Uniforms of identity fashion. One of the ironies of fashion is that although fashion is inspired by the desire to be distinctive and to embody now-ness, the practice of fashion creates instantly recognizable signs that can be interpreted by the members of one’s clothing milieu. So the pull of fashion demands legibility and thus a degree of uniformity.

Uniforms of identity, private schools

Even the quest for individuality does not dampen the uniformity impulse. Rather, the fashion slave strives to offset uniqueness with familiarity. Conversely, fashionable looks construct a quasi uniform for the fashion lover. Group photographs of schoolchildren, families, friends, and celebrities and candid shots documenting everyday life reveal the extent of uniformity that overrides distinctiveness and difference.

While the individual in modern culture desires to dress differently, sumptuary laws, or clothing Boxing Day sale. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic fashion, body techniques, and identity regulation aimed to instill difference between groups by codifying forms of uniformity within groups, have existed throughout history.

This regulation was achieved by the prescription and proscription of certain forms of dress. Perhaps, then, it was only to be expected that, at the time when sumptuary laws were abandoned, the idea of the uniform came to the fore. Uniforms are a means to precisely codify a manner of dress according to occupation, status, or role. The word uniform is defi ned as not changing in form or character, unvarying, and conforming to the same standard or rule. As a form of dress, uniform is defi ned as dress worn by members of the same body (e.g., soldiers, sailors, police offi cers).

A uniform is a standard outfi t designed to convey sameness and group membership, the accessories of which (badges, headwear, braid, stripes, etc.) indicate status or specialization. A uniformed group of people also displays uniform codes of conduct and expresses a uniform demeanor. Just as the body is trained to wear the uniform, so the body techniques of the uniformed person display learned habits and perform certain roles. So uniforms are associated with attributes of unity, authority, status, hierarchy, rules of behavior, and codes of punishment.

People in uniform attract attention from bystanders and elicit erotic desire. While some of the history of uniforms involves conforming to the standards that one must achieve to wear a uniform (e.g., joining a scout group, a sports team, a club, or an occupation), other aspects of history have to do with rebelling or subverting the wearing of uniforms or behaving badly while in a uniform.

In a sense, then, uniforms have two contradictory sets of references: their intended connotations of sameness, order, and authority, and their unintended connotations of difference, disorder, and opposition. This paradox is what makes uniforms so attractive to the language of fashion. Uniforms or elements denoting uniforms can symbolize contradictory impulses, emotions, responses, and signals.

The most common uniforms are found among occupations associated with regulating the social order, namely, military forces, the police and law enforcement agencies, religious orders (though their clothing is often referred to as religious “garb” ), medical and health workers, security offi cers, and those in occupations associated with service activities (concerning food, banking, transport, etc.).

Uniforms first appeared in modern Europe with the rise of civil society and the recognition of the rights of individuals as citizens. This may see ironic. Yet it seems that the more individualistic a society becomes, the more it depends on signs of sameness, difference, and distinctiveness. Even in the early twenty-fi rst century, there are more uniforms than ever, with new uniforms for specialized services (e.g., natural therapy practitioners, specialist school uniforms, especially for exclusive private schools, checkout operators, corporate employees, administrators).

The reason is that uniforms are an extremely effective and unambiguous sign system that conveys a range of attributes, habits, personality traits, and knowledge.

Uniforms are body techniques par excellence. They are acquired by prestigious imitation of those whom we admire or who are in authority. In fact, however, most of the body techniques associated with uniforms entail the acquisition of “not” statements that is, what to avoid or repress. Uniforms are effective symbols of codifi ed rules of conduct and the internalization of those rules. It is the set of rules and the manner of their enforcement that is more important than the elements of uniforms themselves


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