The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 7 July

Thomas Blaikie gets hot under the collar over boys who wear skirts for school
Dear Thomas
What on earth is going on in schools these days? I was dismayed to hear about those boys in Exeter who turned up for school in skirts. They were protesting apparently because they weren’t allowed to wear shorts during the hot weather. But far from being disgraced and punished, they were given celebrity treatment on the national news. The headteacher said she would consider allowing shorts in future.
Isabel Lambe, Tiverton

Dear Isabel
I rather agree. I am as mystified as you. About 50 boys at Isca Academy in Exeter, a state secondary school, were involved. Cleverly they wore the girls’ uniform skirts of their school, which are black and white tartan. So they were, strictly speaking, correctly dressed, just the wrong sex. And they had the cheek to say it was the headteacher’s idea, which it had been – as a joke, obviously.

Did they realise they were going to get quite so much media attention for their skirts? Whatever, they rose to the occasion with aplomb. The ‘look’ was in fact very successful.

When I was that age, I treasured the superior grown-up status of long trousers. Nothing would have induced me to demand the right to wear shorts. It doesn’t seem to have been pointed out to these boys that in the real world, the shorts option does not exist. The Duke of Edinburgh didn’t turn up for Trooping the Colour in shorts. Despite the heat, he was wearing a wool morning coat and waistcoat. It used to be said that civil servants might remove their jackets but absolutely nothing else when the temperature reached 80°F.

Well, times are a-changing. It’s no use trying to enforce a strict regime. This is a classic situation of modern manners. One of the parents of these boys says she is proud that they stood up for their rights. But will she be quite so thrilled if the headteacher does indeed change the uniform to include shorts for boys, which she will then have to buy? And which might never be worn. We don’t have that many heatwaves.

Coming down heavily on these children may well have backfired. The headteacher acted wisely to defuse the situation. I suggest she makes it school policy that regulation girls’ skirts may be worn by boys in hot weather. That’ll probably be the last she’ll hear of it. Other schools should do the same.

But looking at it another way, maybe these Exeter schoolboys have unhinged the dress code of centuries for good. Male bus drivers in Nantes also took to skirts in the recent boiling heat. Perhaps, at last, skirts for gentlemen is gathering momentum as a movement. Discrimination and unfairness will finally be terminated. What could be more perfect for a non-sexist age?

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT… Holding the door open

Returning from Devon this week, I stopped at the Leigh Delamere service station on the M4 in Wiltshire. Although it is only 103 miles from my home, it isn’t my favourite service station: that would be Sedgemoor.

Leigh Delamere has a row of four swing doors at the entrance, one of which was jammed open when I visited. A lady who had just passed through one of the other doors kindly held it open for me, but I plunged through the already open door as the easier option. I mumbled thanks to the lady for holding the door open for me that I hadn’t gone through. On leaving, having gathered strength from the fabulous Costa experience (minimal change from £10), I thought I could meet the challenge of one of the doors that had to be pushed open. I managed it and then held it for a lady coming the other way.

But she did as I had done on arrival and went through the one that was permanently open, thanking me loudly as she did so. This is a better outlook for modern manners, don’t you think?