As stated in a Forbes article, an average American family spends an estimated $1,700 on clothing every year, nearly 3.5% of of their total expenses (Johnson 1). Purchasing school uniforms can potentially save parents large sums of money as they would need to be purchased on a less often basis than normal clothing. A study focused on the costs associated with school uniforms was conducted in Alexandria, VA in 2013 in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, NAESP, a professional organization formed for the purpose of assisting elementary and middle school principals in the U.S. and Canada. This study revealed that 86% of study participants believed school uniforms were more cost effective than normal clothes. In addition, 77% of people who partook in the study reported that they paid less than or around $150 per year (“National Association”). The results of this study suggest that the implementation of uniforms into the school system reduced the amount of money families spent on school clothing. French Toast, a company that sells school uniforms, offers a complete set of clothing, which includes a shirt, pants, sweater, and tie, for only $45. Schools suggest each student own two sets of uniforms for the year, resulting in families spending $90 per student per school year (“Reasons Why Schools”). French Toast offers an affordable option for purchasing school uniforms. It is possible that a student might need to buy a third set of clothing, or even one set for each day of the week, yet it is still more cost-effective to purchase five sets of clothing for a total of $225 compared to purchasing new clothing throughout the school year.
While some research indicates that school uniforms save families money, other research draws the opposite conclusion . According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2015-2016, a greater number of schools in which 76% or more of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch required school uniforms (“The NCES Fast Facts”). In addition, an article from the New Yorker, founded in 1925, states that less than 4% of schools in which fewer than a quarter of students are eligible for the same free or reduced-price lunch require their students to wear uniforms (Oppenheimer). This research indicates that the people who receive financial assistance are also being required to spend money on school uniforms. Conversely, the people who can afford to purchase uniforms are not required to do so. In addition, the enforcement of school uniforms takes away from the idea of free public schooling. Laura and Scott Bell from Anderson, Indiana argue that the costs of school uniforms break the guarantee of free public education. The Bell family spent about $641 in one year on their children’s school uniforms (“School Uniforms”). Though school uniforms seem like they are a more cost-effective option compared to normal clothing, this is not always the case as the majority of families required to purchase school uniforms are from lower socio-economic groups. An NBC affiliate in York Town, Pennsylvania reported events of students missing school because their families couldn’t afford the mandatory uniforms (“School Uniforms”). These reports illustrate that not only does the requirement of school uniforms put an economic strain on some families, it also lowers their ability to receive a free and sufficient public education.
In the 2015-2016 school year, nearly 22% of public schools in the United States required students to wear uniforms. This percentage greatly increased from a mere 12% in the 1999-2000 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (Ordway). With an increase in demand of school uniforms, an increase in production is likely to follow. In recent years, school uniforms arehave become stocked by large chain stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, and J.C. Penney, as well as online stores such as Amazon. J.C. Penney is agreesively competing to sell school uniforms. In 2011, Chief marketing officer of J.C. Penney, Mike Bolyson, explained that school uniforms are “a huge, important business for us” (Fasching-Varner 60). Large chain stores rely on school uniforms for a large amount of sales, which in turn greatly boosts their revenue.
The demand for school uniforms drastically increased over the past 20 years. The New York Times, a trusted resource since 1851, posted an article in 1998 about the sudden increase in demand for school uniforms. Craig Baker of Frank Bee School Uniforms said that “We’ve been getting calls every day from schools that want to go over to uniforms this fall.” Frank Bee School Uniforms is a manufacturer and retailer in the Bronx, New York (Foderaro). Morris Kassab, the head of the Cookies Department Store school uniform program, explains that ”I need to make sure the manufacturers I have can supply me even if it means I have to put an order in a year in advance” (Foderaro). The increase in demand over the past years opened the door for many brick and mortar as well as online stores to sell school uniforms. This increase in supply resulted in increased shopping options for customers. It also creates competition between stores resulting in lower prices and better products.
The National Retail Federation estimated a drop in overall spending in the United States in the past few years, yet the spending on school uniforms was expected to largely increase. French Toast controls more than 10% of the United States school uniform market. President of French Toast, Michael Arking, expects sales to continue to increase. In 2013, Arking estimated that around 100,000 students would wear a school uniform for the first time that fall (Skariachan). Other retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Staples are attempting to replicate French Toast’s success by adding school uniforms to their inventories. . Christin Mallon, the vice president of marketing strategy and consumer segments at Staples, said, “As we’re seeing more and more public schools going to a uniforms model, this category is a natural choice for Staples for back to school, as we provide a one stop shopping experience” (Skariachan). As more companies begin to sell school uniforms, the competition will grow. The laws of supply and demand suggest that this competition will keep prices low and affordable while still allowing companies to make profits.
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