Public School vs. Private School, Round 1: Uniforms

My husband and I are both products of public school. I guess I’ll go the extra step and say that we’re happy products of public school, although we both had our issues with bullying and the like — which, of course, can happen in any school setting.

We think the Champaign school system seems great. Really, we do. Still, we have chosen to send our kids to a local private school. We’re happy with this decision, but it’s good to perennially pause and reflect on our kids’ experience in light of the path we didn’t choose: public school.

Private public school uniforms Chambanamoms

School uniforms narrow the outfit choices and diminish what-to-wear arguments. Credit: Flickr, Mr Moss

If we’re happy with our decision, then why should we pause and reflect, you might ask? Because the nagging thought that we’re paying for something twice rankles a bit. How necessary is it for us to fund the local public schools through our taxes and pay hundreds of dollars a month for private school? I’m still not sure about that. But, I’ll tease out some of the issues, one at a time, in this series.

Issue one: School uniforms.

I have to be honest, I thought I’d hate school uniforms. Or, more accurately, I thought I’d hate the daily battles my kids would mount over having to wear them.

Turns out, those fights never really came to pass, and I L-O-V-E school uniforms.

There are no fights over endless outfit choices, no “You can’t wear your favorite shirt because it’s dirty,” no line-drawing about what is and isn’t appropriate to wear. The uniform is the uniform.

A surprising upside to wearing uniforms, I think, is the fact that as long as the components remain relatively unsoiled, a child can wear the exact same clothes two days in a row without any social backlash. No one is the wiser, no one cares. Oh, how I love the uniform.

And did I mention the uniform closet? At our school, parents donate outgrown uniforms to a communal take-what-you-need closet. This means that I’ve been able to outfit my kids for less than what would have been our public school clothing budget.

Finally, I like how tidy and formal my kiddos look when they leave in the morning. Jack, who a year ago wouldn’t let me put anything with buttons or a collar over his head, looks quite the dapper little gentleman now. And Kate in her “jumper”? Priceless.

People are always quick to point out, too, that uniforms are the great equalizer. No one is able to stand out — for better or for worse — because of his or her clothing if the school espouses uniforms. I suppose that is as true as it could possibly be (which is to say, it’s sort of true).

The upshot? Uniforms = score one for the private school.

Next issue: choice of daily schedules (or, lack thereof).

What has been your experience with/without school uniforms? Share in the comments!

Rachael McMillan just took part-time job number 5,482: teaching sixth- and seventh-grade history at Campus Middle School for girls. She also tutors at The Reading Group and serves as the education coordinator for Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade retailer in downtown Champaign. She is totally in love with her Chambana life, which she shares with husband Scott, kindergartner Kate, and first-grader Jack.


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  1. I am a closet supporter of uniforms.
    My younger self must be cringing! Have I become a squasher of individuality?!?
    I don’t know, but I do know that I would be tickled pink if my kiddo’s (who attend and love South Side) school adopted a “uniform” dress code!
    Kerry “sick of sorting laundry” Rossow

  2. The uniform is one of my favorite parts of Barkstall which is a public school in Unit 4. My son went to a private school until his freshman year and we never had a fight about clothes.

    I wish all the schools were uniform it would be easier and what a lot of parents don’t realize is that it is a whole lot cheaper.

  3. Uniforms are a win for all of the above reasons. Moved and now have kids in uniform-free schools. Uniforms were easier! Must admit, though, that I’ve kept the options limited for my 2nd grader. And my 6th grader has always wanted to wear the same clothes every day!

  4. I hate, hate, hate uniforms. Not for squashing of individuality or anything like that. I just don’t believe all the positives would apply to me. First of all, we don’t buy “school clothes” All clothes are both school and play clothes (which keeps me from stressing out when the kids come home covered in paint or roll around in the grass after school) so while a uniform swap would save money for people that buy two sets of clothes anyway, it would still cost me more because I would be forced to buy two sets of clothes, even if one was at a discount. Also, we have enough clothes that I don’t feel terribly compelled to do laundry more than a couple of times a week. Do my kids have too may clothes? Absolutely, but they would have the same amount of clothes plus uniforms, which would mea cramming even more stuff in the closet. Also, we never battle about clothes. The only rule I have is that the clothing must be weather appropriate (so no tank tops in January or long sleeves in August). Otherwise, if I don’t want them wearing something, I simply don’t buy it for them.

    And finally, I dont really believe that uniforms are any kind of equalizer. Kids know who has money and who doesn’t. The kids with money will have nicer accessories and the kids without won’t. It’s why, regardless of the rest of the outfit, you’ll find my kids wearing Payless Shoes instead of Twinkle Toes (much to her dismay). It is the way of the world. Some people have things, some people don’t. Life isn’t all equal and fair. There are winners and losers. Kids need to learn that.

  5. It is the way of the world. Some people have things, some people don’t. Life isn’t all equal and fair. There are winners and losers. Kids need to learn that.”

    I agree, but the thing is, kids DO learn that. Most kids have learned this all too well. The difference that uniforms can make is that this “life lesson” is not made front-and-center every single day, making it just a little bit easier for kids to pay attention to something other than what everyone else is and isn’t wearing.

    I think uniforms are great. I’ve considered adopting one in my adult life! I’d love to take the decision of what to wear out of my daily to-do list.

    • I did know a woman who adopted a uniform of sorts in her adult life. She always wore all white. She claimed it made laundry easier–just bleach everything to keep it looking new. She always looked great, even on days when her uniform consisted of sweats.

  6. I went to a private grade school that didn’t have a uniform. When I was in 7th grade, a push was made to adopt uniforms. Being a pre-teen, I did not want to be told what to wear every day. My sister, who was in 1st grade, wanted the uniforms. She thought they were pretty. In the end, parents narrowly voted to adopt uniforms the following year, but the 8th grade was exempt–they didn’t want to force families to buy all that expensive clothing for only one year (and it is expensive if you buy it new, which would have been the only option the first year). So my sister and I both got what we wanted.

    My son went to public school through 5th grade. Beginning with 6th, he was in a private school with uniforms. On his own, before he even started at the new school, he figured out that with uniforms, “people can’t make fun of you for what you wear.” His tone indicated how much of an issue it had been for him, something I hadn’t fully understood. I do believe uniforms limit disctractions from learning. But at the times when the kids were allowed to wear casuals, he got grief anyway. He told me someone made fun of his jeans (he was very skinny, so we got the elastic-waist kind) but hotly told me he kind of felt that he should thank “that person” (whose name was never revealed) for pointing out how “dorky” his pants were so he could get dfiferent ones in the future.

  7. Laura Hollis says:

    I wore uniforms through 12th grade, and yeah, I HATED it! But now I am a parent, and my kids are in private school, and I love uniforms.

    Whether we call them “uniforms” or “dress code,” I think it sends the message to kids, that “this is what you wear when you work.” Or play. Doctors wear scrubs, lawyers wear suits, lab technicians wear lab coats, highway workers wear bright orange vests, trash collectors often wear good ol’ Carhartt coveralls. And of course, there are baseball players and hockey players and football players, etc., etc., etc.

    In addition to sending that message, and being something of an equalizer, it also eliminates a lot of the garbage that kids wear, either because their parents don’t know, or don’t care, or (worst of all) think it’s cute! I am speaking of the slovenly pants-below-the-ass look for boys, and the “see my underwear” look for girls. I am particularly concerned about the hyper-sexualization of girls at younger and younger ages. A simple uniform/dress code teaches the kids how to look presentable and helps them cultivate a sense of respect for themselves.

    Is it a cure-all? No. Is anything? No. The poster who mentioned that kids still know whose parents have money is right, of course. And that will always be true. But it matters less. (And kids will find something else to bug each other about anyway.)

    On balance, there are far more things to recommend uniforms than things which cut against their use.

  8. I’m not sure this is really a public/private debate. Sure, many private schools mandate uniforms, but not all. Similarly, as Momologist points out, some Unit 4 schools have adopted uniforms. My son attends Carrie Busey and the school is considering uniforms when it moves to its new building next year. I would be all for it.