You will see Korean school uniforms in high schools and some middle schools. The uniforms differ by region, school and class level, and people in the community recognize which school a student attends by the uniform she wears. Most students like the way their uniforms look and are pleased to wear them.
Perceptions of School Uniforms
Western teens tend to think of school uniforms as necessary evils that stifle self-expression. Korean students are pleased to be free of Western fashions that they say squelch creativity. They believe that looking beyond clothing opens doors to deeper forms of self-expression.
School Uniform Styles in Korea
School pride is important to Korean students, and the style of each school's uniform has become increasingly trendy. The primary manufacturers of uniforms began implementing fashion-forward looks and mounted highly successful advertising campaigns with Korean teen idols. In no time, girls were calling each other to discuss how handsome the boys would look in their uniforms and how excited they were to wear mini-skirts to school.
Parents became concerned. The schools eventually rejected the more stylized uniforms, and the companies agreed, at the behest of the Korean Government, to pull the ads.
Some Korean schools require some of trendiest uniforms in the world, while others haven't updated their look since the 1960s.
Effects of School Uniforms
Koreans believe school uniforms engender several positive effects:
- Promotes better behavior and less fighting
- Enhances school work
- Creates a sense of community and belonging
- Decreases spending and teen-aged consumerism
- Eliminates discrimination between rich and poor students
- Heightens security, as intruders may be identified more easily
Components of Korean School Uniforms
Each Korean school has summer uniforms for boys and girls, winter uniforms for boys and girls, Physical education (PE) uniforms for boys and girls, and requirements for socks, shoes and belts. Summer uniforms tend to be navy, while winter uniforms tend to be gray, and include a blazer, fleece jacket or sweater. Some schools also require a Safari-styled summer uniform.
A girl's typical uniform includes a pleated skirt, long dress trousers, a white shirt with sleeves and a collar, a vest, a tie and outerwear for the winter. Socks must be white. Make-up and nail polish are not allowed.
A boy's Korean school uniform generally consists of dress trousers, a white shirt with sleeves and a collar, a jacket, a vest, a tie and outerwear for winter. Socks must be white, and belts must be worn with trousers.
School Uniform Costs
A typical uniform set costs approximately 159,000 Won, but prices can go as high as 900,000 won. That translates to $127 to $762 USD or 100 to 598 Euros. These costs are higher than their Western counterparts, but many students keep the same uniform for up to three years or obtain used ones.
There have been allegations of price-fixing and bribery of school officials to inflate uniform costs, and these concerns are under investigation by the Korean Ministry.
History of School Uniforms in Korea
Ewha, the first Western-style school in Korea, was built in 1886, and Mary Scranton sewed red uniforms for its four students. The uniform later shifted to a black skirt and white blouse. Japanese colonists in Korea expanded the use of school uniforms between 1910 and 1945. During those years, the uniform became trousers and a blouse for girls and a khaki uniform for boys.
School Uniform Suppliers
As of 2010, there were 219 companies that supplied uniforms to Korean schools; however, there is only one supplier that is verified by Global Sources for quality control: Wenzhou Success Group Success Apparel Co. Ltd. The company has been in business since 2004, has over 250 employees, and generates annual sales ranging from 2 to 3 million in USD.
School uniforms are a long and proud tradition in Korea. While the students of each school dress uniformly, some of the schools seem to use fashion trends to jockey for social position. This comes at a cost to parents and perhaps to the students as well.