NPR logo Can A School Uniform Be Hip?

Can A School Uniform Be Hip?

On today's program we highlighted a remarkable accomplishment by Chicago's Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men: every one of this year's graduating seniors was accepted into a four-year college. This is even more remarkable given that only 4 percent of the class could read at grade level when they began attending the school.

And while their college-acceptance rate is amazing, what caught my ear was how administrators at Urban Prep were able to sell students on applying for the charter school, especially students who may be skeptical about attending a single-sex institution.

Tyler Beck, one of the graduating seniors, said he liked what he heard in orientation, but he also was really impressed by the look of the school. He told guest host Allison Keyes, "I like to dress up in business, business-casual, so the uniform was definitely one thing that attracted it to me."

What?! Did I hear that correctly? The uniform was a selling point? This is the generation that's supposedly all about being unkempt. The generation that needs odes against sloppiness written for them; not the generation that enjoys "business-casual" look.

Urban Prep Academy CEO Tim King requires that all of the students wear a uniform every day.
Courtesy Urban Prep Charter Academy

But Tim King, the founder and CEO of Urban Prep, says the uniform is part of the overall environment they're trying to create at a school where students feel safe and respected.

King also described a tradition at Urban Prep where seniors get to trade up their red necktie for one that's striped in red and gold once they are admitted to a four-year college. This practice further instills pride in students, and, reinforces the school's high regard for higher education.

Everyone who I've ever known detested their school uniforms. I know when I was in a youth choir we had to wear maroon vests that I ABSOLUTELY HATED. To me, the color was ugly, the style was outdated, and the fabric itself was cheap and flimsy. The whole getup made me feel like a nerd.

But Urban Prep has hit on something with its uniforms. By picking a design that's stylish, the school does a service to these young men of both making them look good and helping them feel good about themselves.

What are your experiences with school uniforms?