While there have been debates in many countries over the years about the pros and cons of school uniform as opposed to mufti, most schools in New Zealand opt for a uniform.
There are a number of reasons for that, one being to promote pride in the schools. Principal of Bayfield High School in Dunedin Judith Forbes says she sees that as one of the main benefits of a uniform.
“For the students, it promotes a sense of pride, both in themselves and in their school, it gives them a sense of identity with the school,” Mrs Forbes says.
“Wearing a uniform is better. I’ve heard arguments both ways, but the biggest thing is the identity with the school, and there are safety things around that too. For example, if there is someone else in the school grounds, we will be able to see them.”
While there is an initial outlay, a school uniform also saves families money in the long run, she says.
A school uniform, which usually incorporates the school colours in some way, tends to remain the same over the medium to long term. Inevitably, though, the time comes to update the uniform to meet changing norms and preferences.
Paul Frampton of uniform supply company Moana says they find the driving force to update the uniform sometimes comes from the students themselves.
“I believe that’s how it should be – because then there’s buy-in from the students,” he says.
In fact, that was the situation at Bayfield High when the uniform was changed about four years ago.
“The students had a huge voice. There was a whole lot of consultation but it was largely chosen by the students, and there’s been a lot of support from the community,” Mrs Forbes says.
Mr Frampton notes that uniforms have become more formal in recent years, with students wanting to look smarter, and this too was evident at Bayfield.
“Our uniform was particularly casual but with the change the students wanted a more formal look because they were wanting to look really smart. Dunedin is a fairly conservative town and the students felt that by looking smart in their uniform they got more respect from the community,” Mrs Forbes says.
One aspect of the increased formality Mr Frampton has found interesting is that the girls want to wear blazers and ties more than the boys do.
“When schools decide to change their uniform we often work jointly with them on the redesign,” he says. “Our role is to interpret and temper what they suggest. There’s a big variety of body shapes and sizes among students, so that’s where experience and skill comes in. We help them understand what looks good and what doesn’t.”
Fabric choice is another key factor, Mr Frampton says. The appropriate fabric will be one that stands up to wear and tear, is colour fast, and has no pilling issues.
The traditional all-wool blazer, which was expensive and not practical, has been replaced with more modern fabrics and is significantly less expensive, which means a school uniform can include a blazer, he says.
“The lighter wool/polyviscose fabrics have improved in quality and composition and they can perform very well. They are also machine-washable, which is better than having to go to the expense of having them dry-cleaned.”