The products he sells are decidedly sombre: rows of maroon, green and navy blazers, tartan kilts, heavy knee socks and embla-
zoned ties. But each August, says co-owner Gil Taylor, Beatties clothing shop in Toronto “becomes an absolute zoo.” Since 1951, Taylor has been a major supplier of uniforms to students at more than 30 private schools across Ontario. And every year, he struggles to meet the wishes of young clients trying to live within the rules—while dressing to impress. “The girls always want their kilts way shorter than the parents or the schools approve of, and the boys either want their pants baggier or narrowly tapered,” says Taylor. “Tinkering with the uniform is part of going to private school.” There was a time when that tinkering had serious consequences. Hugh Turnbull, now an investment banker, recalls the mandatory five-mile jaunts around
the track at Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ont., in the 1950s for boys who dared to veer from the strict dress code. But today, headmaster Rodger Wright says the rules have been relaxed. Students can wear any pants but jeans, any striped or solid-color shirt and any blazer at all. Hair can be long if it is clean and combed. “We don’t get too exercised about what the kids are wearing,” says Wright. “If you bug them about it all the time, you lose credibility
in other areas.”
At the all’9irl Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramp's School in Montreal, students
themselves have led the charge to abolish mandatory bloomers—a 70-year-old
tradition. Likened by one alumna to “heavy polyester diapers,” the bloomers' function was originally to prevent a flash of underwear under flapping kilts. Last year, the girls claimed they were archaic. “They are now able to wear boxer shorts instead,” says headmistress Michèle Gorry. “It sounds ridiculous, but it is a big revolution for us.” Still, old habits die hard. Head girl Kim Albright says many girls have returned to bloomers, complaining that boxers were just too baggy. Concedes Albright: “I guess they weren't really that bad after all.”
Other schools have remained decidedly straitlaced. At Lower Canada College, just west of Miss Edgar's, headmaster Ted Staunton insists that uniforms are much as they were 85 years ago: grey flannels, school blazer and tie, hair above the collar. And students are expected to pull up their socks at twicedaily inspections. Yet student council president Jesse Prupas says there remains room for self-expression. “Staunton tends to believe the uniform is strictly enforced, but people circumvent it in subtle ways,” he says. “They wear cool vests under their blazers, or put Band-Aids over their earrings.”
Still, back at Beatties, Taylor questions how much a student can jazz up a navy blue blazer. ‘They're not fashion statements, you know,” says Taylor, running his hand along the lapel of a tiny size 2 jacket. “A blazer is a blazer is a blazer. That will never change.”
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