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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