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