Do Clothes Make the Student? | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 23.02.2005
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Do Clothes Make the Student?

Only a handful of German schools have uniforms, but several are experimenting with the idea, hoping they can encourage reduced competition among students for the latest designer labels. Critics call it forced conformity.


Some would prefer German students dressing more like this

Four years ago, baggy, low-rider jeans, tight halter tops and designer labels all but disappeared from a high school in Hamburg. Instead, students -- all of them -- came to class in blue sweaters or sweat shirts, T-shirts in the summer, and blue jeans. The school had introduced a dress code and mandated a uniform of sorts.

According to students and teachers there, the change worked wonders, putting the focus on study and team work while getting rid of a good deal of jealousy and competition over who has the trendiest top or the most expensive pair of designer jeans.

"We found that when students wear uniforms, or standardized outfits, clothing as a status measuring stick becomes less important," said Oliver Dickhäuser, a researcher at the University of Giessen who helped conduct a study last year on the Hamburg clothes experiment. "It can also lead to more social cohesion."

While schools in Britain and -- to a lesser extent -- private schools in the US have long traditions of mandating uniforms for pupils, the great majority of German schools allow students free reign when it comes to deciding what to put on in the morning. According to researcher Dickhäuser, only three schools in Germany have mandated all their students wear some kind of uniform.

Interest is growing

But the results of the Giessen study are encouraging several other school administrations to consider paring down their students' wardrobe choices in the hopes of improving the overall classroom atmosphere.

"We hope it will improve some of the deficits that we see in schools, like discipline, teamwork and a sense of togetherness, things that in today's society are on the decline," said Kai Gersch, head of the Free Democratic Party in the local council of Spandau, a district of Berlin.

Bauchfrei in die Schule, Kleiderordnung in deutschen Schulen

Crop-tops are all the rage in German schools. Not everyone is happy about it.

There, two schools will likely make the switch to uniforms toward the end of the year, if students, parents and faculty agree on the plan.

That might be a difficult agreement to reach. Whether uniforms actually make a difference in the classroom is still hotly debated in Germany and even experts are split on the issue.

Those in favor argue that besides doing away with the "brand envy" and reduce the chances of children from poorer families being ostracized because they cannot afford the latest fashions.

Advocates say a uniform can help students identify and even have pride in their school. And although it's less of an issue in Germany than in the US, standardized clothing, it is argued, can help improve security at school by lessening the chances that a student will be robbed, sometimes violently, of his €200 ($265) sneakers.

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