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A student attending Philip Pocock Catholic Secondary School in Toronto may not be able to wear her kilt to class in September. (Ryan Enn Hughes)
A student attending Philip Pocock Catholic Secondary School in Toronto may not be able to wear her kilt to class in September. (Ryan Enn Hughes)

School uniforms

Are kilts history? Add to ...

Once upon a time, some well-intentioned headmistress decided that kilts would be an appropriate uniform for young ladies.

"It came out of when the nuns ... were running the schools," explains Paul Crawford, superintendent with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Since then, "the wearing of the kilt [for girls]has sort of been synonymous with Catholic education."

That, of course, was before thigh-high stockings, waistband rolling, hemline tweaking, Britney Spears. These days, kilts are more often a source of angst for parents and principals alike as teenagers demonstrate their capacity for flouting school dress codes.

Tired of battling the ever-rising hemline, many schools have declared defeat. In Ontario, Mississauga's Philip Pocock Secondary School recently became the latest school to ban the controversial garment.

Of the 25 schools in Philip Pocock's district, only six still allow kilts in their classrooms.

But as more principals rethink the tartan skirt, is the long-time symbol of a Catholic or private school tradition on its way to extinction?

To Mr. Crawford, this appears to be the case. "I think there's certainly some pressures to get [uniforms]changed. Some of them are fashion, some of them are just modesty."

Like all traditions, kilts are subject to modern-day influences, says Fiammetta Mazzetti, superintendent of the Halton Catholic District School Board.

Five years ago, when her school district opened two new schools, one eschewed kilts altogether and the other elected for an "X-Kilt" - a modified kilt with built-in shorts - which has since been phased out from their uniform lineup.

"Prior to that, any school that started had a kilt," she says. "I think things have changed and the uniform is not the sole indicator of the Catholic school."

John Kelleher, president of R.J. McCarthy, Ontario's biggest supplier of school uniforms, agrees that he has seen "a mild trend away from kilts" in recent years.

But while certain schools have moved away from the kilt, he says others are also starting to introduce it.

"It tends to be a school-by-school thing, but I would definitely say, in general, kilts are still very popular," Mr. Kelleher says.

For Patti Koenig, owner of Cambridge & Company School Uniforms, the biggest supplier of uniforms in British Columbia, kilts are evolving.

"Kilts still have a very strong presence in Vancouver," she says, adding that none of her schools have jettisoned the kilt. "Yet what I've seen in the last few years is a bit of a transition away from a traditional kilt. We're still creating the tartan fabric but going into a more stylized skirt."

Newer schools have a more relaxed notion about what a uniform should look like, she says. With modern-day skirts, the waistlines are lower and the fabrics are a polyester-viscose blend - far more comfortable than the heavy, itchy wool of school years past.

"It's tweaking it," Ms. Koenig says. "Just because you've had a kilt forever doesn't mean you can't do something to update it."

But schools such as Philip Pocock are fed up with wasting time with hemline enforcement. One Philip Pocock teacher used to measure her students' kilts every day, occasionally sending girls home, says Thadshiga Jayaseelan, a former student.

She says some girls would definitely tart up their blue kilts by pairing them with "hooker boots" or wearing thongs underneath.

Still, Ms. Jayasaleen is sad to lose a distinctive symbol of school pride.

"With the kilts, you know who's from which school," she says. "I relate it so much to the Catholic school. It's disappointing we have to take the kilts out."

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