Research uncovers the impact of dress codes

uniform boy

Research from Murdoch's School of Education has looked into the impact of school uniforms and dress codes on students.

Uniforms have long been a topic of debate in schools and while they are often seen to promote discipline and unity, new research suggests they can lead to discrimination and inequality.  

Associate Professor Wendy Cumming-Potvin, from Murdoch University’s School of Education, said her recent research shows a compelling case for disrupting traditional dress codes. 

“Given the length of time that students spend in formal schooling and the impact institutional bodies have on our kids, the impact of dress codes can’t be ignored,” Associate Professor Cumming-Potvin said. 

Published in Science Direct, International Journal of Educational Research, her paper investigated the impact of uniform policies on gender and sexual identities. 

“The research showed that school dress codes and uniforms sustain gender binaries, while overshadowing diverse gender and sexual identities,” Associate Professor Cumming-Potvin said. 

“Taking a queer, transgender and feminist perspective, the paper highlighted the experience of gender, sexuality, and race at both individual and structural levels. 

“Findings emphasised the need for inclusive policies and practices to support gender equity and diversity in schools for the wellbeing of our children.”  

Key findings included that dress codes and uniforms can normalise misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and racism and that adherence to societal norms in this area is linked to systemic power. 

Recommendations include engaging students in policy planning for dress codes and uniforms, rather than reacting retrospectively to individual cases of discrimination, and undertaking policy changes to embrace a trans-affirmative and gender complex approach.  

The research also emphasised the need for appropriate professional development for teachers and highlighted their complex role in advocating for gender diversity and helping to create expanded versions of boyhood and girlhood.  

“Moving outside the norm of gendered dressing can make people uncomfortable. An example many may have seen recently playing out on their screens was the reaction when David Beckham once chose to wear a sarong,” Associate Professor Cumming-Potvin said. 

“There was worldwide mayhem because a ‘masculine’ figure chose to move outside the traditional version of expected behaviour. 

“If the societal reaction is difficult for a grown man to handle, imagine a vulnerable early high school student coming to terms with their own identity.” 

This research supports UN Sustainable Development Goal 4.

Murdoch University leads high-quality, real-world research focusing on expanding knowledge of effective teaching and learning. Find out more about how to kick start your career in education at Murdoch's School of Education.

Posted on:

3 Nov 2023

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