Uniform: a multi-faceted societal instrument

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Wearing and looking at clothes just aren’t enough.


Clothes are just one of the basic necessities of man to live normally in a society. Comfortable clothes provide us physical protection from the burning heat of the sun, while silky fabrics act as barrier between the cold rain and our warm-blooded bodies.

Wearing clothes is not only that simple, though. It also has become an art and business in the form of fashion and trends that are ever-changing. In contrast to that, any particular culture has its own say on what the natives have to sport. How these different cultural clothes are made is dictated by the customs of their people. Heavy and multi-layered garments, covering people from neck to feet, may be more commonly found to be worn in the countries with chilly winters. Lightly dyed and thin clothes are sufficient for the people in the tropics. No matter how similar the conditions are between different nations, their traditional clothes have distinct patterns and overall look—which are still recognizable even if they were to be slightly modernized. Hence, we can say that these traditional clothes, even if they are not widely worn by the majority of citizens in a country, are a part of their national identity.

The same is true for any set of clothes that are standardized for certain group of people to follow. This type of clothes, which we call ‘uniforms’, are worn by persons who have similar attributes but the most deciding attribute is the place where these people gather together. Be it a working place, a learning institution, or a volunteer organization.

Just what are uniforms?

We can’t help it but link a group of people wearing similar clothes with the same organization. It is because the uniforms represent their identity with that organization, whether it is a small hobby-based club or an association that revolves around a specific cause. Wearing the uniform of whichever institution one belongs to gives him a sense of distinctiveness from others who are not wearing that clothing.

Nekoma vs Karasuno: Red versus Black, a clear divide between the competing volleyball teams

In my high school days, I was a member of the basketball girls’ team of our batch. I would always receive a set of jerseys each year. And those jerseys feel so special since only a few of us get to wear it and bring it on the court while playing our hearts out.

It was mysterious that we felt more empowered to give it our best on the court when we were wearing our special jerseys. It was as if the team’s morale was stronger when we saw our teammates in the same clothes. I could tell that much, because when we were just first-years, we had no time to prepare our jerseys. We somehow felt inferior to our seniors who fought us, wearing their team jerseys on. From that time on, our team felt the need to wear our identities in the next years that would come. Jerseys were another thing that we really looked forward to each year. It was not just because they were brand-new or pretty. Wearing them made us experience a sort of rebirth. A refreshed drive would be born in each of us. Before we knew it, we were more eager to win each match.

Hinata Shouyou (Haikyuu!!), ecstatic after receiving their first team jacket, with the name of their team at the back identifying him as one of the members. And when he, along with his fellow freshmen applicants, finally wears the jacket, he isn’t a total stranger to his senpai anymore. To rookie members, the jacket (and jerseys, by extension) is the material symbol of being acknowledged by their seniors.

It looks like I’ve been praising uniforms, so let me highlight some truths on the other side of the coin, which are evident especially when there are modifications among different and within the same set of uniforms.

For within the same set of uniforms that we see in anime set in schools, there are subtle touches that distinguish the students from each other. For example: blue ribbons/ necktie/ tracksuits/ indoor shoes for first years; red for second years; and green for the third years.

Just from looking at these (parts of) the uniform, one can subconsciously anticipate how to treat another student. It’s an unspoken rule to always respect the elders and look after the young ones, although strangers would always just ignore each other. But we cannot deny the fact that an invisible hierarchy is present in such setting. Needless to say, distance would separate these groups from freely interacting.

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Though Kill la Kill exaggerates the subject, its setup makes for a good example of the how this negative aspect of uniforms can be taken to such an extreme–complete dominion over lower-ranking students, harsh and immediate punishment to non-conformists of the established system, discrimination, abuse or power, bullying.

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NagiAsu is a good series that tackles racism. Within its universe, there are two groups of humans: the land-dwellers (Oshiooshi residents) and the sea-dwellers (Shioshishio residents).

In the opening scene, Sakishima Hikari scolds Mukaido Manaka for wearing Mihama Middle’s uniform. For Hikari, Manaka just betrayed him (or the group) for not wearing their own school’s (Namiji’s) uniform, even though this wasn’t her intention. From this dialogue alone, the viewer is informed of the rough relationship between the two races of humans in NagiAsu.

As we go further in the first episode, we see that these Hikaru and friends didn’t have prior interactions with the people on the surface. It was initially only from the hearsays that Hikari strongly developed contempt towards the other group. The land dwellers were also hostile towards the sea dwellers. Both groups were wary of each other’s existence.

NagiAsu depicts real-world discrimination, even among small groups of people despite the lack of actual interactions. I for one am guilty of having my own prejudicial labels on students who belong to a particular school, that I’ve always seen them as elitists. And I acknowledge the fact that I haven’t interacted much with these people and it’s too unreasonable for me to look at them that way. Isn’t it the same for others? You can only judge a person until you get to know him better. And the process in between that makes that possible is communication, as shown by NagiAsu in the entire series. 

I’m not saying that the color coding of the ribbons, the entirely distinct uniform designs, or what have you, that is responsible for the division, but the uniforms make people’s tendency to interact with similarly grouped individuals more apparent. It’s rare to see two persons, belonging to different institutions and initially being strangers, to easily get together and be comfortable with each other. It usually takes one or more common factor to have them become interested in the other’s existence–same height? same food? same bag? same phone strap? a common friend? The possibilities are endless in such a chance meeting.

Conclusion

Human society is not easy to define, but by looking at uniforms, we can have more than just one glimpse of how we behave, especially within and among groups. Uniforms may make a group of people appear to have the same principles, goals, and motivations. But it is important to note that outside our associations we lead different lives. Such things can reflect a tiny but significant side of our lives. For us to know each other better, we need to look at one another in nakedness, free from the disguise and brands of uniforms and clothes. We need to look at one another eye to eye.

However, uniforms may very well be a human attempt on achieving flawlessness (by ‘covering’ our flaws) in the midst of disorder. But since they are a product of mundane intentions, such things can never really be perfect. As humans are imperfect yet beautiful, uniforms are also beautiful in their own way.

Still, one question remains in my mind: Does a uniform make the person? or does the person make the uniform?

Seifuku banzai!

Seifuku banzai!

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25 responses to “Uniform: a multi-faceted societal instrument

  1. Pingback: On the Function of Uniforms in Society by Miharusshi | FUJINSEI·

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  3. Oh, very insightful post. Well done, Miha-chan! I certainly agree that uniforms represent organizations/cultures. I wore uniforms from primary to high school. I also experienced attending elementary in the Philippines at a strict Catholic school where I wore the same style of uniform as everyone else. Although I attended a Catholic school here in Canada, as well, and we were required to wear uniforms, the uniforms were available in many different styles & colours that we were able to mix and match to suit our own personal styles. Girls were allowed to wear Japanese sailor-style uniforms, if we wished, or simply pants if we didn’t want to expose our legs. So I agree that uniforms also reflect a culture.

    I noticed that since Filipinos are proud of our “pagka-Pinoy” and my former elementary school was Catholic, uniforms are a way to instill this pride by wearing the same style as everyone. Perhaps it’s also a way of teaching discipline and respect for the society as a whole.

    As Canada is known for its multi-culturalism, I guess that it makes sense for the schools to give us more freedom to mix-and-match our uniforms because each one of us here came from different backgrounds. And many schools don’t even bother enforcing uniform codes.

    As for your last question, I believe that there are many ways to answer that question, and I don’t think there is necessarily a right answer. But I think that the person makes the uniform. It’s the people who decide whether they want to belong in a certain group, wear the same uniform, and believe the same values of the group. It’s also up to them if they want to join a different group or create a new one. Or even remain in a group but wear the uniform differently, hinting that one believes in the group’s values but prefer to keep one’s sense of independence.

    • Thanks, Arria-chan! I’m glad you appreciate this post. I created the draft for this two months ago, and just couldn’t sit down to finish it until now. >.<

      I haven't heard of a dressing code here in PH that allows students to match and wear different parts of the uniform and to have their own style. For Filipinos, that would be really expensive to adopt.

      That's true. I missed the point that making young ones wear the same set of uniforms is like training them to be disciplined citizens as they grow up. Thanks for that additional point!

      That was a very nice answer. 🙂 It just reminds me that if one happens to get detached from his/her organization (for instance, because of some internal conflict, or just a difference in beliefs), he/she will be hesitant to wear any clothes associated with that group. I'm speaking from my own experience. I wonder if this has also happened to anyone else.

      • You’re welcome, Miha-chan! I’m not surprised that you prepared for this post because it’s very thoughtful.

        Well, I guess it makes sense, even if the affordability is taken out of the case. My perception is that Philippines feels very strongly about school pride, and wearing the same uniforms enhances this. Although I’m also proud of my schools here in Canada, I don’t think our loyalty or pride is comparable to the level in the Philippines. I can’t speak for all Canadian students, but many of my Filipino friends here agree with me.

        And you’re welcome again. We can’t say for sure that wearing the same uniforms makes a better society, but I think its included in the idea.

        That’s very true. Oh, so you have some personal experience? I have some, too, and I wasn’t just hesitant about wearing the same uniform, but I stood my ground and refused. (It’s not a school uniform, though. It’s a group/club uniform).

        • I just talked with my guy friend about his college uniforms. He’s a graduating pharmacy student, and in his school, the uniforms are a symbol of the students’ status/standing in the institution. Yes, they’re freaking expensive (about 800Php per pair of white pants and blouse?). Plus, each student has to purchase several sets that are individually used for specific purposes, e.g. strictly first-year uniforms, strictly 4th year uniforms (which are admired by the freshmen, who are thinking “I wonder how it feels when I get to wear that?”), their internship uniforms, etc. The list can go on; the institution can find reasons to mandate their students to purchase and wear these, unless they want to be specially called in for some counseling sessions due to not following rules. (I am kinda dramatizing this part a bit hehe).

          Oh wow. I actually felt relieved to find I’m not the only one who has become hesitant about wearing those custom shirts.

        • Oh wow. That’s something else. Well, if he can afford it, then I guess it’s not a problem. I just feel bad to those who can’t afford those numerous required uniforms. I’m not being a snob (I’m a Filipino, too), but I know enough that not everyone would be able to afford every single uniform. But when I really think about it, I’m not very surprised. Even if you say that a school is an educational institution, it still runs like a business, so most of them will do almost anything to earn more money.

          Indeed. I’m glad that it was over. I just didn’t want to be associated with a group that holds values I didn’t believe in.

        • “… school… still runs like a business…”

          This is absolutely true, Arria-chan! >.< My friend sadly told me that he wonders just where their payments go. Some of their facilities are not as up-to-date as in other schools when in fact, their school is quite rich in funds collected from all the expensive fees the students pay. 😦

        • THAT is fishy. Hmmm. I don’t want to judge without knowing all the facts firsthand, but based on the things you’ve told me, the people running your friend’s school sound corrupt.

        • My dad is saying the same thing, but I have this dream where I’m hoping to see my mother country, the Philippines, rise into an economic superpower in my lifetime. I want to see my mother country prosper and be wiped of even if it’s just 90% of the current rate of corruption.

        • There’s a hope for that to happen, but even more so because recently our city mayor (who’s notorious for his strict implementation of city ordinances and laws) declared that “he’s willing to sacrifice and run for presidency if only to save this country from being fractured. (non-verbatim, but that’s the gist of his declaration)”

        • Oh? And do you believe your mayor when he says that? I’m getting kind of depressed, especially with my dad saying that he doesn’t have high hopes for the next President. He’s a bit of a pro-PNoy.

        • More recent articles say that our mayor is much more open to run for Vice Presidency instead. Tbh, I’d prefer it if he just stayed as our mayor, but I think he’s really qualified to run the country and correct the system.

        • Did a quick web search about him. I’m quite impressed. If he does run for the national election, I hope that he won’t fall into the trap of corruption and focus on working for the betterment of Filipino society.

  4. I approve school uniform. This way people look the same and the emphasis is on the performance, rather than superficial characteristics.

    Uniform for professions is good in most cases, but it has a tremendous power… If you really seek the answer to that last question, consider this… Everyone should know about the Stanford study… https://celestialkitsune.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/philip-zimbardo-ted-talk-how-ordinary-people-become-monsters-or-heroes/

    • That TED talk started out something heavy (for me and for my heart ugh), but it ended with a transformational testimony. It was wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

      Also, those anime videos are hilarious! Zetsubou-sensei!!

  5. If you think about it, the very concept of uniforms is a bit weird. Well, weird, in a sense that we take for granted a practice of differentiation dictated by clothes of all things. It’s not really my best subject, but if I remember correctly, sociology has what they call “social facts”, which are essentially social constructs that individuals identify as culture or common sense based on the society they live in.

    One of those common sense practices is an individual’s “need” to identify himself within social institutions (as a way of identifying oneself and one’s position in life, a la NagiAsu), and one way of doing that is through wearing uniforms.

    That said, being in a uni without uniforms, I kinda miss ’em 😀

    • Thank you for the thorough follow-up! I am not an expert in this subject as well, but I tried anyway to have my own input and, as a result, I couldn’t quite use the more appropriate terms for these observations. 🙂

      I’m also a student in a uni that doesn’t require its constituents to wear uniforms! XD (Maybe we belong to the same university? I don’t know other universities where students don’t wear uniforms.)

      I actually cut out a paragraph from this post. It was about my org life, which necessitates me (and other members as well) to wear our uniforms (so far, we’ve had two) whenever we conduct our meetings or held our events inside and outside the school–just so people will know that it’s *our* organization doing stuff. In addition to that, it also serves as a good publicity especially to the freshmen within our degree program, so that they might be interested to join us in their second college year. XD

      Anyway, I kinda miss wearing the uniforms, too! Having a terrible fashion sense doesn’t help me in choosing which casual clothes to wear every day.

      • You got the idea across, and that’s as good (if not better) as any complicated terminology
        I especially liked how you got NagiAsu into this. xD

        Is that right?:D Well, if you’d allow me to ask in a roundabout way – did your second semester start 3-ish weeks ago? 😀

        Hmm, I suppose the closest thing to org uniforms that I’ve seen are the org shirts that a lot of ’em wear on occasion. Usually I identify the ones I know with what logo their shirts have, so I guess it kinda works in that regard.

        On my end I stopped caring about how I dressed as much as I did back when I was a freshman.

        • Thank you! 😀

          This post was originally only about the positive aspects of uniform, i.e. my reference to Haikyuu!! Then I remembered NagiAsu… then, KLK. 🙂

          No, our second semester started last week, but I only know that the other *campuses* had earlier start than ours. And the thing that sets the system apart from the other uni is the recent *calendar shift*. So… are we really from the same uni? 😉

          Ah, yep. Certain orgs here have their own ‘org shirt’ day, where they are required/compelled to wear their org shirts–the simple, non-formal occasion clothes. It really makes them distinguishable from the rest of the student body.

          Woah. I guess that’s the normal trend in our uni. Well, fresh high school graduates are still young and were used to have ‘appropriate’ clothing and demeanor (thanks to uniform). So freshmen still carry with them the attitude to care about how they look. Until they get desensitized to this no-uniform policy and culture. And to think that a huge portion of the older students–who I think have an effect to the younger ones, such that they are the respected “senpai” and serve as role models–do not really give a care to the way they dress (all-nighters? plates? laboratory experiments? projects?).

        • Can’t say I have an anime that I’d readily associate uniforms with in mind.

          Ahh, I see. Yep, it would seem that we are 😀

          It was a weird experience if anything. I don’t know when I lost the feeling of “oh man, I just wore this a couple of days ago, now what?”, lol, but I guess that’s the same for a lot of us. I suppose it’s.. better(?) that we actually stopped being used to wearing uniforms xD

        • Aren’t many anime set in school? XD Eh, but the characters don’t comment on their uniforms besides the usual “Oh, it’s time to wear winter/summer uniform again.” I can’t think of other anime that somehow mentions uniforms in an unusual manner. Anyway.

          Welp, nice to meet you, fellow Iskolar!

          As for me, I don’t know if it’s better that we’re used to not wearing school uniforms anymore. Maybe I’m just too attached to my high school days when I was able to reuse my skirt a couple more times before it should be washed again? Lol I really dunno. But at least I get to wear loose tees. 😀

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