Playing the schoolgirl in Dr Martens boots

Rebel against t-bar strap shoes and Mary Janes by pulling on a pair of Dr Martens boots!

This is me badly channeling a sort of schoolgirl look because after just a year I have forgotten what it feels like to be kept in the iron clutches of school routine.

I certainly never wore Dr Martens to school but with black lace ups being technically on the shoe list I could have gotten away with them for at least my senior year and decorated them with stickers but it appears that idea is now two years too late. But it’s not too late for you!

Rebel against t-bar strap shoes and Mary Janes that everyone else has and don’t forget what our punk forefathers fought for!

Girls in shorts at Barker College

Girls at Barker College in Sydney are now permitted to wear shorts as part of their school uniform.

February 2019

‘They love them’: the shorts dilemma facing private schools

By Jordan Baker

During a visit to an interstate school, one comment stopped Barker headmaster Phillip Heath in his tracks. “One of the girls said to me, ‘I love to play chasings, and I can’t in this dress’. It was because the dress was too narrow in the knees.”

In 20 years, no-one had asked the girls what they thought of their uniform, and they’d become resigned to it. “I don’t want that [at Barker],” Mr Heath said. “If a girl wants to play chasings, no garment from the school will prevent that.”

After a change to uniform policy last year, NSW public schools are now required to offer shorts and trouser options to girls. But the edict doesn’t cover private schools, and many in Sydney are reluctant to follow suit.

For most, the tradition is the stumbling block; any proposal to change a uniform sparks passion from alumni, students and parents. “You dissatisfy everybody, that’s one of the reasons why … it’s easier to leave them alone,” Mr Heath said.

As pressure grows, some are considering a change. Barker introduced shorts this year. Ravenswood will consult its students this term. MLC has changed uniform suppliers to allow it to “look at the direction for our uniform in the future”.

Yet many private girls’ schools did not answer the Herald’s query or said they had no plans for pants. Presbyterian Ladies College said it would continue to offer shorts only as part of its sports uniform due to tradition and the school’s “rich Scottish heritage”.

Alison Boston from the Girls’ Uniform Agenda said schools should prioritise girls’ comfort over tradition. “You can’t say that the rights of girls are less important,” she said.

“We certainly don’t advocate for removing dresses or skirts, if that’s not what the girls want. But it’s about having schools represent society. In society, woman can choose from shorts, dresses, pants, to suit what they are doing.”

When Barker College began its transition from a boys’-only school to co-ed in its junior ranks (it has long had female students in its senior school), it took the opportunity to review the uniform.

Mr Heath called in designer Jonathan Ward, who has created uniforms for Loreto Kirribilli, Meriden and St Andrews Cathedral school, among others, and began a two-year process of consultation.

He wanted a a uniform that combines tradition with a “level of formality that is still comfortable,” and allows young men and women to “express their identity without gender intruding unhelpfully and emphatically”.

A committee consulted students, alumni, parents (future and present), and neighbours. It laid out patterns on floors, tested samples on students, explored fabric weights and tried out different layering options.

“For every ten people, there were 15 opinions, and those opinions would change,” said Mr Heath.

It also discovered 22 different shades of red in existing uniforms and accessories, which it narrowed down to two.

Finally, it came up with a uniform incorporates the traditional Barker stripe into a uniform that uses a modern design, with “trans-seasonal” layering options, as well as trouser and shorts options for junior girls who want them.

From next year, pants will be offered to senior girls as well. “The girls were extremely eager that we introduced pants and short options,” said Mr Heath.

“They didn’t commit to always wearing those things, but they wanted the choice, and I’m all for it.”

When Mr Ward began designing uniforms 20 years ago, girls did not embrace pants on the rare occasions they had the option. But these days, “they love them,” he said.

“It’s so important for these kids to feel comfortable, and feel they have some choice.”

Brown t-bars by Bilby Shoes

Bilby Shoes is an Australian shoe manufacturer. Their range includes brown t-bar school shoes.

December 2015

Brown school shoes can be so hard to find, but not here.

We stock Bata and ROC brown school shoes as well as our Australian made Bilby shoes range. We have brown school shoes in lace up. buckle and velcro.

Come and support the last Australian manufacture of school shoes. Pedorthist in store everyday.

Sandringham College in uproar over uniform call

In 2015 Sandringham College introduced school uniforms at the senior campus, causing uproar among students.

August 2014

Sandringham College in uproar over uniform call

By Jewel Topsfield

On Jacqui Beaman’s first day at “Sandy,” as Sandringham College is affectionately known, an openly gay student with acrylic nails and a Lady Gaga jumper walked her to class.

“He was telling me how wonderful it was that he could wear casual clothes and he felt able to express himself in that way,” Jacqui, now in year 12, says.

For Jacqui, and many other current and former students, the casual dress policy at Sandringham’s senior campus is a fundamental part of the young-adult learning environment that makes the school unique.

They say it is synonymous with the culture of Sandy, where students are encouraged to be individuals, teachers are addressed by their first names and no one is shut down for having an opinion.

“Everyone’s able to find their own niche at this school,” says year 11 student Lucy Wohnsdorf. “I used to go to another school and everyone was very much pressured to conform and look the same.”

So when principal Allen McAuliffe announced last month a formal uniform would be introduced in years 7 to 11 and a dress code in year 12, there was an uproar.

Within days the Facebook page Say No to Uniforms at Sandringham College Senior campus has accrued more than 1000 “likes” and a petition on by former student Courtney Waters has 750 signatures.

In a letter to the school council president, signed by 26 staff from the senior campus, teacher Robert Neale argued that a uniform was “a device that is primarily designed to de-humanise”.

He said this was in direct contradiction to the philosophy of US researcher and educator George Otero, who said that schools should be about the humans within them and the relationships between these people.

“It’s no coincidence that our Celebration Days at Sandringham are generally peaceful, very different from the cathartic affairs we often see at other schools,” Mr Neale wrote.

“The logic is simple – give people fewer things to rebel against and treat them like adults and they won’t feel the need to let off steam in anti-social ways at the end of the year.”

Sandringham College became a three campus school in the late 1980s after a merger between Beaumaris, Highett, and Hampton high schools and Sandringham Technical School.

The school’s famed performing arts and music programs attract students from all over Melbourne, with alumni including playwright and actor Tobias Manderson-Galvin, singer Stella Angelico, The Voice contestant Harrison Craig, and actor Damien Brodie.

But in recent years the run-down Beaumaris campus has haemorrhaged students, sparking a community campaign to turn the campus into a stand-alone 7 to 12 school.

In a letter to parents, Mr McAuliffe said Sandringham College was a “dynamic, vibrant place”, involved in programs such as the World Challenge and overseas trips to its sister school in Britain, Springwood High.

He said it had “amazing” dance performances and its arts programs were recognised state-wide.

The school would also introduce a select-entry program for academically gifted students in 2015.

However Mr McAuliffe said the lack of uniforms was raised on many occasions during consultations on the school’s future direction.

“In every [local] primary school the lack of uniform on the senior campus and the style of uniform for 7-10 was a constant theme in discussions,” Mr McAuliffe wrote. “It has been incumbent on us to work through this matter.”

Mr McAuliffe told Fairfax Media that the school “absolutely” listened to the feedback of students. He said the majority supported a new uniform for years 7 to 10 and a review of the dress code for the senior campus.

He said an updated uniform policy will not change the school’s emphasis on individuality, creativity and maturity.

“The young adult environment we believe will be enhanced. Teachers will still be on a first-name basis – my name will still be Allen – the relationships will still be the same. We think that the changes we are making are all for the positive.”

Last month the school council voted to move away from polo shirts and windcheaters in years 7 to 10 and introduce a blazer and tie. From 2016, year 11 students will also be required to wear the uniform. A dress code will apply for year 12 students, with a review at the end of 2016 to decide whether they too should wear the uniform.

“It was clear to council that this step needed to be taken if the overall college was going to be in tune with community expectations,” Mr McAuliffe wrote to parents.

But year 12 student Jakob Dillon says there are plenty of private schools in the area, including Mentone Grammar, Haileybury, Kilbreda College and St Bede’s College, for those who want blazers and ties.

He argues that Sandringham College provides an alternative and it will lose its market advantage if it mimics what private schools do.

“Sandringham has a very different purpose and they are trying to throw that away to move into a market that is already saturated.”

The special culture at Sandringham College comes up again and again on the Facebook page.

Former student Tahnee Brotherton, who commuted from Pakenham every day, says the school was the answer to her prayers.

“Sandy is a place to celebrate your individuality and we shouldn’t destroy this nurturing environment by turning it into every other school,” she writes.

“I feel uniforms would be the beginning of ruining this unique school.”

Pants for Santa Sabina College

Girls at Santa Sabina College in Sydney are now offered the option of wearing pants or shorts as part of their school uniform.

March 2018

Power move: Why this Sydney private school is suiting up its girls

By Jenny Noyes

Sydney’s most prestigious private girls’ schools talk the talk about empowerment, but when it comes to their uniforms, very few are walking the walk in a pair of pants.

Santa Sabina College, an independent Catholic girls’ high school in Strathfield (and co-ed primary school), is set to break with tradition next term when it joins just a handful of private schools across the city to offer pants and shorts to all female students.

It’s part of a major uniform overhaul that will also see the main school uniform colour change from green to black. The result is a sleek, almost corporate-looking suit, for those who choose to wear the long trousers with a blazer and white shirt.

Year 10 student Grace said she’s looking forward to a more “grown-up” uniform that will be less restrictive, especially for her drama classes.

“If you’re performing a scene or doing any kind of activity that requires a lot of movement then you do feel quite self-conscious [in a dress],” she said.

“We’re now wearing clothes that we could wear in the workplace and in our adult lives. I would feel a lot more grown up in the new senior uniform than the kilt, because it’s a lot more modern.”

The school has ditched its traditional tartan kilt, which has upset some parents and former students, but the option remains for girls to wear a skirt or dress if they want to.

Santa Sabina College Principal Dr Maree Herrett said the most controversial update to the uniform was not the addition of pants, but the colour change – and losing the kilt.

“It was a combination of going back to our roots even while we were breaking with tradition in other ways; looking at fabrics that would suit our climate – the kilt was brought in in 1976, and I’d like to compare the summer temperatures then and now.

Though she said offering girls pants is “hardly revolutionary”, Dr Herrett acknowledged it would make a big difference for many, both in terms of physical comfort and self-expression.

“We want girls to be comfortable … I think with the littler girls particularly, to run around the playground, to turn upside-down and all that.

“We’ve always had a variety of gender expression in schools … what I think we’re recognising is that there has always been a variety of ways of expressing your femininity or your masculinity.”

For students who might be questioning their gender, she added, it’s also a way to “make the journey a little bit more comfortable for them”.

Few girls are wearing the pants in Sydney
Fairfax Media looked at the current uniform policies of more than 100 non-government schools across Sydney, and found just two other independent schools that offer pants or shorts to female students as part of the regular (non-sport) uniform.

They are International Grammar School, a secular, co-ed school in Ultimo that offers uniform options of dresses, skirts, pants and shorts to all students; and St Catherine’s School in Waverley, an Anglican girls’ school that introduced shorts in 1998, with a “designer” uniform offering students “a range of options so each girl can reflect her personal style”.

There were also a handful of Catholic systemic schools allowing girls to wear pants, although for the most part the privilege only extended to those in year 11 and 12 – or as part of the winter uniform, for warmth.

Not all NSW government schools offer girls the option of pants and shorts, either.

Last year, a Riverstone parent who wanted her daughters to be able to wear pants to John Palmer Public School had to take the matter to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board before the school made the change. Melissa Mibus told the Rouse Hill Courier at the time: “It’s a sad reflection because the school has so many wonderful attributes.”

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said it is “common sense” that girls should have the option to wear shorts or pants as their school uniform, and he has asked the NSW Department of Education to review its policy of allowing individual schools to choose whether or not they do.

Last year, Western Australia made it mandatory for all government schools to offer the option of pants and shorts to female students, following a campaign by advocacy group Girls’ Uniform Agenda. Victoria vowed to do the same.

A spokeswoman for the group said Santa Sabina’s move represents “a significant step forward” by providing a strong example, especially to other non-government schools.

“Private and Catholic schools in particular have held on to time-old traditions requiring girls to wear dresses and skirts, when our modern times dictate that girls should have the right to choose what they are comfortable wearing, including the option of shorts or pants,” she said.

“This needs to change. Santa Sabina is leading by example … and its competitor schools should take note.”

As for student Grace, she’s proud to be blazing a trail. “We are one of the first to put students’ learning and comfort ahead of strict tradition, which I think is really good,” she said.

Who designs school uniforms?

March 2017

Nothing uniform about school uniforms now

By Sue Williams

Trousers for girls. Swim shorts for boys. Unisex shirts. And hoodies now often for both sexes.

School uniforms are finally being updated, with a number of schools across Australia listening to the views of students and their parents, and redesigning their uniforms to suit kids’ changing needs.

And the drivers of this modernisation vary wildly: From young people increasingly dealing with their own gender issues to body shapes that have altered dramatically through the generations, from cultural concerns all the way to global warming disrupting weather patterns.

“School uniforms do date and a lot are often no longer appropriate to students’ ages, figure types or to the times,” says couture designer Jonathan Ward, who’s increasingly being called in by schools to revamp their uniforms.

“Young people today are very different to how they were 30 years ago, both physically and mentally. Girls develop younger, boys are taller, and they both need to be provided with clothing that suits different body types and makes them feel comfortable and confident so they perform better at school.”

Kids now typically grow 3-4cm taller than their parents, with puberty beginning much earlier; from 12 and a half for girls, who often also have breasts developing from the age of seven. In addition, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a quarter of children aged 5-17 are now overweight or obese.

Many are also struggling with their own gender identities so the option of trousers and shorts for girls, blouses and shirts that look similar and more unisex items gives students more choice.

Phillip Heath, head of Sydney’s Barker College, who has hired Ward to redesign its red and blue uniforms, says: “Allowing students a choice is, I reckon, the answer to the whole gender identity question.

“It’s important not to engineer children’s lives at a very complex time of their emerging identity but to allow them choices and a kind of wriggle-room that’s so important as they explore who they are.”

At Melbourne’s Wesley College, principal Dr Helen Drennen, also in the process of introducing a new uniform in traditional purple and gold, agrees. “Having mix and match options, as well as gender-neutral clothes, is important,” she says. “They work for boys as well as girls and cross-gender students. We haven’t had a case of a boy choosing to wear a girl’s summer dress because we’ve got options that give our student population a level of comfort.”

While independent and private schools often commission named designers to draw up changes to their uniforms, most public schools in NSW and Victoria tend not to go to that expense. Although Balmain High School in Sydney used a Mambo print for its school uniform in 1993, most rely on school uniform suppliers’ in-house designers to either suggest updates or they choose from online catalogues.

“We don’t like to talk publicly about that service,” says the managing director of one major uniform suppliers. “The schools themselves like us to be discreet.”

But Dianne Giblin, CEO of the Australian Council of State School Organisations, says that most updates result from pressure from students. “One school in western Sydney always had bottle-green trousers but the kids all started wearing black, so in the end the school agreed to change the uniform to black,” she says.

“Lots of the white shirts have gone too and are being replaced by polo shirts or T-shirts with the school’s emblem or monogram on as they’re easier. And most of the public schools now allow girls to wear trousers or shorts as that’s what they themselves want to wear as it’s a lot more practical.”

Barker College’s Heath believes there is a link between uniforms and the learning process.

“We now know that activity, and kinaesthetic experiences [learning by students carrying out physical activities rather than passively listening to lectures] augments brain function,” Heath says. “If you’re going to solve a complex maths problem or learn a foreign language, then the best thing is to go for a run beforehand.

“So a uniform needs to fit that kind of purpose too, as well as helping boys and girls feel as though they belong, and are proud of the school. It has to be comfortable to move around in, role-play and interact in small groups, so students can enjoy the whole range of learning experiences, especially as the climate appears to be getting hotter.”

As a result, most of the new, revamped uniforms are being made from much more contemporary blended fabrics, which tend to be lighter, more durable, stretchier and easier to care for.White shirts are also frequently giving way to coloured, striped or patterned shirts which can look smarter for longer, and don’t show off girls’ bras beneath.

Wesley College students are enthusiastic about their new uniforms, both academic and sporting, after a long series of consultations with pupils, parents and the community to replace the early 1990s uniform designed by Prue Acton.

“Many of the basic uniform designs came to Australia from independent schools in the UK, and they don’t fit an Australian environment and climate,” Drennen says. “So we needed a generational change with a more contemporary and forward-thinking feel.

“Students wear clothes differently now, so they’ll now have the opportunity to layer their uniform with more options. In the past, they just had a school jumper but now they’ll have a cardigan and vest as well as a jumper especially when the weather now is so unpredictable.”

Justin Garrick, the head of school at Canberra Grammar School, says Australian schools have generally fallen behind contemporaries in Britain, which gave us those original uniforms. Canberra has just replaced the old khaki shorts and long socks with modern silt-coloured shorts and ankle socks.

“Our uniform would have had its origins in Britain but, having worked in the UK for 13 years before coming back here, I saw that British uniforms moved on a long time ago,” he says. “But often Australian schools have hung on to styles that have long gone in the UK.

“In our case, we knew that not many of our students are going to grow up to wear knee-high socks, so it was time for a look that was more professional, smarter, sharper and more modern. We’ve been really keen to put more choice in too. Gender issues were also a part of our thinking in building more unisex items that can be worn by both boys and girls.”

His school has also introduced a hijab, or headscarf, that can be worn by girls who would like to, while Wesley College has a long, dark aubergine tunic option.

“It’s important that students feel like they belong, but not lose their own identity,” says Barker College’s Heath.

“We need to cater for a diverse population and be inclusive, as well as understanding the realities of early onset maturation.”

While the new uniforms all tend to be respectful to the old, with similar colours, crests and looks, it’s now all about making kids feel relaxed and comfortable, says Mr Ward.

“Girls can be self-conscious in a dress; some of the old trouser designs were pretty unflattering for boys,” he says. “But you look at how they dress on the weekends, and how they feel in those looks and fabrics, and design clothes that might feel similar – and won’t distract from their studies, their play and their understanding of what life is all about.”

New uniforms for Firbank Grammar School

Kit Willow, one of Australia’s top fashion designers, is designing a new uniform for Firbank Grammar School in Brighton.

January 2019

Private school taps top fashion designer to overhaul uniform

Melissa Singer

One of Australia’s top fashion designers is taking on her biggest challenge yet: making a school uniform that’s sustainable, affordable and comfortable.

Kit Willow, who last year was part of a Commonwealth Fashion Exchange to London, where she met the Duchess of Cambridge, is giving a makeover to the uniform of one of Melbourne’s most prestigious schools, Firbank Grammar School in Brighton.

The school has a co-ed primary division and a girls’ high school. Willow, whose label is KitX, is overhauling the current look, which has been in place for more than 15 years.

“Uniforms have an average life of 18 months because children grow, they get worn every day and sometimes washed every day,” Willow, a fierce sustainability advocate, said.

Willow agreed to the project on several conditions: she could choose the fabrics, including “upcycled” polyester, which is less harmful to the environment than virgin materials, and the school must agree to educate parents and students about the toxicity of the mainstream fashion industry.

“When you wash polyester or a blend, they give off tiny fibres into the ocean that cause massive problems for marine life,” Willow, a mother-of-two, said.

“When new nylon is created, it gives off nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more toxic than carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. New uniforms are … wrapped in ‘a million’ layers of plastic, and then when they are washed frequently, they give off microparticles, then when they are discarded … they never, ever break down.”

Firbank Grammar principal Jenny Williams embraced the opportunity to partner with a sustainability warrior, after discussing a uniform overhaul with Dobsons, one of Australia’s longest-running uniform wholesalers.

“It was really important I had a woman working with me, because it’s about positive role models for the senior girls,” Mrs Williams said.

Willow said that at first, Dobsons “had such little awareness about fashion’s impact. Now they know, they are so excited”. And there is plenty of potential for other schools to follow Firbank’s lead.

“Hopefully it’s a game-changer,” Willow said. “Quite quickly, you can have an impact. It’s not one customer buying, it’s like boom, one school done. It’s thousands of students, quickly.”

Mrs Williams said Willow’s brief was to maintain the heritage of the uniforms, including the school colours, but with a signature KitX spin. She acknowledged that some pieces will rise in cost, but that the school community was committed to the project. The uniforms could be rolled out as early as the second half of 2019.

“For all of us, it’s an important decision. Younger people are aware of the really cheap brands popping out ‘disposable’ clothes, and how unethically they are produced. With a uniform, you don’t have lots of pieces, you wear it every day.”

Willow joins a long list of well-known designers to have worked on school uniform projects, including Jonathan Ward, who has designed uniforms for several Sydney schools including Loreto, Kirribilli and St Andrew’s Cathedral School.