The Ministry of Education released a regulation on Monday urging manufacturers of school uniforms to follow national quality standards and grant more autonomy to students and parents in choosing and buying the clothes.
Manufacturers of primary and secondary school uniforms must follow national quality standards, and schools must make sure the purchasing process is transparent and open to public scrutiny, according to the regulation.
Other authorities, such as the industrial and commercial bureaus, will supervise manufacturing and purchasing to guarantee the quality of the uniforms, the ministry said.
The regulation was released in response to widespread concern over "toxic school uniforms". An investigation conducted in Shanghai in 2013 showed that only 73 per cent of school uniforms were safe. Some were found to contain carcinogenic toxins.
Design is another common complaint, as most school uniforms were considered dull and baggy, the ministry found.
"The quality and design of school uniforms are closely connected with students' physical and mental health and should be given great attention," the ministry said, adding that designers should be encouraged to produce styles that are more pleasing to the younger generation.
Some schools, such as Beijing National Day School, a secondary school in Haidian district, have already taken action.
In 2013, the school designed more than 40 items of schoolwear, including suits and sport shirts. Students can choose one or several and buy them from a store on campus or online.
Jia Xinping, who graduated from the school in June, said he bought three types: "Our school uniforms are good to look at and comfortable to wear," he said.
The regulation is the first time the ministry has announced requirements for the quality and design of school uniforms.
In the new regulation, the ministry said wearing school uniforms is not mandatory among all students. Schools should consult with parents on whether students should buy and wear the same clothes at school, and students are allowed to purchase or even customise school uniforms as long as they adhere to a school's basic design and colour.
Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher with the National Institute of Education Sciences, said he supported the ministry's initiative to eliminate "toxic school uniforms" that harm students' health.
However, Chu added, "Schools should be aware that too much choice between uniforms may cause students to make unrealistic comparisons with each other, which may add to the financial burden of parents."