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A problem as old as gymslips

Do you remember your school uniform? Being made to run laps because you had the wrong socks? Sent home for having a short skirt? Linh, 16, has this exact problem. When Linh wrote a piece in our newsletter about her issue with uniform rules, she wasn’t expecting to get a response from someone who had the same battle over ninety years ago.

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Linh, 16, on school uniforms in 2021

My name is Linh, and when I was asked about a school rule I’d change, I knew the answer straight away. It’d be to be less strict on girl’s skirt length. And before you judge my answer, let me explain why. Having skirts come above the knees are not going to distract students from learning.

Rather, it distracts the school from focusing on more important issues.

As someone who has been told off for this, I know that time and resources are being spent in the wrong place when it could’ve been used more usefully.

Linh talking about school uniform rules

For example, educating male students on respecting the opposite gender in the first place, so that their learning wouldn’t be disrupted by seeing a few more centimetres of our legs.

Psychologically, the rule actually encourages students to rebel. So, the school should trust their pupils to recognise the importance of dressing professionally and empower them by giving them the choice to dress how they feel most confident. 

three school girls in uniform sitting together talking and smiling

Freda, 102, on school uniforms in 1929

Dear Linh, in 1929 I had a similar experience involving uniform. 

Just to paint you the picture, I come from a mining village in Sheffield. In the 20s and 30s, the only schools which had compulsory uniforms were the secondary schools. 

Freda on school uniforms

We had to wear a gymslip which was five inches above the knee when kneeling. And long black stockings. Cheapest were one shilling a pair – but they only covered half the thigh muscle therefore you had to put the knicker leg down to meet it.

Believe me, it was almost impossible to not have a gap sometimes during the day. Imagine stocking tops and navy knickers! 

Freda standing outside front door with hat and scarf on

uniforms in the 1920s

I was one of twelve students training to teach P.E. 

I decided that I would not wear black stockings for P.E. and neither would the girls.

Imagine P.E. in a playground with girls of 11 to 15, wearing navy knickers. The white blouses attracted miners on their way home from their night shifts! 

I wore a short pair of white shorts and a white shirt. It was during the war when an American airman gave me a pair of his sister’s pants. Believe me Linh, wearing P.E. uniform and remaining ‘decent’ in 1936 was not easy.

Changing uniforms, same issues

Uniform rules were a problem in the 1920s and still cause issues for young people in the 2020s. Like Linh says, maybe it’s time to empower young people to dress how they want so they feel confident. That’s what Freda did. She dressed how she wanted for P.E. And many school children today are fighting the same battle.

There has however been one big win for school children recently. Thanks to our tireless campaigning, the government promised to cut the cost of unaffordable school uniforms. So although there may still be rules about skirt length, at least that skirt is now affordable.