Holy Cross abandoned that policy because of the slight behavior changes.

“On gym days, they change into their gym uniforms,” the principal said. “If they don’t, they act like they’re in gym class all day”.

The calming effect of uniforms is just one of the benefits, say educators. Uniforms save parents money since they don’t have to buy their child an entire school wardrobe. The uniform also reduces the morning stress families can face as children get ready for school.

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“As a parent, I think uniforms are a good thing,” Mrs. Kondratowicz said. “I don’t have to haggle over what my daughter is going to wear”.

“The parents are in favor of them,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “It’s cost effective for parents, and there’s no competition between students for clothes”.

All the same, uniforms also reduce the pressures children face to fit in. Children don’t have to worry about having specific brands of clothing.

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Holy Cross, for example, modified its gym uniform a few years ago because of the pressures to have the most stylish tee shirt for gym class. Students now wear a plain white tee shirt. Prior to this change, parents found that their children wanted specific shirts in order to fit in.

Susan Holland, principal at Sacred Heart School in Troy, said the dress code promotes uniformity. “The children come from different walks of life,” she noted. “With uniforms, they can concentrate on their studies.” Mrs. Kondratowicz agreed, saying, “Uniforms have always been the great leveler. They put everyone on the same level socio-economically”.

Uniforms also serve to unite the student body. “The uniform says something about who you are,” Mrs. Kondratowicz said. Jane Kromm, principal of Cohoes Catholic School, agreed. “Uniforms give a message about the school and who we are,” she said. “They give a sense of pride.” According to Sister Mary Ellen, uniforms “definitely set a tone. Uniforms say, ‘I have a job to do”.

Catholic school educators have known the benefits of uniforms for generations. Now, public school educators are seeing benefits as well. According to the U.S. Department of Education, school uniforms can promote school safety, improve discipline and enhance the learning environment of public schools.

The Department of Education lists the following as benefits to wearing school uniforms: decreasing violence and theft among students over designer clothing or sneakers:

  • helping prevent gang members from wearing gang colors and insignia at school;
  • instilling discipline;
  • helping parents and students resist peer pressure;
  • helping students concentrate on their education; and
  • helping school officials recognize intruders.

Uniforms have come a long way from plaid skirts and jumpers. Boys at Cohoes Catholic, Marian Academy and Holy Cross all wear a polo shirt as part of their uniform. Students at Sacred Heart wear traditional uniforms for most of the school year. For girls, this means a kilt skirt or jumper and for boys a necktie. During May and June, when the weather gets warmer, students can wear an optional uniform that consists of a polo shirt and pleated shorts.

Uniform companies now offer schools many styles of uniforms to choose from. Some of the choices include knife pleat skirts, box pleat skirts, walking shorts and skorts. There are different fabric choices as well, including wool, poly-cotton blends and polyester.

“It’s not a problem to enforce the uniform,” said Mrs. Kondratowicz, but “the shoe is difficult to enforce.” She explained that students are required to wear dress shoes. However, with society moving toward dressing down, the idea of dress shoes is foreign to some students. “The kids spend most of their time in sneakers,” she said. “There is not necessarily the need for dress shoes anymore.”

The trend toward more casual dress can also be seen during special occasions, like Christmas pageants or concerts. “Sunday best is not a universal term anymore,” said Mrs. Kondratowicz. “Kids don’t have the occasion to dress up anymore.”

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School Dress Codes: Impact on Behavior and Performance. (2023, Jan 16). Retrieved from

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