June 2017 was the hottest June for 176 years. Across Europe temperatures went up to 38°C, and groups of school children and workers defied instructions and wore skirts to school and work to try and keep cool.
In Nantes, France, a group of bus drivers asked their employer for permission to wear shorts. When this request was denied they decided to wear the only item that was authorised in hot weather — a skirt. One worker told the Guardian “Our bosses’ offices are air-conditioned, which isn’t the case with the majority of our vehicles. To spend more than seven hours in a vehicle in 50°C temperatures is not easy.”
The protest and negative publicity forced the employer to change the dress code. This is not the first-time workers have rebelled by wearing skirts. Train conductors won a similar victory in 2013 in Sweden after wearing skirts for two weeks. More than 30 school students in Bedfordshire and Devon also rebelled against their schools’ uniform policies, which ban shorts, by wearing skirts, gaining lots of press attention. In Devon the students led a protest chanting, “Let boys wear shorts!” The school has now agreed to review the uniform policy in hot weather.
The GMB has threatened to ask its members to wear skirts after a porter at Watford General Hospital was threatened with disciplinary action for rolling up his trouser legs. A lot of the publicity in these cases has been focused on the fact that skirts are for women and those protesting are men. In Europe the idea of trousers being menswear and skirts being only for women goes back to the 14th century. The V&A website says that “Previously, both men and women wore draped or unshaped garments and tunics. As men’s tunics became shorter and tighter-fitting in the 15th century, fashionable men began to wear hose or stockings as outer leg wear”. By the 19th century trousers were associated with masculinity.
There is no need for uniform in schools, and many countries do not require school students to wear uniform. School students should be given a free choice over what they wear. For workers, uniform should serve a purpose — to identify someone carrying out a specific role or task. It should always be gender neutral, comfortable, and appropriate for the weather.