According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), almost 17% of schools in 2008 had uniforms (1), and in 2013, that number went up to 23% (according to the US Department of Education data and that of StatisticsBrain) (2). The statistics also show that over 50% of those schools strictly enforce the use of uniforms. Cities like Boston and Miami have over 60% of their students wear uniforms (2), and 95% of New Orleans students wear them (2). Uniforms are in place for a number of reasons and have existed since the start of schools themselves. Parents have seen numerous benefits to their children wearing uniforms, such as being beneficial for their household (49% of parents responded), eliminating the peer-pressure issue of fitting in by wearing brand names (47%) (2). Not all parents were happy with them, with over a third of parent stating that they hindered their student's personal liberties and creativity/self-expression (2). For teachers, school uniforms have been reported in helping cultivate a positive environment in the classroom (95% of teachers responded), helped the learning environment (81%) and created a sense of community (86%) (2). There is emerging evidence that uniforms also help administrators in their marketing efforts as well.
Uniforms as a tool for visual branding
School uniforms are part of the tapestry of visuals in a school. Whether students wear red sweaters, plaid skirts, or any variety of other colors and patterns, they are contributing to the school's brand in a deep and significant way. For any parent visiting a school, prospective student shadowing, community member seeing students out on a service project, or even visitors to the school's website, the school's uniform helps define and support the mission of the school.
Color Branding and School Uniforms
A definitive experiment which illustrated the principle of enclothed cognition is the White Lab Coat experiment. In this famous research, individual participants were asked to perform cognitive exercises while wearing white lab coats. The members were told that these coats were either "doctors' coats" and others were told that they were wearing "painters' coats". There was no other difference in the experimental conditions. The results show that those who were told that they were wearing the "doctors' coat" performed better than those told that they were wearing "painters' coat." This led the researchers to suggest that what we wear has the ability to influence our cognitive abilities. There are many theories of embodied cognition which have been suggested over the years (5) (6) (7), and they argue that perceptual content such as visual perceptions (eg. color and clothing) highly influence that very cognition. Wearing school uniforms may have a positive effect on the cognition of the students wearing it. It may instill more than just a sense of community and unity, but it allows for a transfer of meaning from the clothes to the students themselves. This means that the community should value the clothes and assign them attributes such as honor and respect. Enclothed cognition can help in school academic achievement and in crafting an image used in any marketing efforts.
Color Marketing in Schools
The field of color psychological marketing is rather new, but it based on the fact that colors hold a subconscious meaning when they are placed in a branding context. This meaning, according to this emerging field, helps cajole individuals to act in some way or experience an emotion. According to research from Taiwan (3), individuals form their first impressions of an object or situation in less than a second (0.67 sec), and these first impressions dominate two-thirds of purchase processes (3). The same research shows that color plays a fundamental role in that split-second interaction. Additional research shows that psychology of color in marketing is powerful as it links the color with an emotion and personalities (4)(9), and that means it is part of the message that any organization (including a school) sends out. According to a 1997 Scholastic Kids USA survey (10), the main colors of uniforms are black and blue. Having blue as the dominant color shows off some of the characteristics which are appealing in a school: dependability, competence, and stability/strength. Black codes for power and dominance.
School Uniforms and Professionalism
When prospective parents see students in a standardized uniform, there is a sense of professionalism which is subconsciously passed on (8). In any societal sense, the presence of uniform helps show both the wearer and those looking at them that they are meant to be understood as having a greater sense of purpose and intention. Nurses, for example, are taken more seriously and are seen as more professional with a stethoscope (11) around their necks than without one. The research shows that the sense of professionalism is tied with the viewer's preference. This fact can be applied to school marketing as many prospective parents might prefer to see students in a uniform as this reflects their perception of what a school looks like (11).
The presence of school uniforms in a school has a strong effect on a school's visual branding package which it delivers to both prospective families who come and visit but also to every teacher, student, and staff within the school. The power of enclothed cognition and the importance of uniforms to convey professionalism shows that schools should not only place a value on the uniforms the students wear (by publically highlighting its importance to the students) but that they can also positively affect students' academic performance and therefore the overall marketing appeal. The burgeoning field of color marketing also allows schools to help craft their message through the use of colors they use on their uniforms.
(3) Chang, W. L., & Lin, H. L. (2010). The impact of color traits on corporate branding. African Journal of Business Management, 4(15), 3344.
(4) Ciotti, G. (2014). The psychology of color in marketing and branding. Entrepreneur Media.
(5) Adam, H., & Galinsky, A. D. (2012). Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(4), 918-925.
(6) Barsalou, L. W. (1999). Perceptual symbol systems. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 577–609.
(7) Barsalou, L. W. (2008). Grounded cognition. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 617–645.
(8) Evelina, L. W., Angeline, M., & Mariani, V. (2015). Uniforms and Perception of Professionalism. Advanced Science Letters, 21(4), 723-726.
(9) Singh, S. (2006). Impact of color on marketing. Management Decision, 44(6), 783-789.
(11) Mangum, S., Garrison, C., Lind, C., Thackeray, R., & Wyatt, M. (1991). Perceptions of nurses' uniforms. Image: The Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 23(2), 127-130.
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