When I went to high school, it was to an all-girls selective school that was very much a public school despite the strict rules, religious references and rigid policies that might have inspired one to think otherwise. The school uniforms there hadn’t changed appreciably in decades.

School Uniforms: My Experience.

I wasn’t the most willing or interested of pupils, despite being relatively clever. One of my major complaints about my school (I had a number of minor ones as well) was that we weren’t allowed to wear pants in winter. Winter uniform was a dress or skirt. It was impractical and I was always cold. I remember talking to my Great Aunty Mavis, who was then in her eighties, about the fact that the uniform hadn’t changed since she had attended the very same school more than 70 years before. I’m not even joking. The same Peter Pan collars in summer, the same ties and tunics in winter.

I remember my Mum writing letters and trying to get things changed and sending me to school with extra jumpers and thick stockings, but not much helped. I was always cold. And a skirt or dress on a windy winter’s day is impractical at best. The school was highly resistant to any suggested changes. I checked out their website recently and see that there are now “Optional Tailored Trousers” on the list. I assume this means the dress/skirt are still required, but there is now the ability to choose pants. Too late for me, but I’m glad their students now have some choice. However, many students don’t. They are still bound by archaic and rigid dress codes.

Pants: Past and Present.

Historically speaking, it would seem that pants came about because of horses. Riding horses in dresses and robes is impractical and, to cut a long story short, those that adopted pants became better warriors because they could ride horses when invading and conquering and all that sort of thing. Obviously, that isn’t a consideration now, and women have been wearing pants for some time, since the early 1900’s in fact, as part of everyday dress. Look in any clothing store and you’ll find plenty of pants for girls and women. So why do so many of our schools deny female students the right to wear a comfy pair of pants?

war horses school uniforms

School Uniforms Today.

In my family, my step-children attend a different school to my eldest child. My daughter has the option to wear pants in winter, but no option for summer such as the tailored shorts boys generally wear to school. The school my step-children attend has no pants for girls with the exception of shorts for sport (but these must only be worn for sport only and they must change back into their dress or skirt after sport). What I want to know is: why? Boys are allowed the comfort and practicality of shorts and pants year round- why not girls? Some will still opt for skirts and dresses given the choice. I should add that I see no reason why boys can’t also wear skirts if they choose to, as well. I have noticed that many school uniform skirts are referred to as ‘kilts’ and are usually a heavy sort of tartan print. These are a clear reference to Scottish kilts which, if I’m not mistaken, are worn (often quite well, I might add) by Scottish men?

kilt jamie fraser school uniforms

Gender and School Uniforms.

In Brazil, a transgender student called Maria Muniz was actually fined by her school for wearing a skirt. I can only imagine how such discrimination would impact on a young transgender person, to essentially have their gender identity not just disregarded but actively rejected. The awesome thing was that other students protested and all came to school wearing skirts  in support. Soon after, the school’s decision to punish Maria was overturned. When it comes to teens,in particular teens who are transgender, it’s been shown that they are more likely to be bullied and to suffer from things like depression. Also, among trans youth, rates of self-harm and suicide are disproportionately high. Allowing kids the choice of dressing however they feel comfortable, and actively supporting them, is just one small way to help to shift the culture towards one of acceptance, with the potential flow-on effect being overwhelmingly positive.

Should We Even Have School Uniforms?

Uniforms have their place. I know I’d have adored a no-uniform school as a teen but as a parent, I do see the benefits. There’s no hassle over what to wear each day. There’s no competition over brand names or any of that stuff. It doesn’t matter if your family is well-off or working class; you all wear the same thing. It’s an equaliser. In groups where clothing is often regarded as a sign of one’s status, that’s not a bad thing to have. However, I don’t think the type of uniform a kid wears must necessarily reflect their anatomy.

gender is not a uniform school uniforms

Images via Minus18, Australia’s largest network for LGBTI youth.

What’s the Solution?

Female students shouldn’t be denied the right to wear pants if they choose to. This is clear discrimination based on gender. Similarly, if male or transgender students want to wear skirts or dresses, why does that matter to anyone else? I read that a spokesperson for a right-wing, extreme religious group believes that this would leave the student vulnerable to bullying, therefore shouldn’t be allowed. I say that if that is the case, the bullies are the ones who need addressing. Why should their behaviour be pandered to? Instead, they need to be educated to become accepting, open-minded people who know that a student choosing to dress a certain way is not a reflection of poor character nor an acceptable subject for mockery.

I’d like to see more schools following the uniform policy recently established at Sydney’s Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, who have recently changed their uniform policy to allow any student to wear whichever uniform items of clothing that they prefer. The school years, especially high school, can be difficult and stressful enough for young people. They have the combined pressure of parental expectation, their workload and an education system that expects them to know, early on, what sort of career they want. Add this to social pressures and stresses and it’s no wonder they want to sleep all the time and spend their few waking hours in a semi-permanent eye-roll!

emma watson school uniforms

If a young person is going through all of the usual pressures as well as questioning their sexuality and/or their gender identity, it makes sense to do what we can to make this easier and more flexible for them. Rigid gender-based uniform policy doesn’t really benefit anyone, so why aren’t all schools moving towards more inclusive policy around school uniforms?

#IBOT @ Essentially Jess.

 

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  • LydiaCLee

    We are very near that high school. so the general population is cruisy on the whole school uniform thing. While the primary schools have a ‘girls uniform’ with skort and boys with shorts, a number of the girls just wear the shorts anyway. I don’t think anyone cares. I worked in the Uniform shop and I didn’t care. I’d be surprised if they cared too much about a boy who identified female and wore a dress either, but I could be wrong on that. This is one of the many reasons I love and support public education. I am not a product of that system. I was pretty happy in my private school, so I’m not slagging that system off, but I just don’t get everyone’s nuttiness on clothes.

    • LydiaCLee

      Be nutty about the actual education….

    • Apparently they had to have nots from parents and/or psychologists before, according to the articles I read. That requirement has since been removed, thankfully, and kids can just dress how they like in uniform. Much simpler. I had friends there growing up- it always seemed like a much more supportive and inclusive environment.

  • I like school uniforms as a parent and a student – mostly because I didn’t have to think about what to eat each day:) There’s no reason why they can’t have a set, neat uniform that has pants/skirt/dress options though. And yes, I used to shiver through winter too! #TeamIBOT

  • Another great post.
    I could wear pants at my high school and complained endlessly about them! They were horrible and uncomfortable and I constantly bothered teachers to introduce a skirt and tights! (I still hate pants.)
    Shorts were another thing I wanted to wear desperately at school, or skorts. It’s time girls (and boys) had the choice. Don’t get me started on tennis uniforms…

  • My high school (also Selective girls’ public school with aspirations to be a private school) was pretty progressive on the uniform front – we had pants available to wear 20 yrs ago when I was there, thanks to some feminist agitators a few years ahead of me. They’d surveyed the girls then petitioned the school board to provide a pants option in the official uniform as well as shorts for sport. Uniforms are an important part of a school’s image but there’s no reason the options should be limited by a student’s gender.

  • Ap

  • I really support school uniforms. For many reasons (would require a whole blog post) and particularly since my bestie (in America) said that her life and finances (and mind health) would be so much easier if they had uniforms in the USA. The need to have brand name gear etc etc to fit in. So yeah, I love school uniforms. And I choose to send my kids to schools who have some sort of uniform policy that is policed. BUT I think all uniforms should be inter-changeable between boys and girls. IF a girl wants to wear pants, then let her wear pants. If a boy wants to wear a skirt, then let him wear a skirt (not sure if the school has ever had this come up … but girls are always wearing pants). My daughter’s new school only has their rugby jersey in mens sizes. Way too large. I rang the uniform shop and asked if we could please order it in a woman’s size. She said there wasn’t any and that the men’s XS was still huge. I suggested that wasn’t what I wanted to hear on international women’s day and that I would speak to the school about allowing the girls the right to wear the rugby jersey by providing them with a version that would actually fit them. Oh look … I wrote a blog post about it anyway! Huh …

  • In Prep, all the kids in our school wear exactly the same uniform – polo shirt and shorts – which is also the sports uniform. It’s not hard to create a uniform that caters to both genders and allows them the same freedoms when it comes to lunch time play and sports.

  • I agree with everything you’ve said (as always). It should be a non issue shouldn’t it! I’m all for uniforms but just Let the kids wear whatever uniform they want and get on with their learning and growing! Xx

  • We’re at a lovely local public school in a regional area. There is one uniform that consists of unisex polo shirts and jumpers that can be worn with whatever ‘bottoms’ one chooses as long as they’re black. There’s a checked dress that only the littlest girls seem to wear but that’s a choice thing. So much easier for parents. Uniform can be handed down from older daughters to younger sons and they can all wear clothes that are comfortable and suited to running, climbing and play. I’m a big fan of uniforms and I reckon the more unisex the better.

  • Well you know how I feel about this whole thing. I love uniforms, I think they make total sense, but putting girls in formal wear and boys in active wear just doesn’t. With respect to transgender students, for me it’s about clothes that encourage kids to be active and skirts just don’t do that. Personally I’d do away with the skirts altogether and just have one uniform – a uni form. Whenever it’s a mufti day at our school, apart from the occasional kinder kid whose mum seems to believe that mufti means church, I’ve never seen a girl choose to wear a dress or skirt. They all rock up in their shorts, jeans or leggings and presumably proceed to have the best day ever. x

  • I definitely support uniforms for the equalising factor and lack of effort required to dress for school. I went to a country high school that had a uniform – not strict but still enforced. But if it was cold in November, you could wear trackies, no problem. I actively liked our summer dress so that was no problem either. A couple of girls in my Year 12 class made summer shorts out of the dress fabric and that was seen as being clever and innovative by staff. I’ve always felt sorry for kids shivering in their summer uniform on random chilly days and I think it’s ludicrous that clothes should be dictated by arbitrary term dates and not weather conditions. In terms of gender, I wouldn’t send my daughter to a school that didn’t allow her to wear pants if she wanted and by the same token if a dude wants to wear a skirt to school, it’s fine with me.

  • I am ashamed to admit, I have never really given this a great deal of thought, despite our children attending private catholic school that very much have outdated uniform policies. My step daughter, is required to wear a long hot, scratchy skirt all year round, they are only allowed to wear stockings in the second and third term, and are only allowed to wear one jumper, despite how cold they are. Our boys, who are at a different school, but only across the road, are able to wear lovely, comfortable tailored shorts in summer and slacks in winter, they have jumpers and jackets that are so cool, they all wear them on the weekends as well. Must write a letter, this is crazy. Thank you for pointing it out, I wouldn’t have thought about it like this otherwise.

  • My daughter who is in Year 11 is currently breaking her school uniform rules by wearing the junior school sports uniform each day to enable her to wear shorts as she is on crutches and needing to elevate her leg constantly which in the senior skirt would mean she would be flashing her undies constantly too! Luckily the school has turned a blind eye to her uniform infringement to date.

  • I love uniforms partly because they are the great equaliser. Honestly I don’t give the whole dress/pants things a huge amount of thought. Sure it is a gender issue and too be honest if I had a child that was struggling with their gender identity then this would be a much bigger issue for me. I guess it really needs to be addressed on a case by case basis with the school and family. I am not sure there is an easy answer. Most public schools in our area seem to have uniforms but pants, shorts or skorts are very much a part of them for the girls and the uniforms don’t seem to be strictly enforced. If however, as we have families choose to send their children to private schools then I think that we need to accept that the rules of the school extend to the uniform. If we perhaps don’t like the uniform rules or they aren’t a good fit for our child then we need to find the right fit of school for our child.

  • Totally agree. We are quite lucky that our school has moved with the times. In primary school we had to wear dresses in summer, and pants in winter were just beginning to be accepted. My younger girls now attend same school (I know right?) and they have the choice of a dress or skorts/shorts in summer and skirt, dress, or pants in winter. My high school was the same, and now they also have embraced the change and girls can wear shorts or pants, or dresses or skirts. I do believe in the uniform, for all the reasons you stated above, but I totally think both genders should have the choice available.

  • Oh man, I really struggled with the last couple of paragraphs after that photo of Jamie, I feel like I need 10 minutes of privacy now to recompose myself ūüėČ I never knew kilts could be so damn sexy until I watched Outlander, and now I really want to get Dave one!

    To the question at hand, I do think it’s ridiculous that some schools don’t offer an alternative to skirts and dresses for the girls. At my high school we had optional pants to wear in winter but there was no alternative in summer, and you got in heaps of trouble if you left your shorts on after PE and were caught by the wrong teacher doing it (thankfully most of the teachers I had were really cool and would turn a blind eye to us ‘rebel’ girls wearing our shorts). It was a shock in Year 7 because my primary school had introduced shorts made out of the same material as the girl’s dresses when I was in Year 4 and I had gotten really used to wearing shorts to school. Punky went through a stage where she would only wear dresses & skirts no matter what she was doing but she was 3 years old and now she wouldn’t think of wearing a skirt or dress to preschool because “you can’t climb properly Mum, and it would get ruined! I need shorts!”. Which reminds me now to investigate the uniform options at the primary school she is going to next year!

  • jess

    I’m a fan of uniforms in general as it eliminates a large amount of the comparisons of fashion in school. Although I remember all the cool girls wore their socks pulled up as a trend….so edgy. ” I say that if that is the case, the bullies are the ones who need addressing” THIS is key, and should be the argument against any change towards diversity. Worried about kids getting bullied? Work on the bullies!

  • TeganMC

    None of the schools I went to as a kid had dresses or skirts as part of their uniform. Girls could still wear netball skirts but it wasn’t an official part of the uniform. Dyllan’s school is the same. There’s a private school a few blocks from where I live and they don’t seem to have a strict girls and boys uniform.

  • I was *always* in trouble at school for uniform infractions. It really annoyed them when I asked what it had to do with me being there to learn. I think one school I went to was archaic in sports skirts (no shorts) in winter. Freezing peoples bloody legs off so that they looked “appropriate”. Load of crap. I hated the rules then and my views haven’t changed since.

  • Your school sounds exactly the same as mine. Skirts all year round, thin cotton blouses and a pair of stockings and basic jumper and blazer to keep us warm. I don’t think we even had shorts for sport until later in my schooling. I’m all for uniforms but don’t understand why this is such a big issue. Seems a bit outdated to me.

  • I have mixed thoughts about this to be honest. I get the whole thing about warmth and girls being comfortable and able to run around and do whatever without feeling as if they’re going to show their knickers to everyone. But I am concerned that in many ways we’re moving towards a gender neutral society and I don’t think that’s a good thing. Whether uniforms have any bearing on that might be completely irrelevant, but I’m not ready to throw the dresses out just yet.

  • Interestingly, the school I went to only had skorts or shorts as an option for girls. The skorts were fugly, so I wore shorts every day, as did my friends. We all got to wear the same shirt regardless of gender. The only issue was ensuring the shorts weren’t too short. As much as I love dresses and skirts now, back then I would’ve been up in arms having to wear skirts. I felt more comfortable in shorts, particularly around boys. I’m sure though if a boy wanted to wear a skirt there would’ve been some uproar sadly. Just like me having an eyebrow ring prevented me from ever getting any academic accolades or leadership positions at school. That dastardly piece of metal! I think we need to focus more on having students feeling comfortable enough to learn, and feeling comfortable enough to actually attend school and meet their educational needs, rather than dictating to them what they should be wearing.

  • Very interesting. Thanks for writing this. I went to a school where the only uniform option for girls was a dress in summer, a skirt in winter. The term dictated which you were to wear. We had shorts for sport, but had to change immediately from our sport uniform after PE/training/whatever we’d worn it for. In the later years, they brought in a new uniform which had pants as an option for girls. No shorts, but you could wear the pants in summer if you wanted. But you still needed the skirt for formal school occasions.
    I’m all for anyone and everyone choosing what they want from all of the uniform options, all of the time. As for the uniform versus not option, I’m firmly pro-uniform.

  • I also went to an all girls school. We had a summer uniform and a winter uniform. I liked both of them and they were both super comfy. With the heat in Queensland, a dress was actually preferable to me than shorts. I agree however that you should be able to choose the option of wearing shorts. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a smart pair of shorts and shirt for both girls and boys. I can definitely not see my old school changing any time soon though. At my daughter’s primary school, the girls can wear skorts, which many of them do. The whole idea of a skort seems quite ridiculous to me. Just make them a pair of shorts. Why do they have to look like a skirt?

  • I am with you on my teenage self loving uniform free life but as an adult I think uniforms are important. In saying that, flexible uniforms are more important. I went to a state high school with a flexible sports uniform which included shorts. That Emma Watson gif is a favourite!

  • I love the story of Maria!!! How wonderful!!! I like the idea of uniform at school as it looks neater as a whole, it’s easier to know what to wear, it prepares kids for future jobs that may require a uniform… A lot of things. Having said that I think options for pants and shorts are a MUST!! I can’t believe some older schools are still this strict – do they still use the cane too?!! Haha! Loved reading this Amy xx

  • Ex selective school student here too… co-ed though. I remember girls getting detention for wearing pants in year 7. We were meant to wear our tiny light blue miniskirts with navy tights. Then there was the senior uniform that was the same as the junior, but the blouse buttoned down the back. Presumably so I couldn’t show my tiny cleavage.

  • Tory

    Reading this I realize how progressive my state high school was. Basically they gave parents a list of uniform items and whoever could wear whatever. The girls had a formal uniform including a skirt but we only wore it to choir performances and even then we had a pants option! I actually recall a young guy coming to school in a skirt and the administrators just shrugging and not paying any attention.

  • Sarah @sarahdipityblog

    I went to a school where during summer/springs girls HAD to wear dresses and living in Melbourne there were many days during those months when it was freezing! The boys however could wear either shorts or pants- ridiculously unfair! I like the idea uniforms but agree kids should be able to select what they feel most comfortable in, I really like the approach the Sydney school has taken.

  • Raelene

    Moving to Qld from Vic I was amazed that my kids (both girls and boys) were allowed to wear tracksuit pants in Winter in the school colour in Qld.
    I remember growing up in Melbourne I attended 5 high schools, 2 allowed girls to wear pants whenever they wished the others did not and each school parents and students wanted a warmer uniform.
    My 4th school 1 girl was allowed pants as she was anaemic, the cold caused me joint pain but I wasn’t allowed to wear pants.
    Just ridiculous.
    Every school needs to get smarter with Uniforms.
    A problem I have in Qld is they have switched to shirts made of synthetic material that is supposed to be breathable and my kids roast in Summer in the Summer uniform.

  • Peter c

    This is the social justice warriors trying to indoctrinate children at an early age to their way of thinking. They are slowly losing the battle in our universities to a generational change of more conservative thinking. This push is created on straw man arguments with no sign of any survey or stastics. In the real world working parents are more concerned about what will a uniform cost, how many do I have to buy and how quickly will they grow out of them. Fundamentally children go to school to learn how to read write and do maths so they can continue on to university or to make a life for themselves based on the essentials of basic education. This agender ideology movement denies natures biological truth that boys and girls are different. They think they are being progressive by these assertive changes that lead to young adults having an identity crisis when their biological instincts tell them something they are not. In the western world young adults particularly young men are over represented in suicides. With the systematic break down of the traditional family unit that has served so well for centuries young adults who come from the broken family epidemic where the belief is parents can go their separate ways at the first sign of trouble and everything will be ok but in truth everything is not ok. Young adults need the family unit to turn to in times of crisis, they need their mother and father warts and all as full time carers and protectors as they make their way through a ever changing progression from pre-school to university and/or workplace. This family unit is the rock that they can build their life on and not these trendy changes brought on by sjw’s that are designed to get hold of young minds and strangle them as they see fit. It’s no secret the world with drugs, terrorism and first world countries quality of living being slowly eroded by globalisation is a mind field for young people have to face. Let’s not make it more difficult for them by these sjw’s flawed, potentially harmful and flawed dogmas.