A uniform is an outfit which is prescribed or ceremonial based on one's position, employment, membership in an organization or societal status. Uniforms are common in primary and secondary education, although less common after the age of sixteen. Uniforms serve a variety of social roles including:
- demarcating ceremony or formality - as in a university graduation gown or black tie outfit. In the law courts, uniforms are used to denote the somberness of the occasion. The ceremonial aspect is also tied to custom and tradition.
- to foster a sense of belonging and membership
- to enforce a power hierarchy - in prisons, uniforms worn by inmates are used to differentiate them from the prison warders, and to note the power relationship between them
- identification - originally uniforms for the battlefield were brightly colored to help soldiers not attack their fellows, similarly now they are used to help citizens identify authority figures such as members of the police force, and to distinguish attendants and assistants in shops and restaurants
- helping to shrink differences between people to emphasize group unity or reduce peer pressure (especially in situations with young people where pressures to conform to trends and fashions are sometimes said to distract from school work)
- practicality - for the purpose of travel, uniforms are often seen as pragmatic - to help identify a group of students all wearing a similarly colored top helps reduce students getting lost
- anonymity - the use of wigs by British judges and barristers in criminal courts was to give a level of anonymity, to prevent reprisal from accused criminals and their families
Institutions and professions where uniforms are common include schools, the police, the military, the fire service, prisons, the Freemasons, the judiciary, the clergy (and sometimes the laity also especially on holy days), ascetics, members of the Scouting movement, butlers and other domestic servants, participants in sports teams and members of political organisations (mostly but not exclusively extremist movements such as the Ku Klux Klan and the British Union of Fascists).