Are School Uniforms the Answer to Gen Z’s Overconsumption Problem:

Charlotte Roberts, Head Layout Editor

Across millions of TikTok videos marked with the hashtag #haul, the scene remains consistent: a Gen Z influencer unboxing dozens of items of clothing, usually at an attractive price to the consumer but a detrimental one to the environment. Viewers can usually count on seeing these outfits appear once in an Instagram story or TikTok clip and then deemed “out of style” and discarded to make closet room for the next shipment. The cycle repeats itself, and with each new trend comes more waste and environmental harm.

While the desire to keep up with the latest trends is not unique to Gen Z, social media platforms  such as TikTok — with 60 percent of its one billion users being Gen Z, according to Wallaroo Media — have made it easier than ever for young adults, including high schoolers, to see what their peers and popular influencers are categorizing as trendy “must-haves.” With over 45 billion views across the TikTok hashtags #haul, #clothinghaul, and #sheinhaul, social media has normalized buying excessive amounts of clothing made from cheap and harmful synthetic materials.  

Despite their detrimental effects, many high schoolers follow these trends to avoid social ostracization. “In my grade and in my classes, everyone wants to dress the same to fit in,” said freshman Chloe Guedes Smith. “People wear the things that are popular on social media, like Lululemon and Uggs.”

As confirmed by a 1992 psychological study, “Effect of Perceived Clothing Deprivation on High School Students’ Social Participation,” conducted by S.K Francis, when searching for a peer group, students use clothing to judge socioeconomic status, which in turn can determine social group acceptance. 

While from over two decades ago, these findings prove more relevant than ever as modern-day social media continues to amplify social pressures relating to wardrobes. However, implementing school uniforms in high schools can help solve this issue by reducing the pressure to conform to fashion trends while simultaneously promoting sustainable consumption habits. 

By standardizing dress, a school uniform minimizes the social pressures responsible for excessive purchases, reducing the total items of clothing consumed and therefore discarded. Furthermore, requiring students to re-wear an outfit can instill a mindset of sustainability by normalizing getting good use out of quality clothes. “Being someone who has worn a uniform before, I do believe that it is good for the environment because you aren’t buying as many clothes,” said senior Sid Rothkin. “Personally, I would not mind having a school uniform because it would take a lot of pressure off of me in the morning,” she added. 

Some may argue that while school uniforms reduce overconsumption, they nonetheless have an equally negative impact on the environment due to the PFAS chemicals used to stain-proof their fabrics. Although PFAS are unable to naturally break down, similarly, according to the New York Times, 60 percent of all other non-uniform clothing is also unable to decay and, when incinerated, emits toxic gasses. As 57 percent of discarded clothing ends up in landfills, according to PSCI Prinston’s environmental group, increased overconsumption directly correlates to increased fossil fuel emissions. 

Based on P. Smith’s Gen Z apparel statistics, if the average American teenager were to invest in a few uniforms rather than consuming their current average of $1,300 of clothing annually, fossil fuel emissions would reduce. This reduction is necessary due to the PSCI-cited projection that greenhouse gas emissions will increase 50 percent in the next 10 years if the fashion industry maintains its current trajectory.

With seven years until the 2030 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change deadline for gas emissions to be halved,, efforts to reduce climate change from large corporations and institutions, including high schools, must not wait any longer.