Diane and Elsie’s Story

Public primary school and public high school, Tasmania.

In around 1995, my daughter started school at a Kinder-Year 6 Primary School. When I said I didn’t like the formal summer school uniform which was a dress, I was told that was the only option. There were formal trousers for winter, along with the tunic, but in summer there was only the formal school dress, apart from sports days when my daughter could wear shorts.

I was disappointed, so I purchased on large grade six school dress from which to make culottes, and one dress which fitted my daughter. I then cut off the dress to make a shirt to go with the culottes.

Immediately all the parents wanted the option my daughter had. I told them how I’d done it, and before long the shirt and culotte option was preferred by almost all girls and the uniform committee asked for it to be manufactured.

In around 2004, in the year before my daughter was to attend an all girls public high school, I joined the Parents and Friends Committee, and raised my concern about the lack of formal summer trousers, and the lack of style in the winter trousers option. I was invited to a discussion of the uniform where I heard girls raise modesty concerns about the see through summer dress and the way their heavy school back packs would make their summer dress or winter skirt ‘ride up’. They all said they wore shorts under their dresses in the school house colours but that this was technically against school policy.

At the discussion, I heard parents telling the girls how lucky they were that they were learning how to be young ladies by wearing skirts and that this would prepare them for the workplace. I objected, but then became an object of derision at the P&F meetings.

I contacted the Education Department’s policy area to find out about uniform policy and anti-discrimination policy. Basically at that time all power to decide about uniforms was devolved to the governance systems in local schools.

I contacted the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner who said that quite a few girls would have to take action at the same time if we were to have a successful claim. My daughter did not want to be singled out for ridicule because of my involvement in such a claim, so that wasn’t an option.

I joined a political party and had a resolution passed at two state conferences to ensure that girls’ school uniform options included choice and clothing that would be palatable to the girls.

I then wrote a book for teenagers called, Charlie Gets Frocked, which you can find here: http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/books-article/charlie-gets-frocked/. I set the story in Queensland so that there would be warm weather. The plot is that the Prime Minister of Australia has decreed that all girls will wear dresses to school because it’s un-Australian to do otherwise. Some of the girls are angry and decide to do a social experiment through the local university to see what happens when a group of high school boys have to wear dresses to school and are also required to play the footy grand final in skirts. The results are fairly hilarious.

But, the main point is that fussy school clothing limits girls’ activity levels, and also impacts on their sense of self.

The high school my daughter used to attend now provides no formal trouser option at all.