In a unique twist on dress code protests, boys wore private school uniform skirts during a heatwave in Devon, England. The school had rejected the parents’ and boys’ advance requests to allow boys to wear shorts—essentially daring them to wear skirts—and then complained about how much of the boys’ legs were showing when they arrived wearing skirts.
HEAT GIVES RISE TO BOYS' DRESS CODE PROTEST
When authorities issued a level three heat-health warning for Devon County, boys and their parents from Isca Academy in Exeter requested the boys be allowed to wear shorts, rather than pants as required by the dress code. Toward the 20th of June, temperatures were climbing above 30 degrees Celsius—hitting more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit and beyond—which is abnormally hot weather for June in the UK.
In fact, the school said the students would be put in isolation if they wore shorts.
One mother said, “My 14-year-old son wanted to wear shorts. The headteacher told them: ‘Well, you can wear a skirt if you like’ – but I think she was being sarcastic. However, children tend to take you literally, and because she told them it was OK, there was nothing she could do as long as they were school skirts.”
While the dress code requires boys to wear long pants, girls may wear pants or tartan skirts. On Wednesday, five boys attended school in the uniform skirts they borrowed from their sisters or friends, worn over shorts. The boys hoped their dress code protest would urge school officials to change the policy against boys wearing shorts.
In response, the school told one tall boy to remove the skirt because it was too short and he was showing too much hair.
But one boy commented, "We wear shorts for sport and it doesn't matter if we have hairy legs then, so that's not a real reason. Another boy was told to take his skirt off because it was too short but he had his shorts underneath."
By Thursday, the skirt rebellion had grown, with 30 boys wearing the uniform kilts over shorts. Some boys even stopped to purchase razors at the One Stop shop on Burnthouse Lane on their way to school and shaved their legs.
One student said, "Loads of them have been put in isolation for stupid reasons because the school doesn't like having no control over them."
BOYS REACT TO WEARING PROTEST SKIRTS
Beyond their intent to protest the dress code, the boys experienced practical benefits to shedding their long pants. While one male student described the skirt as providing a “nice breeze,” another found wearing his kilt “quite refreshing.” Another boy who participated in the protest said, "We're not allowed to wear shorts, and I'm not sitting in trousers all day, it's a bit hot."
Many of the boys said they might continue to wear skirts because they found them significantly more comfortable. Meanwhile, a boy from at least one other school in Wiltshire—about 100 miles away—wore a skirt to school, but his fellow students were not as supportive.
PARENTS RESPOND TO THE PROTEST
Prior to the protest, mother Claire Reeves attacked Isca Academy for their dress code, saying her son “almost passed out” from the heat.
"The weather has been so hot recently and it's got to the point where my son is suffering."
She contacted the school requesting that her son be allowed to wear shorts, but was “shot down.”
Reeves said, "I have called the school several times and they have told me that if I send my son to school in shorts then he will be sent to the isolation room all day and if I keep him off school then it'll be an unauthorised absence.”
She voiced her frustration at what she considers a double standard, saying, "The girls are allowed to wear skirts all year round so I think it's completely unfair that the boys can't wear shorts.”
However, Reeves explained, "I have sent him to school as normal because he doesn't want to be put in the isolation room. I just want something done about it because as far as I am aware all the other high schools have adapted their policy for the hot weather but ISCA are refusing to budge."
Another mother explained why her son wore a skirt: "Children also don't like injustice. The boys see the women teachers in sandals and nice cool skirts and tops while they are wearing long trousers and shoes and the older boys have to wear blazers. They just think it's unfair that they can't wear shorts in this heat."
Overall, the parents have expressed pride in their sons’ actions. For instance, Claire Lambeth’s son Ryan was one of the boys who initiated the idea for the protest. He came home earlier that week complaining of the heat.
“He said it was unbearable,” Lambeth said. “I spoke to a teacher to ask about shorts and she said it was school policy [that they could not be worn]. I did say this was exceptional weather, but they were having none of it. If girls can wear skirts, why can’t boys wear shorts?
“Ryan came up with the idea of wearing a skirt, so that evening we borrowed one. He wore it the next day – as did five other boys. Then this morning … I didn’t expect it to take off like that. The school is being silly really – this is exceptional weather. I was very proud of Ryan. I think it was a great idea.”
Reeves said, "I feel extremely proud of them all for standing up for their rights. People are always talking about equal right for males and females and school uniform shouldn't be any different."
MASSIVE SUPPORT VIA SOCIAL MEDIA
The boys who protested by wearing skirts have received mass support on social media. Numerous tweets called the protest “creative” and the rules “draconian” with Twitter users lauding them for their successful activism.
@SimonHallNews @BBCSpotlight @BBCCornwall @BBCDevon @BBCBreaking Ridiculous draconian rule. Good work lads! 👍🏻— Amanda Williamson (@Amanda Williamson)1498119605.0
All national papers in the UK have carried the story, and a video carried by DevonLive received nearly 500,000 views within a few hours. Approximately 5,000 of those viewers commented with overwhelming praise for the boys. A few commentators felt that the boys should abide the rules, no matter how strict or hot the weather.
THE SCHOOL'S RESPONSE
In response to the heatwave, headteacher Aimee Mitchell wrote: “We recognise that the last few days have been exceptionally hot and we are doing our utmost to enable both students and staff to remain as comfortable as possible.
As for the dress code protest, Mitchell said, “Shorts are not currently part of our uniform for boys and I would not want to make any changes without consulting both students and their families.”
Mitchell added: “However, with hotter weather becoming more normal, I would be happy to consider a change for the future and will talk to families and staff further about this in the coming weeks.”