Welsh boys wear skirts to beat the heat | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 24.07.2013
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Welsh boys wear skirts to beat the heat

Heat waves have struck recently around the world, the quest to get cool has led some to resort to extreme measures. School boys in Wales, banned from wearing shorts to school, took to wearing skirts to beat the heat.

While much of the world's media has been focused on the birth of the royal baby, another story has been rumbling beneath the surface in the UK. In one corner of the principality they call Wales, a small revolution has been occurring as teenage boys swap trousers for skirts to cope with the hot weather. It began in Swansea and now boys in nearby Cardiff are doing the same.

It was all because it was getting too much for pupils at Gowerton comprehensive school in Swansea as temperatures have been soaring into the 30s in South Wales over the past few weeks.

Boys in particular were reporting feeling too hot and unable to work in the heat. So some parents decided to send their kids to school in short trousers instead.

Protesting for equal rights

Karen Davies was one mum who became concerned about her 15 year old son's health in the heat. "My son came home one day from school after wearing long school trousers and he passed out from heat exhaustion." 

Like any good mum, Karen thought she'd come up with a solution to Stephen's problem. "So the following day I tailored a pair of shorts out of his school trousers and when he got to school they called me to say that he'd spent his entire day in a stuffy classroom [where they have] separate cubicles for each pupil as a punishment for not being in proper uniform."

Stephen, sitting by his mother agrees: "Mum's right…and I strongly protest about this because, in hot weather you don't want to be wearing long black trousers which attract the heat, you want something short to cool yourself down."

At Stephen's school, boys can't wear shorts, but girls are allowed to wear skirts and Stephen thinks that's unfair and sexist. "Girls have two choices and we only have one. That's not equality."

Swedish train driver Martin Akersten poses wearing a skirt in this May 31 2013 photo taken in Stockholm with his cell phone. Akersten says he and more than a dozen other drivers and conductors at the Roslagsbanan line in the Swedish capital have started wearing skirts in the summer as a protest against the train company's uniform policy, which doesn't allow shorts. (AP Photo/Kim Jensen)

It's not just Wales. Swedish train drivers are also spending their summer working in skirts

Karen told DW, "they make them go out on the school playing field in winter in shorts but they won't allow them to wear shorts in the summer, where's the common sense in it all?"

Solidarity for skirt wearing

Stephen's experience prompted a group of his friends to take things a step further and rather than wearing short trousers they opted for skirts instead.

"One day when I was in form, [the classroom] I saw one of my mates wearing a skirt through the window and from then on several more followed him, protesting with him because they thought wearing shorts should be allowed."

The reaction in the school, at first was relaxed. "My classmates found it funny to be honest but thought it silly that they had to protest about something so little. It shouldn't be an issue."

This stand quickly caught the imagination of the UK's media; and within hours the boys from Gowerton comprehensive school were all over local radio and national television.

A few days later, a group of 14 of 15 year old boys from Whitchurch high school in nearby Cardiff, the Welsh capital, also donned skirts in protest.

They trailed the school corridors chanting "we want to wear shorts" before being told they must wear long trousers.

Five soccer fans from Scotland with their traditional kilt outfit stand on a bridge over Frankfurt's main river watching tevee broadcast of the England vs Trinidad and Tobago World Cup soccer match Thursday evening, June 15, 2006. Match was one by the English team 2-0. DPA/Frank Rumpenhorst dpa/lhe +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Men wearing skirts in other parts of the world is not so frowned upon, like these Scottish kilt wearers

A tough stance on dress codes?

Teachers there say they carry out regular risk assessments on how pupils are coping in the heat and also hand out water bottles. School governors insist any change in dress policy would have to be made through a full and lengthy consultation process.

But a quick check with passers by in Swansea city center found that most people were firmly on the side of the boys at both schools.

"I think it's a clever idea protesting and wearing skirts. Fair play to them," one man told DW. 

Another woman commiserated, "men don't get fair opportunities in school with clothes at all. They HAVE to wear trousers"

"I don't think it's fair that girls are allowed to wear skirts and show their legs and boys aren’t allowed to wear shorts and show their legs. I think women have it easy to be honest. They get to wear cropped tops and men would never get away with that," laughs another young man.

Hearing that, another woman told DW firmly that "people should wear what they like and we should all stop judging [them]."

Not just in Wales...

And it's not just Wales. In Sweden at the end of May, it was reported that train drivers in Stockholm had taken to wearing skirts to protest at their uniform policy, which also forbid them from wearing shorts as the Celsius rose. In that case, news agency AFP reported that the train company spokesman said that they wanted their staff to look "nice and proper" but admitted that they couldn't forbid men from wearing "women's clothes" in line with the company uniform policy.

In Germany last year too, it was reported that one man in a small town had taken to wearing skirts to support his five year old son's choice to wear dresses in the summer heat, and in a bid for equality and acceptance of everyone's freedom to choose their clothes, irrespective of gender convention.

Buddhist monks from across Myanmar gathered to explore ways to ease religious tensions, after some of them were implicated in attacks on Muslims. (Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)

In parts of Asia, wearing skirt like garments is a sign of respect of tradition and religious values

In other countries, wearing skirt like garments can be part of traditional dress. In parts of Asia, like Myanmar, longyis are worn by both men and women. Just northeast of Wales in the UK, Scottish men also traditionally wear skirts, or kilts.

Fear of reprisals

But, not everyone, it seems is of the opinion that it's okay for men to wear skirts. The widespread publicity has led to some of the boys who wore skirts at the school in Swansea being mocked by other children and Karen Davies says because of this, some parents are reluctant to speak out any further.

"There is a lot of support in the community but a lot of parents, especially those in the comprehensive schools, are worried about any repercussions if they speak out about it. They're afraid to speak up in the media because they're afraid of how the children will be treated in school for it."

Gowerton high school issued this statement to DW in response to the controversy.

"If pupils want to amend the uniform policy we'd welcome ideas, which they can put to the pupil council and the senior management team who can then approach the governing body for a decision."

Standing firm

But Karen says any change will come too late for this heat-wave and it's not an issue she's prepared to give up on. She kept Stephen at home until the end of the summer term in protest at the school's rule.

"I've refused to send my son to school. It's either his health suffers or his education that suffers and as far as I'm concerned he can learn at another time but he cannot regain his health if he loses it so I am not willing to compromise on it."

In the background, Stephen is busy playing on his games console, keeping cool in the shade, whilst his friends sweated it out in the classroom right until their summer break.

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