Do you wear a uniform for school, work, sports or any other activities? Have you ever? Or do you have a strict dress code that, for example, tells you what colors you can and can’t wear or that forbids you from wearing certain types of clothing such as jeans, shorts and tank tops?
How do you feel about these uniforms or dress codes? Do they make you feel comfortable and connected to your teammates or classmates? Or do you feel uneasy and restricted? Would you change anything about the uniform or dress code if you could?
In the article “The Runners Changing Course on Uniform Expectations,” Nell Gallogly writes about competitive running and how the norms for women’s uniforms are slowly changing. The article begins:
In eighth grade, Katelyn Hutchinson, a runner from the University of Kentucky, learned the power of a uniform.
Her coach had designed a racing kit that made the middle school team feel “comfortable and cool,” Hutchinson said. The experience left a strong impression: Uniforms can make athletes feel like themselves.
Uniforms for women grow smaller and tighter as they ascend from high school to college to professional running, while men’s uniforms typically remain suspended in the high-school look — a loose jersey and flowing shorts or knee-length spandex for sprinters.
A growing number of amateur and elite runners are challenging these norms through dress and dialogue. Many profess a straightforward conviction: You run best when you are comfortable.
They have inspired a domino effect, allowing more runners to feel comfortable pushing what have been uniform standards. Top-tier brands are taking note: “One-size-fits-all doesn’t work for this sport,” said Jordana Katcher, the vice president of Nike women’s global sport apparel.
But the differences between men’s and women’s norms weren’t initially etched into the sport’s tradition. In 1928, when women were first permitted to compete in track and field at the Olympics, they donned uniforms closely resembling the men’s teams’ kits.
By the 1980s and 1990s, athletic apparel companies began to incorporate new textile technology, including spandex, with the aim of performance advantages. To this day, companies chase uniform designs that can provide athletes with “milliseconds of time gains on their competition,” Katcher said.
As athletes adopted the tighter style, men’s and women’s aesthetics continued to diverge. A women’s typical racing kit became buns (also known as briefs or bundies) and a tight spandex top. A bathing suit, more or less.
Students, read the entire article and then tell us:
Have you noticed in school or in televised sports that female athletes’ uniforms are more revealing than those for male athletes? If so, do you think those differences are acceptable?
In your experience with rules about physical appearance, do you think all genders are subject to the same degree of expectations? Is it harder for some people to adhere to the guidelines than others? Explain.
The article mentions the idea that “you run best when you are comfortable.” Do you think people learn, work, perform and otherwise do things better if they are comfortable? Share an example, if you have one, from your own life.
If you have never worn a uniform or been asked to follow a dress code, do you think you might like not having to choose your outfit every day? Do you think it could prevent distraction? Minimize socioeconomic differences between people? Promote a feeling of unity? Or might it stifle your creativity and self-expression? If you have experience with uniforms or dress codes, what do you think about these commonly given reasons for imposing such rules?
Have you ever pushed back against uniforms or dress codes? Has anyone you know? If so, how did it go? What have you been told about why such rules are in place? What did you take issue with?
Taking inspiration from the middle school track coach who designed uniforms that would make the team feel “comfortable and cool,” sketch a version of a uniform you might wear as a student, athlete or employee and then tell us: What decisions did you make about things like comfort, functionality, aesthetics, cost and so on? How is your version an improvement on the original?
Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.
Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.