My 15-year-old daughter is starting her second year of high school. For most of her school life, she has gone to schools that didn’t require any standard clothing, and she liked to express herself by wearing her clothes to school.

This year, I’m sending her to a private school that has a mandatory uniform of a white dress shirt, knee length skirt, etc. She has been asking me to get her out of that school because the uniform doesn’t let her express herself. I want her to be happy, and I want her to go to this school, as it offers a great educational environment.

How can I help my daughter express herself while wearing uniforms?


5 Answers 5


While you are asking for suggestions re: how your daughter can express herself with the limitations of being uniformed, I'd like to approach this a bit differently. My answer assumes a rigid uniform policy.

I attended a Catholic high school with a very restrictive dress code: one particular blazer (blue for freshmen/sophomores, brown for juniors/seniors) or (bl/br) swearer vest, white dress shirt, (bl/br) plaid skirt, dark blue/brown or white knee socks, brown leather penny loafers. No gaudy jewelry, makeup, headwear, etc. That's it, no exceptions without demerits->detention->worse.

If I recall correctly, though we didn't like the uniforms and would have liked more comfortable clothes, I never worried about self-expression per se through clothes except for the fact that the uniforms flattered no-one.

I suggest you talk to her about self expression and what it means to her specifically. What is she trying to express? Is it a value that is only expressible through the medium of clothing? Or is clothing a medium through which her opinions can be readily ascertainable to strangers? Is it a way of weeding out/warning away people who don't agree with her, or to attract like minded individuals? Is it a way to "fit in" or a way to "stand out"? Is it to appear attractive, and if so, to whom?

In other words, until you (and she) know exactly why self expression through clothing is so important to her that she would trade away a good education for that 'right', you won't make much headway if the dress code is very restrictive.

Once she can articulate honestly the reason she relies on clothing to project what she feels she wants to communicate, you can explore with her other ways it can be done, less easily but perhaps more meaningfully.

If she is a rebel, she can join the school newspaper, radio station, or other after-school activities. If she likes attention, the drama club or glee club might appeal to her. If she wants to change the world, she can learn how to do it from within (i.e. hold office and learn to negotiate), by running for office. Etc. Etc. There are plenty of avenues worth exploring.

Part of a good education is learning to articulate your beliefs in a way that people who feel differently can (hopefully) understand. A more important part - to me - is exploring the foundation of one's beliefs. Talking through her desire to 'dress for the message' is one step in the direction of exploring why she believes what she believes.


Give your daughter a scenario where she is provided a great opportunity to study at an internship with a major player in the career path she is interested in. The internship may require a specific dress code ranging from anything goes to extremely formal. Either way, in order to maintain the required parameters of the internship, she is required to wear a certain uniform or a certain type of clothing. Would she give up the internship voluntarily if the dress code doesn't meet her levels of self-expression or would she bear it in order to gain the competitive advantage that the internship would provide?

I understand the importance of feeling the ability of some control, especially over what one wears. Review the dress code of the school with your daughter. Find the areas that there is some wiggle room in what she is required to wear. Maybe she can wear some jewelry she likes that has some special meaning. Maybe she has the options between types of skirts or shirts. Maybe the shoes or socks she can choose are also not hard-set choices.

Review those items with her in the policy and ask that she consider all of these things. Hopefully that will cheer her up.


Everything @SomeShinyObject said, but also, you guys should brainstorm together how to let her show her personality while still staying within the uniform bounds. I've thought up some ideas below:

Hair cut, style, color (maybe?), bows, ribbons, headbands, hats (maybe?) are all great ways to express yourself. Perhaps scarves are allowed?

Also backpacks/pencil cases/binder-design - neon green, pitch black, a favourite cartoon character: all say different things. Heck, if you want to get super detailed then go for fun pencils and erasers. Stickers on the back of calculators. She could turn it into a game! How many small details can she get into her backpack that still fits in school regulations :)

I had a pencil case that was basically a gutted stuffed animal with a zipper. It was great! Back then we were also supposed to make a cover for our textbooks to protect them, so maybe she could see about doing something like that too (just don't tape it to the textbook itself).


If your daughter is like many nowadays, and heavily into social media, I'd emphasize that side of things. Unless the school also somehow forbids all social media, it seems like the best outlet for self expression available; while she can't wear what she wants on her body during school, she can "wear" what she wants on her Facebook profile, or on Instagram, or Snapchat, or what have you.

You also might discuss self expression through verbal expression. She is still free to talk to her friends, after all; she can express herself through her opinions, her beliefs, etc.

Finally, you might turn it around some, and tell her that this is an opportunity for her to learn how to self-express within boundaries. Post-school she'll presumably be in a profession with at least some rules about attire, after all. This is a good chance for her to explore other ways of self-expression that will be useful for her when she gets a job; perhaps it will help her not feel so stifled when that comes around. This isn't necessarily something everyone will understand at that age, of course, but it is something potentially useful.


There is a substantial amount of life lessons that are attempted to be taught with the uniform. One of the better ones we should all be aware of is that the system does not have to change to suit everyone's needs.

We all live in a society that has certain values and norms, these are ingrained into our society. That does not mean that they are immutable and cannot change but the uniform teaches children that obstinate defiance is not the best way to change the system we fall under.

If she wears the uniform like the school requires she can work from within to change the system in a more constructive manner. She may find that the self-confidence, she gets from wearing neat clothes to school cacn give her a real confidence boost.

It also puts everyone on a level pegging field. Everyone wears the same clothes and that takes a lot of cattyness away from the girls, who often judge each other on their clothes. Inforcing a sense of modesty and respect in children is certainly worth the effort.

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