Traditional uniforms get the chop in favor of pants, comfort and choice

Cornish College, a co-educational independent school in the south-east suburb of Bangholme, is introducing a trans-seasonal, gender-neutral uniform with tailored and relaxed fittings this year.

“Telling students exactly what to wear, when to wear it and how to wear it does not align with our belief in supporting independent young people,” principal Nicola Forrest said.


“Choosing from a trans-seasonal, non-gender specific wardrobe with options of more formal garments through to activewear empowers our young people to make decisions that help them come to school feeling confident and ready to take on the day’s learning – without judgment.”

Year 12 student Mailli Atkins said she welcomed that students had input into the design and selection of the new uniform. Her brother Darcy said he liked being able to choose from the range.

Retired principal Allan Shaw said changing a uniform could be a fraught experience.

“The narrative is critical in any change,” he said. “Why, how, what and when need to be addressed and time allowed for discussion, clarification and feedback.”

Education consultant Paul O’Shannassy said parents often associated colors with a particular school, and bringing in different colors could lead to a backlash.

“Xavier is famous for the red and black and their old boys’ sporting teams wear the same colours,” he said. “The colors are the powerful thing rather than the particular design of the uniform.”

Ian Dobson, of school uniform designer, manufacturer and retailer Dobsons, said uniforms had come a long way since pants and shorts for girls were introduced and girls were offered boys’ uniforms only.

Dobson said plenty of work had gone into developing durable girls’ options, and pants had become extraordinarily popular. Shorts for girls had not been taken off, perhaps because they were not considered flattering with school shoes, he said.

Dobson said his company’s focus was increasing the comfort of uniforms, and producing garments that were made from recycled garments and recyclable.


“The major change that’s going on is going green,” he said. “Firbank were the first, and now you’ve got Strathcona, you’ve got Knox [Grammar]you’ve got Ballarat Clarendon College – they’re all transitioning.”

Gail McHardy of Parents Victoria, which represents state school students, said uniforms could be expensive and urged schools to ensure changes to them did not cost out families and restrict attendance.

“With [high] back to school costs this year, there’ve been people calling into the radio asking why school shorts have a logo on them,” she said.

McHardy advises cost-conscious families to buy the bare minimum and source secondhand uniforms. State school families in need can request free uniforms from State School Relief via their school.

Templestowe College is one of a handful of government schools that has made the switch from uniforms to free dress, or what it calls a “dress code”.

“A lot of times schools seem to concentrate on uniform, what it looks like, so you see a student, you ask them about the color of their socks,” said principal Peter Ellis.

He said by removing that barrier, teachers and students could focus on building relationships and being ready for all kinds of weather and school activities.

Paul Kidson, senior lecturer in educational leadership at Australian Catholic University, said it would be difficult to determine whether wearing a uniform helped learning.

“Of the top five nations on PISA results [international tests of 15-year-olds]some do and some don’t,” he said.

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