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Nov 11, 2010


Readers, do you ever find yourself having to wear a uniform, for school, for work, or even for play?  How do you feel about it?

It will come as no surprise to most of you that I am generally anti-uniform, in pretty much all their manifestations.  For me, uniforms have largely negative associations.  These include:

organized sports (ritualized violence on the field imo)
social control
group think
science fiction movies

That said, there are times when I do like to see people in uniforms.  Uniformed flight attendants and pilots calm me when I fly and give me confidence that someone is in charge and (presumably) knows what they're doing.

In hospitals, I like to be able to distinguish the medical staff from the visitors.

Likewise, it can be helpful in a large store to know who works there and can potentially be of service to me and who's just shoplifting on their lunch hour.

 And if my house is on fire...

When uniforms represent cleanliness, competence, and safety, I'm OK with them.  But whether it's a higher status uniform (brain surgeon) or lower status (Tyson Foods meat processor) I don't want to have to wear one.

I grew up at a time when institutions were shedding uniforms, especially schools.  The only time I had to wear a uniform was for glee club concerts, and the uniform -- blue blazer, gray slacks, light blue shirt, crimson tie -- was as much a performance costume as a uniform.  (In the same way, most people don't think of the Radio City Hall Rockettes as wearing uniforms, they're costumes -- unless they're dancing to "The March of the Wooden Soldiers.")

I get that mandatory school uniforms may help kids focus more on their studies and less on what they're wearing.

But kids -- who only mirror the culture they belong to -- usually still find ways of expressing their relative social/economic status.

The military uniform has influenced mainstream fashion for ages, and I've always believed that by adopting military styles we're unconsciously blurring the boundaries between civilian life and military life.  I respect those who choose a military career, but I do not like to witness the militarization of my city, schools, or government.

Military styles come and go.  They're very popular now.  I wonder why...?

I find many military-inspired fashions appealing: the cuts are generally flattering, the lines elegant and slim.  And yet I shun them if the association is too strong.  I will not wear camouflage, tassled epaulets, or a pith helmet.

In closing, friends, how do you feel about uniforms and/or military fashion?

Do you enjoy wearing a uniform or do you find it oppressive?  (Are there times you wish you did wear a uniform, just to make getting dressed in the morning easier?)

Do uniforms have negative/positive associations for you?

Finally, why does everyone wear a uniform in outer space?

Jump in!


  1. I'm sorry... was this post about uniforms (I forget!)? I was distracted by the Fireman Calendar (oh my - not so much uniform as lack of it - what will his mother say!!) :)

  2. I'm de-lurking again. if this becomes a habit I'm going to have sew something, aren't I?

    My main problem with uniforms (or at least the uniforms I had to wear in some of my earlier jobs)is that they are usually uncomfortable, badly made and badly fitting. Some of these jobs involved selling clothes. I find it really strange that you would put your staff in something that looks so rubbish in an attempt to sell clothing.

    I think the psychological benefit of having uniforms can be totally ruined when the uniforms are badly made and show it.

  3. I don't have a problem with uniforms. If I did, 13 years of Catholic school worked it out of me. But i recognize the reason for them...

    1- They help you recognize who belongs to whom. On class trips with other Catholic sholl children, you know quickly who belongs with whom. And lets not forget parents who dress their children alike. That's a uniform too.

    2- You can sleep later in the mornings because you don't have to give thought to what you have to wear the next day

    3- IMHO most importantly, they allow you to blend together so that one person is not the star. When I used to sing in choirs, uniforms kept the lead soloists from thinking they were more important than the other members. In weddings, some MOH's wear different dresses to didtinguish her importaance from the other bridesmaids.

    Uniforms, to me, are the great equalizer. I'm for them!


  4. Interesting concept and one that's been on my mind, although I am thinking along the lines of what Michael Kors wears (all black, all the time) or what the FIT students wear ( I hear is white top & black pants).

    At the moment I am forced to crank out a wardrobe so that I can get dressed easily in the morning. The most efficient option is to sew basics that mix and match. Once I have that in place, it will free me up to sew the things my mojo craves.

    Very little of what's available in RTW fits me, so sew I must.

  5. My daughter attended Catholic school, from kindergarten through high school graduation. Uniforms were much stricter in grade school, but the kids always found a way to express themselves. With my daughter, and the other girls, it was wacky hairstyling. They weren't allowed to have wierd colors, or cuts, so they would just go to school with zillions of tiny barrettes, or tiny pony tail holders, all over their little heads! It was quite hilarious to see this type of rebellion in such tiny tots (they started doing it about second grade)and it changed from year to year. The boys tended to wear weird socks, and tried to get away with the two different shoe thing-unsuccessfuly. But if you asked any of them, they would tell you they loved wearing their uniforms! They couldn't define why, but I suspect it was because they could easily identify themselves as belonging to something other than their family unit, for the first time. Now into her second year of college, my daughter, and the other kids from that tiny gradeschool are still friends. They spent most of their teen years wearing weird clothes and coloring their hair every color imaginable, and are now starting to settle in to finding their own style; learning how to be comfortable in their own skin. I don't believe the school uniform is much of an equalizer-there was just as much bullying and clique-ishness at her school, as in public school. But, I do think it forces a little creativity, and helps kids learn to think outside of the box, to express themselves. I believe a uniform does have its place, but it will never be for me....

  6. State censorship forces a little creativity too. ;)

  7. I understand school uniforms, and being childless, I really shouldn't have an opinion, but logically seems like a good idea.

    I like Project Runway alum Laura Bennett's idea of a uniform (sheath dress and heels). She always looks fabulous, and for her, it's as easy as jeans and a tee shirt.

  8. If you're looking for a fascinating read on young men and the "Mitty-esque-ness" of pseudo-military fashion, take a read through William Gibson's 'Zero History'. I think I've recommended it here before; but it really is the best book about fashion and identity I've read in ages.

  9. My son's school does the khakis/polos thing. He loves it in that he doesn't have to think about what to wear and he's the kind of kid who stresses about every decision. They have free dress days and often he wears the uniform because--he doesn't have to think about it. Sure kids show their socio/econ status through their uniforms and the ways they wear them, though our school does ban accessories. But, as of fourth grade, the boys are oblivious. They are still oblivious to the girls flirting with them too. I'm okay with that.

  10. I don't mind uniforms necessarily, but no polyester!


  11. Being from a culture where all students (including a few tertiary) MUST wear uniforms I understand the need for it.

    1. It's cheaper: We don't have a full complement of seasons like you guys up North and even if we had to wear casual clothes to school it owuld be too expensive. Most (quite possibly all) of our clothing come for the USA and when it gets here the price is tripled, even quadroupled and with the ever changes fads and fashion and our very horrible economy I do believe that the parents would suffer greatly.

    2. Identification: Once you see a certain uniform here you automatically know which school they belong to regardless of where in the island the school is located... we even have a school that still wears a straw hat and they love it

    Most companies give uniforms or material to make uniforms for this same reason, it is cheaper and workers are easily identified. My office doesn't do that but if they did it would be some much easier for me and you can still make the uniform your own

  12. With my son days away from graduating USMC boot camp, I'm a little sad that you chose today, Veteran's Day, for this discussion. But enjoy your right to free speech.

  13. I like the military look because of the clean, slim lines and the double breasted look. I know it comes in and out of high fashion, but is it ever really out? Especially today when there is so much of a mix in cultures and therefore a mix in what is worn as well.

    I wore a police uniform for a number of years before going into the management end. Worked in a particularly bad area. If you went out to lunch in uniform you would have to go where you could see them prepare the food, otherwise it was best not to eat the food.

    It was against the rules to wear it to or from work. One person, running late, did go to work in uniform and ended up being shot at.....and was very late to work.

    As someone that loves fashion and feeling feminine, I was excited to finally dress in suits, heels
    ....and pearls! But it did take much more time to get ready for work.

    BTW we had a workout room in the station and was allowed time to work out....a live calendar that was easy on the eyes!

  14. When I was a kid, I totally rebelled against my school uniform. I fringed it at the hem. I was such a rebel. Then, as an adult, I read an article about the purposes of school uniforms. Somewhere fairly low on the list was "give the child something meaningless to rebel against so they do not rebel in larger ways." So I was just doing what I was supposed to to.

    I always liked the dark suit uniform when I was working on Wall Street, and was totally bummed when my office went casual. So I rebelled again and continued wearing my suits.

  15. I love lurking here, the discussions are always intelligent. As a military brat I have an aversion to the faux military look. Maybe because it does not serve much of a purpose. Uniforms serve a purpose, they either give the wearer the appropriate attire for the job he does, or signifies position in the hierarchy. But have you all ever seen a pregnant GI in maternity camo fatigues and combat boots? Perfect uniform for a mother.

  16. I agree with Debbie's post. My husband is a veteran of the Iraq war and I am glad that you fought for you rights to post such a disheartening subject on Veterans Day. Maybe this could be your remainder to thank your veterans as well.

    Stephanie in South Dakota

  17. I apologize... in my anger I put 'you' but it should be 'he fought for your rights'

    Stephanie in South Dakota

  18. I happen to like the military . . . as I like being free. Uniforms serve a variety of purposes. I really have no problem with them other than when they are ugly and fit poorly. But then. . . I'd say regular clothes on many people are ugly and fit poorly, so that's not a unique problem to uniforms.

  19. When I was a girl I loved wearing my Girl Scout uniform because it made me feel empowered back in the day when girls did not have many things that did empower them. As for this post being on Veteran's Day? Well, I the product of a military family and I grew up in it. I have no problem with this post, free speech applies regardless of the holiday.

  20. I hadn't thought about it until I read this post, but a huge part of my still-unresolved body issues began in 7th through 9th grade when I attended two parochial schools and wore uniforms. There is nothing uniform about how the same outfit looks on a bunch of young teen girls, at various stages of growth and maturity and various budgets for tailoring. I still don't know how Claire S. kept her shirt so neatly tucked in and why Helen F.'s skirt pleats didn't open up over her hips and tummy, and it still bothers me, and that was over 40 years ago.

  21. I love uniforms, especially military and airline ones. I suppose they appeal to my symmetrical taste! Trenchcoats are a classic of military origin - officers of WW1 continued to wear their trenchcoats after the war, and it was then they became common civiian wear.
    I have my own 'uniform' - black top, black tights, and skirt or sheath dress - it is what I wear on days I cannot be bothered thinking what to wear!
    I admired an orange dress in the thrift store recently, then realised it was a common 70's supermarket smock! Out of context it was kinda cool.

  22. My one brush with wearing a real uniform was a brief stint at the Interlochen music camp in Michigan. At the time, the girls were all supposed to wear navy blue corduroy knickers (I guess they were in style when the camp was founded in the 1920s) and light blue camp shirts, supplied by the camp. For cooler times of day, you could wear a red sweater of your own. Kids personalized their uniforms with their own sweaters, socks, shoes, and so on. I hated the uniform because the only knickers they had in my size were the icky poly/cotton ones with cheap fasteners instead of buttons at the waist. I could see the value of it in principle, though, and the younger kids seemed very happy in their uniforms.

  23. KC! I hear ya! I was fat in high school and it was very clear how much fatter I was when I got in trouble for my kilt being too short when it was just that I was heavier and therefore wore my kilt at my waist, not hips, so it fell a litter higher above my knee. Screw uniforms in schools being the great equalizer. After wearing one for 5 years in high school I really feel the exact opposite about them. Especially at my particular school, as we had a variety of choices in our uniforms, at different price points. You could always tell who the rich kids were because they wore blazers(that cost over $200) while the poorest kids at the school wore the exact same tattered uniform or pants and a polo shirt everyday.

    The other problem I have with uniforms in a school setting is that I always found that the teachers spent way too much enforcing the dress code rather than teaching. I can remember so many times when different teachers would take up more than 20 minutes of class time to check the labels on people's clothes to make sure that you were wearing uniform from the right company.

    Anyhoo, uniforms are bad, umkay?

  24. I wear an olive drab uniform with black boots. One good point not mentioned is durability. What I put mine through would destroy RTW in a month.

    From Anonymous

    "But have you all ever seen a pregnant GI in maternity camo fatigues and combat boots? Perfect uniform for a mother."

    I have. The old phrase “Your mother wears Army boots” strikes me as high praise. And I highly praise all the personal in our armed services.

  25. My husband wears a uniform each and every day to work. He wears a different uniform for exercising. And he wears a uniform for church on Sundays.

    (He is military. He wears ACU's to work each day. He wears his PT (physical training) uniform for exercising every day - even at home when he and I go running. And church - he wears the same charcol gray suit with a white shirt & tie.)

    I tend to wear a uniform each day - I wear either a skirt/knit top or yoga pants/knit top.
    Sometimes, I change it up with a pair of jeans.

    We all have a "uniform" we choose to wear - whether we are part of larger community or not.

    Isn't is great to have freedoms like this? ;)

  26. Interesting topic. Soldiers or police in uniform are one thing--making white collar workers wear uniforms is quite another. When I worked, I wore no uniform but the dress code was, for a number of years, quite onerous. I hated it! The idea was to look "professional" but we were paid sub-professionally, believe me. And the idea of looking professional, was older white guys' idea of looking professional.

    I have to admit that I am quite taken by the uniforms the British police wear. Somehow seeing them on the London streets recently boosted my feelings of security.

    I pretty much agree with you; when we need to know someone is in a position of authority, medical provision, fire fighting, etc, it is helpful to see an identifying uniform. Otherwise, maybe just an identifying jacket is all that is needed, if that. And down with dress codes that are for women but enforced by men.

  27. I'm a pastry student and cook. I have to wear a full uniform to school: chef coat with name embroidered in black, black or check pants, hat, neckerchief, apron, black shoes. I love it. After years in the corporate world and always feeling my clothing was somehow inferior, I like wearing a uniform to school or work. I don't have to think about what I'm going to wear beyond whether or not it's clean and pressed. There has been a lot more emphasis on food and chefs these days. People recognize the uniform and get excited. They want to know where I work and what I do. I have to admit I like the recognition and the sense of pride I feel. I'm happy to be back in the kitchen. This is sort of a second chance for me. I remember my first day in this program and getting dressed in my perfectly pressed chef whites that morning. I felt whole again. There is a part of me that would like to wear cute colored chef coats or short sleeves, but it's not a big deal.

  28. I am not a fan of school uniforms, even as a teacher. A lot of kids adopt their "personal uniform" and the vast majority do so with enough sense to stay within the guidelines of common sense and the dress code.

    On Veteran's Day, I think of my father who is interred at Arlington National Cemetery. He served his country with honor. I have no problem with this topic being posted on Veteran's Day. There is nothing derogatory or disrespectful to those who serve our country in this post. I also think of my openly lesbian neighbors who serve our country, but cannot acknowledge the loved one that miss them most when deployed. (We live 45 minutes from the base, so they have to drive in order to maintain both their relationship and their commissions.)

  29. I like the idea of wearing a something out of context – like the supermarket smock – but I think the clothing with logos, names tags etc which is a modern interpretation is parody rather than flattery. I like some military fashion if it is still essentially functional and hard wearing but military inspired sheer tops for example are just plain silly.

    I wore a school uniform (several actually) I loathed “mufti” day with a vengeance because I did not have a sense of my own style. I also wore a supermarket smock for some years and it saved my own clothes, it was not particularly flattering but it was hard-wearing.

    I work in a medical school many of the senior staff are men and wear a uniform of a shirt and trousers, jacket and tie or similar. The administrative staff are mainly women and wear smart skirts and tops, some in management wear corporate style skirts and jackets. Mainly I wear skirts and tops, or dresses either home-made or from op-shops. From time to time I wear a 1970s shirt dress reminiscent of a cleaners smock, because I identify with the workers at the coal face or grass roots whichever way you want to put it. I wonder if we all have our own uniforms - clothing which makes allows us to identify with a certain group - thinking back to some of MPB’s earlier posts there is the uniform of a "goth" or "punk" or "hipster".

  30. I attend one of the few free-dress high schools in my area (Melbourne, Australia) and as I transferred from another, uniformed school, I've been able to observe the difference shedding a uniform makes. We don't actually have much nastiness at all at our school - people respect the choice of others to dress as a goth, punk, hipster, what have you. Wheras, at my previous school, any show of your individuality (If you weren't exclusively into football, basketball, alcopops and top 40 music) got you victimised. I believe uniforms make teenagers feel as if they must fit the mould, causing (for me, at least) much alienation!!

  31. I mostly detest the idea of uniforms (especially school uniforms... although I never experienced them, the idea strikes me as hateful and I strongly doubt that they actually work to reduce competition/cliquishness or bullying) though I recognize they are useful in certain situations---hopitals, as you said, or, for example, the uniform my husband wears at the tire-shop, which keeps him from having to supply his own work clothes which will then promptly get trashed. I do like the military looks, and have had my army surplus phases in the past.

  32. I found a very interesting article about the military influence on fashion throughout history at: In particular, the following sentence stood out to me:

    "The subjective but powerful value of military clothing can be demonstrated by the fact that war protesters of the 1970s frequently wore anachronistic military gear to express their opposition to the war of their time."

    Maybe this is why the current go-round of military fashion appeals to me.

    People (of various political stripes) don't know what to make of a pacifist in a military style dress. My tree-hugging antiwar friends are horrified that I would wear such things, and I'm sure it offends others that I didn't "earn" the right to wear them.

    Meh. Not my problem.

    (BTW, I used to have a MAJOR crush on Don in Lost in Space. But now I realize he looks like a human Jiffy Pop popcorn in that outfit.)

  33. We all wear uniforms in each walk of life. Part of identifying each group of people is associated with their 'uniform', and why each group has similar looks. That's why you can tell someone identifies as a butch lesbian or a femme lesbian, a 'Bear' or a 'muscle mary', an Australian bushman from a New York banker. We all like to think we do not judge a person by how they look, but we can all identify a 'hippy' from a 'chav' and on and on. We all wear uniforms. Just because they are not cut from the same cloth doesn't mean we don't dress to conform to whatever group we belong to or aspire towards. Even if we think we are breaking the mould, we are still wearing someone elses uniform.

  34. I loved my boarding school uniform. No fussing about what to wear in the morning and no competition re clothes or labels. Our labels were all the same and we had the illusion of being in the same financial boat. Many went home on the weekends and we had no clue about what they wore? In public school, you had to have the right labels and everybody dressed quite a bit alike anyway? Just a lot more snobbery about clothing. The opposite of what you might think.

  35. I think this is actually a great topic for Veterans Day, and I enjoyed the thought-provoking comments above. Unfortunately, I think that it's ignorant to suggest that criticism of violence is criticism of the current and former members of our armed services, as it equates them with a negative value. Since I reject that syllogism, I can't agree with the statement.

    I think it's possible to be intrigued by manifestations of that culture but dislike war. I think if you asked most veterans how they felt about armed conflict, they would have similar thoughts.

    At any rate, it's always been interesting to me how in non-uniform culture there are norms that equate to uniforms. In the professional services (law/accounting/engineering) area, for example, I can't tell you the number of men that I've seen in blue shirts and slacks (usually khakis). It's more challenging to be a professional woman, because there are fewer accepted norms (beyond the basic -- no bootie shorts or handkerchief tops. Seriously. Imagine having to explain that one to the intern.).

    It's possible that our fascination with uniforms is tied to our societal belief in individuality. By removing that part of an individual's mode of expression it encourages us to look for what distinguishes that person from the others in the same outfit.

  36. I'm a teacher at a public school and would have no problem if our school adopted uniforms. We have a dress code, but the kids still try to push it. Short skirts, cleavage, and saggy pants are constant battles. Why would you want a skirt so short that when you sat down your underwear was making contact with the chair. Yuck. Kids make their own uniforms anyway ( goth kids, emo kids, preppy kids, too may sub pops to mention). I would wear one too, sure would make it easy in the morning.

  37. The primary reason I did not want to go to Catholic school was that I'd be forced to wear a uniform everyday. I liked choosing the dress I wanted. (And they were all dresses- this was back in the Dark Ages and it wasn't until fifth grade that girls were allowed to wear pants.)

    I worked in retail several years ago and at first the company provided a vest for us to wear over our own clothes. Then they changed policies and we had to wear turquoise tops-paid for via a payroll deduction-and I hated it. Now I work in a bank, but recently the Powers That Be decided we have to wear "teamwear" on the weekends and Monday. Football jerseys and polo tops with the bank's logo on it. Why? I was in a Chase branch and noticed they do, too. It makes sense for the military and police to have uniforms. I understand why those in the medical profession have uniforms. You want to be able to tell who is the employee when you are in store and can't find something on the shelf, but I never got a good explanation for a bank teller to be dressed like a stocker at Menard's. I don't think someone walks into our branch and says to herself, "Gee, where are the tellers? Who are those people behind the counter?"

  38. When I was in school, I sort of wished we wore uniforms. I was always taller and considerably more awkward than everyone else, so maybe I wanted to be able to blend in a little better.

    I agree about military-esque fashion. It makes me kind of uneasy. I like some military inspired jackets, but glamorizing war and violence isn't something I can get on board with.

  39. The uniform I hate is suit and tie. I don't like wearing ties, they make me feel light headed - don't like the smallest pressure on my neck. Suit jackets are really an impractical garment. There isn't great movement and in cold weather they don't provide any protection to the upper chest area. They're either too hot or too cold. Unfortunately too many people seem to think they indicate professionalism when they just show how insecure men are about looking different from the herd.

  40. I chuckled a little when I read this, thinking of my 6 year old son, who today decided to wear a camouflage jumpsuit (actually an old "soldier" halloween costume) to school. Oh, and a clip-on tie.

  41. I adore that blue coat and how the buttons emphasize the lines. Mmmmm.

    Uniforms don't bother me one way or the other. I had to wear some in elementary and junior high, but in high school I just wore jeans and a t-shirt or turtleneck like all the other kids. Kids make their own uniforms if the adults don't provide one.


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