UniformsWhen Bruno Cruz, 12, starts the eighth grade on Sept. 7, he'll be sporting a white polo shirt and either beige or navy-blue pants. He won't be alone. That's the dress code of the private school he attends on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

As Cruz sees it, there's a good side and a bad side to wearing a school uniform.

The downside is that "kids usually like to be themselves and wear what they want to wear instead of being restricted to wearing the dress code," he says. "You don't get to express yourself entirely, because clothes also express who you are."

But it's not all bad, he says. "The good thing about it is that you don't need to worry about what you have to put on in the morning," he says. "It's completely organized."

Also, "I would say that people don't get bullied around for how they look as much because everybody is wearing the same thing."

Uniforms are increasingly becoming the fashion du jour in U.S. classrooms, with more school districts across the nation going the dress-code route.

According to The National Center for Education Statistics Indicators of Crime and Safety: 2010 report, 17.5% of public schools required students to wear uniforms in the 2007-08 school year, the most recent period tracked by the report. That percentage has grown from only 11.8% in the 1999-2000 school year.

With the tepid economic picture, uniforms can help parents cut down on the cost of their kids' year-round wardrobe.

In turn, retailers such as Kmart (SHLD), J.C. Penney (JCP), Old Navy (GPS) and Lands' End are capitalizing on the sales potential during the back-to-school season. They've spotlighted school-uniform clothing from brands such as French Toast, Dickies and Izod.

French Toast expects to see 5% to 7% growth in its school uniform sales this back-to-school season, Michael Arking, president of FrenchToast.com, tells DailyFinance. The apparel supplier bills itself as the Nike of school uniforms, with a 15% market share in the category. It also claims it's one of the few companies that tracks school-uniform trends.

French Toast --which has a staff solely devoted to marketing uniforms to schools -- sees the movement to adopt dress codes gaining momentum in school-board meetings across the country.

Saving with Uniformity

"Economically, parents are seeing the benefit of a school uniform," Arking says. "For $120, they can buy an entire French Toast wardrobe of about 11 clothing items," for example.

By contrast, average shoppers will spend an estimated $236.70 on clothing and accessories (excluding shoes) this back-to-school season, according the National Retail Federation and BIGresearch's Consumer Intentions and Actions survey.

School-uniform costs have come down significantly in recent years as the business -- once dominated by local uniform stores selling expensive options -- has expanded to big chains, which carry similar items at bargain prices.

While a skirt from an independent uniform store might set a parent back $50, a skirt at a mass retailer can go for about $12, Arking says.

Although public schools are the fastest-growing segment of the school-uniform market, more private schools also are adopting dress codes to offset steep tuition costs, he says.

What's more, "we've seen the explosion in toddler-sized uniforms across the country," as day care centers and preschools adopt dress codes, Arking says. That trend has French Toast churning out more mini jumpers and polo dresses.

Safer Schools, Better Grades

As for Cruz's observation that a school dress code helps deter bullying, he may be on to something.

Beyond the savings and the no-fuss appeal of school uniforms, parents also like the idea that dress codes eliminate "label competition," Arking says, noting the peer pressure that kids face to keep up with designer brands and fashion dictates.

That's one reason why, back in 1996, former president Bill Clinton called for the Federal Education Department to distribute manuals about uniform policies to school districts around the country. That helped steamroll the dress-code movement that has been building momentum ever since.

According to the manual, a school-uniform policy has the potential to reduce the violence that can break out when students covet designer clothing, expensive sneakers and other products. It can also prevent gang members from wearing gang clothing, reduce peer pressure, instill students with discipline and even help keep students focused on their work, the manual claims.

School uniformsAre Dress Codes Hip?

For some kids, school uniforms have even become -- gasp -- cool, with TV shows like Gossip Girl and the Harry Potter movies popularizing the dress-code look in recent years, Arking says.

And these are not your mother's school uniforms. Indeed, fashion trends are increasingly influencing the designs. The result is more stylish items this season, such as ruched polo tops and pants with a skinny-leg fit for girls, and military looks for boys, including shirts with epaulets.

Retailers make it easy for shoppers to find precisely what schools across the country are requiring.

On landsend.com and jcpenney.com, for example, shoppers can look up dress-code requirements for their school district by keying in their state, city and school name at IZODed.com. Then, they can print out a list of colors and items required by their particular school.

School uniforms are becoming a bigger business at J.C. Penney, for one. The department store is partnering with French Toast for the first time this year, and also carries IZOD.

"Demand for school uniforms grows every year as more schools adopt them as a safe, affordable wardrobe option," Kate Coultas, corporate communications senior manager, tells DailyFinance. And "given the current economic environment, value will continue to be top-of-mind for the moderate customer."

To that end, most of J.C. Penney's school uniforms items are the least expensive part of its back-to-school clothing assortment, she says.

"This is becoming a key business for us."


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48 Comments

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gtoya

Now kids will be harassed for not having the Polo uniform rather than just the Polo shirt

August 29 2011 at 12:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
s

My mother was forced to wear a uniform for Catholic school in New Jersey, back in the 60s. She told me that her classmates knew which students came from a poor family and which didn't, partly by how often they could replace their torn or dirty uniforms. The wealthy students still looked down on the poor students.

August 28 2011 at 12:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert G

COST PARENTS TWICE AS MUCH $$$$ !!! Parents not only have to buy uniforms but buy other clothes as well. It takes 5 sets of uniforms for the week and then your child has to have 7 other regular outfits for the week. Nice idea if your wealthy and you kids go to a private school that you can afford to pay for them to attend but this uniform dress code has no bussiness in a public school PERIOD !!! If all the wealthy and upper "middle" class kids went to private schools and if the lower middle class and poor kids went to public schools the richer children would not be arround to taunt and tease the kids. Keep them seperate they are not going to be freinds in adulthood either.

August 19 2011 at 1:43 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to Robert G's comment
jacquie

I am all in favor of school uniforms for a number of reasons. But anyone who thinks it is cheaper and saves money is wrong. Children still need clothes for after school, weekends, church etc. It may even be MORE cost after buying uniforms and other clothing. Still I think there are MANY good reasons for uniforms, that out ways the cost.

August 19 2011 at 12:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
AnneMarie

Problem I am having with uniforms is that now, instead of being able to go to the discount stores to buy them, the schools are now requiring patches or logos or initials in specific places. over the back pocket of khaki pants or shorts and over the pocket or collar tip of polo shirts, So again the only place to get these is through the school at a higher cost. And these are public schools. I agree with all the pros of uniforms, but now we are making the uniforms distinctive, so they stand out

August 19 2011 at 8:37 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to AnneMarie's comment
krsfl54

I used to remove the logo patches from shirts as my kids outgrew them and then re-attached them to JC Penney polos. Nobody was the wiser.

August 19 2011 at 2:47 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to krsfl54's comment
L

At the public school my son attends, the required polo shirts are screenprinted. Can't remove the logo. I complained to the school district, as I suspect other parents have. Latest I heard (unofficially) was that only one of the required shirts needs to have the logo. Interesting how this change was not officially announced, and came weeks after practically everyone bought the overpriced shirts...

August 20 2011 at 1:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
Dr. Truth

@ilm9p Did you read the article AT ALL? Uniforms are available at a number of mass retailers and many can be found at thrift stores, sometimes with tags still attached. Many schools collect donations of gently used uniforms to distribute to kids who show up out of uniform or whose parents can't afford to buy them. They are hard to miss at back to school time. Your comment was just an excuse to take a shot at the poor.

August 26 2011 at 10:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
ilm9p

The problem with uyniforms is that they'll only be available through the school, and marked up 350% to cover the cost, on the backs of the suburban parents, for the free lunch crowd, who, as usual, won't have to shell out a dime.

August 19 2011 at 7:41 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Patty Gassner

School uniforms? This is a no brainer. Grades go up, bullying down, economically feasible. Duh. How come this has taken so long? Just "do it!"

PG

August 19 2011 at 7:26 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
williamrenate

My opinion is: that we need make school uniforms mandatory. In today’s schools, children compete with each other to wear quality trademark type clothing. This breeds jealousy, and puts kids who can not afford to dress up in a lower class standard within the student body. Causes aggression and promotes theft, shop lifting and other criminal activities and may also contribute to children selling themselves for sex .
Clothing colors are used to identify gang members, the style that is most popular today is the “Gangster” look. What kind of role is this, if students were wearing the same style, it would allow them the peace of mind not to stress themselves with being in style, or the best dressed. I have actually read in the news paper that students gang up and beat kids that accidentally wear gang colors, or show up in a new pair of high trade mark shoes. Uniformity would stop this. The colors used in every public school in America, should be the same.
How do we do away with crime so that we can change the way we live? We need to start at the basics: Our children. This is where crime is taught, either by parents, friends, peer pressure, poverty, and the stress required to be accepted as “cool”

August 19 2011 at 6:24 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
Elena Ervin

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August 19 2011 at 4:59 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
AmericanPsycho

I have nothing against uniforms, I started school in England where uniforms are the norm. However I challenge the idea that they're cheap- for girls in high school who have stopped growing, they're cheap, but for kids who are still growing? Not so much. Instead of paying for one or two outfits each year, you're paying for three or four, plus what if something needs to be replaced during the school year? That adds up, and unless you're getting the clothes at Wal-Mart on sale, it's a LOT. The kids will still need "weekend clothes" too. I suppose however they are cheaper for families with multiple kids going to the same school, unless the school for whatever reason decides to change its uniform policy.

Another complaint about uniforms I have: American uniforms are terrible. I only went to school in England for 2 years, from ages 4 to 6, but boy are American uniforms bad. Every school it seems has khaki or navy pants with a white or navy polo. Really? American kids in uniforms all look the same, when in other countries with uniform policies, such as the UK and Japan, the uniforms actually represent the SCHOOL. Then again American schools operate under the impression that forcing everyone to wear the same thing will fix every problem the school has. Newsflash: It sure as hell ain't working for England.

August 19 2011 at 4:31 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to AmericanPsycho's comment
nforge@teamalliance.com

Buy the uniforms a size bigger at the beginning of the year and you don't have to worry about replacing them. As far as extra clothes, my kids get more new clothes now because they do wear uniforms. I don't have to replenish an entire wardrobe throughout the year and stay on top of the latest trends. Its not that we think "forcing them...will fix everything." In my case I want to cut down on whatever unneccessary issues I can that could affect my child negatively, and being put down because you cant afford to wear the latest and greatest is a headache I would love to pull out of my childrens life.

August 19 2011 at 4:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Dr. Truth

The whole point is NOT to distinguish which school/what neighborhood/what socioeconomic level the child hails from. Think about it.

August 26 2011 at 10:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply