From 1840s to 1920s, students attending Sishu or traditional Chinese private schools wore the Chinese costume of the time as did those who went to missionary, charity and government sponsored institutions. Thus it is not difficult to find images showing groups of male students in Magua (馬褂) or Cheongsam (長衫) and girls in blouse and skirt and Qipao (旗袍). When in 1918 St Paul’s Girls’ College required all its students to wear school uniform to reinforce a sense of group identity, this concept was quite new. Despite the rapid adoption of different uniforms by almost all schools in Hong Kong, there is still no ordinance nor regulation making the practice compulsory. In other words, uniform remains entirely at the discretion of the school. In June 2014, however, the Equal Opportunities Commission did introduce a Guide on “Racial Equality and School Uniforms” to help schools to make their uniform codes racially and culturally inclusive.
Though small size when compared to other great cities in Asia, Hong Kong has 2,179 day schools covering kindergarten, primary and secondary levels, and special needs. Despite having a large number of schools in quite a small urban area, it is noteworthy how each has managed to differentiate itself in the styling, fabric, badging and colour design of its uniform, so much so that the choice of uniform makes the visual identity of each school in some way unique.
With uniform now central to how almost every Hong Kong school constructs a group identity, the paucity of academic literature on the subject is surprising. School websites, annual reports, archives and student memoirs occasionally offer interesting asides about how their uniforms originated and evolved but it is difficult to glean much sense of a general history. Nonetheless, school uniform has recently become a topic of interest, at the beginning of each new school year, as the press may report tales infused with nostalgia for some older practices. School uniforms following the style of Qipao, the Chinese Tunic Suit (a high jacket with buttoned collar, five front buttons and four pockets) or sailor suit have been given coverage.
To redress the academic neglect of the subject and help inform the community, the Hong Kong Museum of Education is therefore glad to curate this first thematic exhibition on Hong Kong school uniforms, giving visitors an overview of its development over the past 100 years while hoping also that it may act as a visual summary of wider changes in our conception of childhood and our approach to education.
The exhibition both showcases school uniforms that were typical of their time and also displays some accessories. A school uniform goes beyond helping schools forge a stronger sense of identity. A source of pride in juniors, it may become a battleground for teenage rebellion finally evoking the lifelong memories of the wearer, sweet or bitter. We hope a visit to this exhibition will take our older visitors back to uniforms with which they were once familiar and even make some of our younger ones glad of the sometimes more comfortable and more practical clothes they wear today.
We owe our gratitude to many schools, organisations, companies and individuals that have made this exhibition possible. Special thanks go to Dr Hung Keung for his advice on using digital media art in this exhibition, Ms Sheila Chan for her drawings, and school uniform suppliers Kam Lun and Fung Cheong Shun for their provision of school uniforms and support.
Exhibition starts from:
Mon - Sun 10 am to 5 pm
Closed on public holidays
Hong Kong Museum of Education
Block D1, Podium Level, EdUHK Tai Po Campus