Uniform fashion: scratchy to comfy

Article by Emma Horn  /
Crinkling News  /
March, 2017  /
Click here to view original  /

IT’S pretty hard to do cartwheels or play on the monkey bars when you have to wear a dress to school.

Nine-year-old Cassidy Thompson, her sister, Elise, and Sadie Boucousis, who are both seven, think it would be a lot easier if they could wear pants to school.

But the school they go to in Sydney only lets them wear pants on sports days.

“Sometimes I can play catch with my friends, but in a dress it’s hard to do anything else,” says Cassidy. “I want to play basketball, but I can’t really move.”

Sadie says the dresses don’t stretch very much so it’s hard to do cartwheels.

“[But] on sports days it’s easier to do flips and go on the monkey bars,” she says.

Better than the olden days

The girls agree that being able to wear pants at school wouldn’t stop them from wearing dresses sometimes.

“I would still wear a dress on the days when a new principal comes, or when we need to look neat and tidy like for school photos,” says Elise.

They’re happy, though, that they don’t have to wear the kinds of uniforms worn 100 years ago.

“I don’t think you’d be able to move at all in that, would you?” says Cassidy. “Compared to what they had in olden days, I like what we have.”

Lauren Rosewarne, from the University of Melbourne, has spent a lot of time thinking about uniforms.

“Since Australia’s had schools, we’ve had uniforms because we adopted that from the British school system,” she says.

Dr Rosewarne says the uniforms worn in the 1880s were a bit different from today’s.

“Girls were wearing these shapeless dresses, boater hats and blazers, and boys were in sort of a modified version of a suit that a man might wear to an office,” she says.

They were made with much thicker material, making them very itchy in Australia’s hot summers.

“Those large shapeless dresses for girls are gone and now [what’s worn] tends to be more tapered,” she says.

“A lot of schools have done away with ties and hats and they’re using material that is more breathable and less expensive.”

More change, please

Dr Rosewarne says although uniforms are a good way to keep everyone looking neat, they could still be better.

“Uniforms today are more comfortable than they’ve ever been, but that doesn’t mean that they’re perfect,” she says.

“[Uniforms] should allow students the freedom of movement and comfort given that they’re wearing them for large portions of the day – and that might take a variety of different styles.

“But I think … having shorts and pants for girls is a start.

“Even if they just need to run for the bus, shorts and pants allow greater comfort and a lot of schools now do offer that as an option, but it’s not universal.”

All the same, rich or poor

Dr Craig Wilcox is a historian who was asked by the National Library of Australia in Canberra to write a history of uniforms in Australia.

He says although some schools had uniforms in the early 1900s, by the 1950s most of them did and it meant that children all wore the same thing whether they came from rich or poor families.

The former prime minister Julia Gillard obviously thought that was a good idea.

In 2010 she said: “Having a uniform helps undercut the kind of unhealthy competition we can see at schools to have the latest, most expensive, fashionable gear.”