School uniforms: Call to ditch ‘gender-specific’ outfits

Article by Benedict Brook /
The Chronicle /
March 13, 2017 /
Click here to view original /

SCHOOL uniforms haven’t kept up with either changing fashions or the needs of young people and strict rules on what students can wear in the classroom need to be reassessed.

That’s the call from trend watchers who say only “high level conservativeness” is holding schools back from providing uniforms that reflect the increasing popularity of androgynous fashions and the reality that young people want to have the option of breaking free from gender stereotypes.

But far from redesign every item of clothing, one easy-to-implement change could be all that’s needed.

Department stores Myer and David Jones have also being asked to “desegregate” the aisles, axing male and female sections, and instead define the aisles by clothing types that anyone can choose from.

Late last month, Australia held its first ever gender ambiguous fashion show with many of the participants backing the push to do away with the concept of men’s and women’s fashions in a bid to make everyone feel included.

The Style aGender Fashion Parade, held by LGBTI community fundraising organisation Aurora in the Sydney inner-city suburb of Waterloo, brought together fashion designers producing androgynous creations and models sporting them.

Australian international model Stefania Ferrario was the star of the Style aGender catwalk.

The model, who has also railed against the term “plus size” arguing size 12 is simply the norm, said she had always embraced non-traditional looks.

“Ever since I can remember I’ve had a girlie side and a tom boy side and I’ve altered between the two growing up,” Ms Ferrario told

“Androgyny is a big thing in fashion and I think we are moving towards non-gendered clothing and breaking down traditional male and female clothing.”

She argued schools should take a lead in getting rid of the barriers between boys’ and girls’ uniforms.

“Unfortunately, in some schools, girls are forced to wear skirts and boys are forced to wear pants but we’re seeing many schools [ensure] kids don’t feel constrained to a certain outfit.”

The simplest way to do that, she said, would be to axe the words “boy” and “girl” in uniform lists.

“There would just be school uniforms and if a girl wants to wear pants to make her happy, she can, and if a boy wants to wear a skirt then he can wear a skirt.”

Last year, Melbourne mum Simone Cariss attracted 19,000 signatories to a petition that asked the Victorian Government to make it illegal for schools not to offer gender neutral uniform options. Her child’s school had refused to allow her daughter to wear pants in winter.

“[My daughter] constantly asks, ‘Why can’t I wear pants like the boys?’

“‘Because you’re a girl’ is not something I am prepared to say to my six-year-old,” she said.

Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a senior lecturer in gender and sexuality at the University of Melbourne, said the push for gender-neutral clothing was only growing.

“We are talking about gender fluidity and transgender issues more than ever before and that’s important in the context of school uniforms because of the compulsory nature of them.”

Comfort was one clear reason why girls should be allowed to wear pants at school. Boys also shouldn’t be barred from wearing traditional female clothing, although Dr Rosewarne suspected it would be far less common.

“It’s an easy thing to implement if a school, parents and teachers cared enough. Most school uniforms are pretty standard in colour so the availability of pants isn’t an issue, there’s no reason not to, aside from high-level conservativeness.

“It makes kids who don’t pre-identify with gender labels to be included in schools without being freaks,” she said.

The NSW Department of Education school uniform policy states any clothing “should take into account the diverse nature of the student population and not disadvantage any student”. However the department told any decisions on uniform are taken by individual schools and would not say if the provided guidance on gender-neutral options.

Similar policies exist in other states including allowing transgender students to don their choice of clothing.
Even those schools that don’t force boys and girls to wear specific clothing often list uniform options by gender, such as ties for boys.

Chairman of the Aurora Group, Alison King, said the fashion event, which featured designers Tom-Boi, crbn and Aydin Was Here, was designed to challenge the status quo.

“We explored how fashion has been used in the LGBTIQ community to express identities unlimited by the heteronormative binaries of masculine and feminine.

Gay, lesbian and transgender people had historically felt “unaccommodated by mainstream shopping outlets”, she said.

It’s a point echoed by two of the designers at the show: Hannah Delaine and Cass Mackenzie.

The pair have created gender-neutral label Androswag, which is focused on industrial streetwear for women and includes T-shirts, singlets, pants and underwear.

Ms Delaine said the line was born because they couldn’t find clothes they wanted to wear at Australian shops.

“Everything is so divided into male and female. We don’t want the frills or things in pink. The prints that we like, the designs, they are always in the male section but they aren’t in the more petite sizes for little girls or bigger sizes for the curvy girl.

“I’ve often wondered why Myer and David Jones don’t have mixed sections where ‘male’ and ‘female’ are crossed out and it’s just here are the sizes – if you like it, you like it,” she said.

“It’s strange that today we still have that segregation.”

David Jones told its stores stock the Bassike and Jac+Jack labels that feature neutral shades and more gender neutral cuts. Myer did not respond.

Ms Mackenzie acknowledged the different shapes of men’s and women’s bodies meant some clothing types would always be specific.

“But whether people agree with it or not, there’s a middle ground, which people are a lot more accepting of.

“It’s there already, it’s just whether society to chooses to acknowledge it or not.”