School Uniforms in the 1980s


School uniforms in the 1980s received more attention than in previous decades, due to the fact it was one of the first times in academic history they went beyond the traditional private school requirements. During the late 1980s American public schools all over the nation began implementing school uniforms, while the traditional Catholic school fashion stamp continued to evolve.

The Traditional Dress Code

  • In private and religious schools in the 1980s, school uniforms were consistent with tradition, while allowing for a few extra flairs of self-expression. The private school uniform in the 1980s usually consisted of a white blouse or polo shirt, a cardigan in designated school color, slacks for the boys and pleated plaid skirts for the girls. In the 1980s, girls were permitted to abandon the traditional rounded blouse collar in favor of a more casual collar or a polo shirt identical to boys if they wished, and were also permitted to wear shorts during the warm months in either khaki or the coordinating school colors. Accessories such as shoes also became more lenient in the 1980s, as sneakers replaced patent leathers, and 1980s-appropriate bursts of color came out in shoelaces, hair scrunchies and jewelry not previously permitted.

Public School Debut

  • The 1980s was the first time public schools began to start requiring uniforms although many public schools had dress codes before then. Unlike the traditional religious school plaids, the public school uniform usually consisted of tan, black or navy blue solid skirts, jumpers, and slacks. While the public school uniform movement was small at first, it still began to affect areas of the United States educational system strongly. Cherry Hill Elementary School, a predominantly black Baltimore, Maryland, elementary school was the first to require such uniforms in 1987. Uniform use continued to grow in public education from the 1980s until 2011, where uniform codes are now 15 times more prevalent across the country.

1980s Uniform Motivations and Reasoning

  • During the 1980s, education was recognized as being in crisis. America was known as a nation at risk with decreasing performance in public schools. Administrators looked to school uniforms in the 1980s as a way to potentially bring a higher level of discipline, education and structure to the schools. School uniforms were brought into select public schools to reduce peer pressure, increase school pride and unity. Some administrators saw the uniforms as a way to focus more on learning and less on students' economic status. The uniforms create a more professional and structured environment and to reduce the expense for parents feeling pressured to buy the latest fashions to keep their children accepted by peers on the playground, some experts claim.

Where to Find

  • If you would like to find an authentic 1980s school uniform, you don't have to search very hard. Secondhand clothing websites such as Etsy and eBay have 1980s uniforms for purchase, along with looks that convincingly replicate them. Thrift stores also often carry school uniforms from the 1980s. Some schools even have their own secondhand shops. One example of this is the Outgrown Shop on the campus of St. Justin School in Santa Clara, California.


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