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Mandatory School Uniforms are a violation of free expression

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/2/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,613 times Debate No: 29802
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (7)
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Upon seeing a debate with this argument as a point closed, my aspirations were crushed to such a degree that I decided I would recreate this debate myself and open it up once again to the populace.

Resolved: Mandatory School Uniforms are a violation of free expression

Some definitions are in order:

Mandatory: Necessary, compulsory

School Uniforms: Uniforms worn by students that are unique to the school

Violation: to harm, go against

Free expression: the right to behave and present ourselves as we see fit

The first round will be a presentation of arguments from my opponent. He may choose at that point if he wants to use the last round for arguments or a "thanks for playing" message to myself and you, the audience.

Regardless of whether he argues in the final round or not, there shall be no new arguments made there.

I hope for an enlightening discussion.


Many thanks to my opponent for initiating this debate. To be clear, I am assuming that the resolution pertains to the students' free expression rather than to the schools' free expression. With that being said, the contentions of my opening statement are simple:

  • Clothing is used as a means of self-expression.
  • The implementation of school uniforms seeks to eliminate the problems that result from an unequal or suggestive range of clothing by eliminating the students' freedom to express themselves through clothing.

Clothing as a Means of Free Expression: Medieval era and Renaissance

For the purposes of this discussion, it is imperative to understand that the use of clothing as a means of expression is evident throughout the course of human history. The Medieval era, for instance, features a use of clothing as an expression of nobility and wealth; often times, a coat of arms was implemented onto a suit of armor to demonstrate the wearer's nobility via hereditary means [1]. Even the colors of the clothing itself was used to represent something of its wearer during the medieval era and the renaissance. I will name a few to show you, the reader, the significance of coloration in medieval and renaissance clothing:


  • High social standing; royalty
  • Power and Prestige
  • Religious authority in the church or the color of hellfire


  • The color of kings, usually as a demonstration of a king's valor and successes in war
  • Love; lovers have worn vermilion
  • Wealth


  • Peasants and middle-class men have used cheap orange-red and russet dyes in an attempt to emulate the red of the nobility in the renaissance


  • Seriousness
  • mourning

Purple, green, blue, gray, brown, yellow, and white colors in medieval and renaissance clothing had symbolic significance as well. For a longer list, see source 2.

Of course, colors are not used by people today as an symbolic expression as they have been in the medieval era and the renaissance (at least, not in the same way; the color of black can still represent mourning when worn during funerals, the color of white still symbolizes purity in a woman's dress, but white clothing is also worn to demonstrate mourning in china [3] ). Rather, the emulation of fashion trends [4] and the act of wearing certain articles of clothing in a specific way (sagging, wearing hats backwards, tearing jeans, etc.) are used as a means of expression through clothing today. So—

Without furthur ado, let's jump straight to the chase—Clothing as a Means of Free Expression: Kids and Adolescents Today

Young women's sense for fashon is very evident in various studies that show how much they spend on clothing annually and the number of young women who buy a certain number of articles of clothing; from around the 8th of March in 2012 to around the 8th of September in 2012, 41% of girls aged 13-18 purchased 10 or more articles of clothing [5]. It was just in the year of 2003 when teenage women (or their parents) spent a staggering amount of money on their clothing: over $170 billion [6].

Why do teenage girls spend so much money on clothing? Well, let's hear it from them:

Teenage girls spend so much money on clothing with particular designer labels because they contribute to their social standing; they don't want to stand out in a negative way.

"There's almost like this … boundary that you don't want to cross … because then you'll just be like, weird" -Melanie Burg, a 13-year-old from suburban New York.

This quote is justified by findings from the study in source 5; 81 percent of the girls in the study said that they were influenced by their friends and peers while 68 percent said that they were influenced by fashion magazines and advertisements. One would argue that because so much of the average American teenage girl's fashion sense is dictated by fashion trends, the implementation of school uniforms would not violate the adolescents' freedom of expression through clothing, since they are not essentially expressing themselves but the fashion trends. However, that person would be wrong in making that argument; the act of wearing clothing that reflects the latest in fashion trends is still a form of expression nevertheless, even if it does not necessarily showcase the wearer's purely unique personality, fashion sense, or anything else that is unique to the wearer. Expression is expression, regardless of whom or what is expressed.

What about adolescent guys? They do not indulge themselves in the fashion trends to the same degree as adolescent girls.

That is true, but do not forget that many guys wear clothing in a certain way to express themselves. Here are two articles of clothing associated with adolescent men today and their significance in expressing the adolescent male wearer:

Skinny Jeans

In addition to hopping onto the fashion bandwagon, guys may choose to wear skinny jeans because it is "aesthetically pleasing" [7]. Personally, I knew of a young man who did a coming-out prestation, if you may, while wearing skinny jeans to emulate the homosexual stereotype associated with them.

Sagging Jeans

There are several theories arguing why the act of sagging pants became popular in the 1990's. One such theory is that homosexual inmates began to sag their pants to display their sexual orientation [8]. However, more often than not, adolescent men do not sag their pants to convey their sexual orientation. On the contrary, men may sag their pants to emulate characteristics associated with the masculinity of men; they may sag their jeans to look formidable [9].

Need I say more in support of why clothing is used as a form of expression?

School Uniorms are a Violation of Free Expression

I will make this brief. Compulsory school uniforms restrict students to one outfit, therefore taking away the students' right to express themselves by freely choosing what to wear. Here's chapter 1, section 1 of the School Uniform Policy implemented on the 16th of August in 2004:

"A school uniform consists of a limited range of clothing, including footwear and headwear. It identifies students as belonging to a particular school. Schools usually expect students to wear the uniform during school hours, while travelling to and from school, and when engaged in school activities out of school hours." [10]

The key words here are "limited" and "expect." In the case with school uniforms, expressing one's self through unique clothing (or "unique" clothing) is out of the question. Likewise, the key word in the definition provided for "free expression" is "we;" free expression pertains to the expression of the students, not to the expression the schools wish for the students to emulate. It does not matter whether or not a student feels that his or her freedom of expression is repressed, like this author in source 11; policies are policies and the policy expressed in compulsory school uniforms is uniformity.

I await my opponent's statement(s) or rebuttal(s) supporting why school uniforms are not a violation of free expression. (Just for the record, I am not arguing against school uniforms, just for "pro.")

As of 2/2/2013, all of the sources listed below are active:

Debate Round No. 1


I'd like to thank my opponent for his acceptance and would love to begin without much further adeiu.

My Opponent's Case:

My opponent's case makes a whole lot of historical and statistical claims...before actually getting to the relevant part of if it violates Free Expression. The points about the colors of clothing having effects and how much we spend on clothing and different ways to wear one's trousers, while certainly being interesting, have no pertinance on the actual resolution today. The points about color specifically are just an arbitrary assigning of value based on appearance, but I don't feel like wasting time on something that doens't link to the resolution. ANYWAY, let us continue.

My opponent then goes on to make the claim, actually on topic this time, that because uniforms offer a limited range of clothes it represses our ability to freely express ourselves. This is a problem for three reasons:

First: We still have the ability to design how we present ourselves physically that go outside of the clothes we wear. The make-up women use, the way one styles and/or colors their hair, accessories and types and brands of shoes, all of which are not generally addressed by uniforms, are ways for one to express themselves while maintaining consistency with the school dress code. So it doesn't actually preclude our ability to express ourselves, and thus doesn't violate it.

Second: Even if we don't have control over anything that we wear or how we appear in any aspect (doubtful in itself), we still control how we act. Baring a mental coersion treatment where we are forced to act how the school wants us to in this uniform, we control how we wish to act. Our actions function as our ability to express ourselves far better than any clothing can, due to the fact that clothing are unable to truly express us without our actions and personality affecting what we wear. This alone allows us to fully express ourselves, regardless of what we wear.

Third: Even the courts, the people who have decided on the freedom of speech and expression and the like, ruled that school uniforms don't violate our freedom of expression.[1]

As such, school uniforms actually don't violate our freedom of expression, as there are many ways we can still express ourselves.




Nice response.

The Majority of my Opening Statement is Relevant to the Resolution

The central argument in my opponent's first two paragraphs is this: the majority of MaestroEvans's argument is irrelevant to the resolution. It seems that he has misunderstood my intentions with three-fourths of my argument, so I will now explain the significance of three-fourths of my opening statement.

I explained how clothing has been regarded and is still regarded as a popular means of expression. Irrelevant? Absolutely not; the significance of clothing as a means of expression is essential to define in order to debate the resolution. The argument that school uniforms violate free expression, specifically free expression through clothing, requires the significance of clothing as a means of expression to be established in the first place. Otherwise, what grounds would my argument have? No ground whatsoever; if clothing was not a means of expression, let alone a popular means of expression, no statement arguing that school uniforms violate free expression through clothing could be made.

I then went on to argue that "because uniforms offer (I would say 'restrict students to') a limited range of clothes, it represses [the students' abilities] to freely express [themselves]." My opponent attempted to refute that argument, but none of his rebuttals were effective in contesting my argument. I will tell you why in the following refutations.

My Opponent's "First" Rebuttal

My opponent basically argued that [students] still have (he implies that, yes, clothing is restricted by school uniforms; he undermined his own position) ways to express themselves through makeup, shoe brands, and anything else not restricted by school uniform policies. Here is an analogy that illustrates the basis of his argument.

A class of writers can write whatever they want. They just can't use the letter "e." Can they really write whatever they want? The answer, of course, is no; try to think up as many words as you can in the English language that contains the letter "e." There goes the ability to write in the past-tense, among other things.

Now, ask yourself this: how can you freely express yourself if you cannot freely wear the clothes you want?

My Opponent's "Second" Rebuttal

"Even if we don't have control over anything that we wear or how we appear in any aspect (doubtful in itself), we still control how we act."

So? In a school that operates under a school uniform policy, the right to express one's self through the articles of clothing touched by the school uniform policy is nonexistent.

"Our actions function as our ability to express ourselves far better than any clothing can, due to the fact that clothing are unable to truly express us without our actions and personality affecting what we wear."

Try telling that to the adolescents who love to dress up however they want, like the majority of the kids in source "1."

My opponent's "Third" Rebuttal

"Even the courts, the people who have decided on the freedom of speech and expression and the like, ruled that school uniforms don't violate our freedom of expression."

Pay attention to the wording: "The Clark County School District's policies were not intended to squelch free speech, but instead were aimed at 'creating an educational environment free from the distractions, dangers and disagreements that result when student clothing choices are left unrestricted,' Judge Michael Hawkins said in the majority opinion." [2]

That is precisely the goal of a school uniform policy. However, even though the school uniform policy is not intended to infringe upon the students' rights to wear whatever they want, it still violates their right to freely express themselves indirectly.


  • My opponent completely ignored the significance of clothing as a means of expression
  • My opponent merely presented other ways that students can express themselves
  • The resolution stands affirmed.

2/8/2013 Sources


Debate Round No. 2


Warabe forfeited this round.


The resolution still stands affirmed.
Debate Round No. 3


Warabe forfeited this round.


Debate Synopsis
  • My opponent forfeited two rounds.
  • The resolution stands affirmed.

Vote Pro.

Debate Round No. 4
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by MaestroEvans 5 years ago
Not again...
Posted by vab 5 years ago
Ok :)
I thought that was what he meant. It was odd to me cause I see more logic in instigator being Pro... And I assume most people before the debate feel that uniforms in schools do limit free expression, so I expected formulation to be more clear.

I am still learning advanced English, and when I saw one comment with same question already... You know.. What's so wrong in checking twice where's the battle before taking a sword in your hands? :P
Posted by Deadlykris 5 years ago
Yeah I'm not sure where the confusion comes from, either. The only possible source that comes to mind is a lack of reading comprehension. If they understand what I mean, then that's probably not it; if not, then I can assume I'm right.
Posted by MaestroEvans 5 years ago
I'll debate this in 30 minutes if no one else accepts this challenge.
Posted by Warabe 5 years ago
I would posit that the resolution is pretty clear cut. The pro is saying that school uniforms violate people's ability to express themselves, and I am saying that they do not. I'm a little perplexed as to where you see confusion.
Posted by vab 5 years ago
I believe that Con position, Warebe, is saying that uniforms are not a violation of free expression? But it's not clear ..
If that's the case, I'm willing to be Pro...
Posted by muffin8or 5 years ago
It's unclear whether you are against school uniforms or against the idea that school uniforms are suppressive. If the former, the con/pro bit is mixed up and if the latter I wouldn't want to hold the opposing position.
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