A Brief History of School Uniforms

Even if it doesn’t affect you directly, it’s hard to miss all the signs that the school year is about to start for many. School parking lots are full as teachers prepare their classrooms, and it seems as if every store has a bright “back-to-school” section filled with bright notebooks and folders.

In honor of the upcoming school year, this BeWeave It is dedicated to that other indicator that school has begun: the school uniform. School uniforms got their start in the early universities. During the Medieval period, universities in Europe were all run by the Catholic Church. All students were considered part of the church hierarchy, and so the students' dress code was the same as the monks.

Over time, these robes transformed into different colors and included caps as well. Professors’ robes also became a bit flashier so one could distinguish not only their rank but their academic specialty. If this all sounds a bit familiar, that’s because these robes eventually evolved into the graduation robes worn at ceremonies around the world. Today, with few exceptions, most colleges do not require students to wear robes and caps to academic functions much less everyday classes.

Primary and high school uniforms are much more commonplace, and more likely than not the pleated plaid skirt of the Catholic school girl is the first one that comes to mind. This uniform has been around the United States since at least the 1940s as a way to identify students as belonging to a particular school.  While these skirts appear to be mimicking the tartan kilts of Scotland, many (but not all) of the plaid designs are not official tartans. We here at BeWeave It headquarters haven’t been able to find how this trend started, but if you have information, please do let us know!

Thanks to the popularity of Japanese manga and anime—including the Sailor Moon series in particular—the Japanese sailor school uniform has also become a part of popular culture. The sailor uniforms are worn by girls (boys wear a military-style uniform), and they consist of a pleated skirt and a blouse with an attached sailor-style collar and a ribbon tied in front. These uniforms started appearing during the 1920s and were modeled after those of the British Navy. 

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