The school dress is becoming a less common sight across Victoria. From The Age.
The school dress is becoming a less common sight across Victoria.
It’s been more than 12 months since Victorian government mandated that all state schools must offer pants and shorts for girls. Private schools are increasingly doing the same, in the name of choice, comfort, promoting movement and preparing girls for the adult world.
Sacred Heart Girls’ College in Hughesdale, Mercy College in Coburg, Ave Maria College in Aberfeldie, and Kilbreda College in Mentone this year introduced a pant option. Korowa Anglican Girls’ School in Glen Iris will “shortly” bring in pants, while Loreto College Ballarat will introduce both pants and shorts in 2020.
Polly Flanagan, principal of Shelford Girls’ Grammar in Caulfield, said her students loved the pant option introduced this year.
“A number of girls’ schools are moving to pants and it’s probably one of those ‘it’s time’ moments,” she said. “Girls these days are not as constrained by notions of femininity and what people think of them as they might have been 20 years ago. They are making sensible choices about comfort. We have tights with our dresses, and they say the pants save them seven minutes in the morning when they are getting dressed.”
MLC in Kew has long offered pants and this year added shorts. “Whilst it was partly student driven, it was also MLC responding to the changing times and being happy to provide choices for students’ individual preferences.”
Kate Dishon, principal of Mount St Joseph Girls’ College in Altona, said her school had replaced a “dated” uniform – which included a kilt and tie – with the option of pants and shorts this year.
Melbourne Girls Grammar will next term introduce the choice of pants and shorts following a group of Year 10 girls turning up to school last November in pants.
Principal Toni Meath said research showed clothing affected confidence, sense of self and identity.
The uniform changes across Victoria have followed discussions between students, staff and parents. Many schools have introduced trans-seasonal uniforms so students are able to mix and match the articles of clothing depending on the weather.
Shorts are less likely to be offered than pants. For many schools, such as Shelford Girls’ Grammar and Melbourne Girls Grammar, it is back to the future as pants were offered decades ago.
The uptake of pants and shorts varies across schools. Darren Atkinson, principal of Aquinas College in Ringwood, which introduced them in 2017, said the take-up had not been overwhelming, but “the important thing is that it is an option.”
Mater Christi College in Belgrave, which has long offered pants, said students were “only slowly moving across to trousers. Does this reflect something of a stronger socially innate ‘princess image’ at play, perhaps something to do with enjoying the swish of the formal secondary uniform?” asked principal Mary Fitz-Gerald.
Uniforms remain a sensitive topic for some schools. Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar in Canterbury declined, via a public relations firm, to say what its uniform was.
Eva Dobozy is an education researcher and associate professor in the Faculty of Business and Law at Curtin University. Dr Dobozy said “students all around Australia complain about what they perceive as unfair practices concerning school uniforms” and gender-neutral uniforms remained a “contested idea.”
Girls’ Uniform Agenda is a 12-strong group of mothers across Australia which lobbies schools to offer girls the choice of pants and shorts, and helps parents do the same. It says research shows girls do less exercise in dresses and skirts and are more self-conscious doing everyday things such as bending over.
Co-founder Simone Cariss said the shift to the choice of pants and shorts was “definitely happening but there’s still a long way to go and it’s a little slower than we would like.” She said the group had obtained preliminary legal advice that schools which did not offer choice were breaching anti-discrimination laws.
Ms Cariss said schools tended to reject the introduction of pants and shorts due to tradition, expectations of how girls should look, and the principal’s preference for skirts and dresses.
One of its Girls’ Uniform Agenda’s youth ambassadors is 16-year-old Audrey Gray, who has attended public, private, religious and non-religious schools in Melbourne and overseas.
Ms Gray said skirts and dresses were “inconvenient”, restricted girls from physical activity such as spontaneously playing football on the oval, and had the potential to embarrass girls as they reached puberty.
“Throughout my high school experience, I’ve witnessed there are so many reasons only being able to wear skirts and dresses to school is bad for girls, especially as they grow older,” she said.
The Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia – whose members are mostly non-government schools – said “more and more schools are choosing diverse uniform options” and “schools make these choices based on a lot of different factors individual to each specific school.”
Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College principal Michelle Crofts said students were increasingly taking up the option – introduced in 2014 – to wear pants and shorts.
“Well, girls wear pants, too,” she said. “It did not make sense to not offer shorts and pants. I wear them, don’t you? In fact, when you look at women walking down the street and in work places, most are wearing pants.”