if you've missed the prologue, read it here
The first term of the new uniform regulations began after the Easter break. Rules regarding overcoats had also been tightened up, with both boys and girls wearing the school double breasted 'dress' coats which just and so covered both the boy's shorts and the girl's skirts.
It's safe to assume every boy felt nervous and self conscious on their first day back at school, their short culottes hung more like a skirt and coupled with white knee socks and black t-bar sandals, they were dressed almost identical to the girls and they knew it. Some of the boys complained at how cold their legs felt, in spite of it being spring time. This gave the girls an edge over the boys, being used to wearing their skirts all though the winter, and either teased the boys for being soft, or suggested they wear tights instead of their knee socks!
The strict uniform rules had an immediate positive affect on some of the boy's work and attendance; regular truants stayed in school and the usually boisterous boys kept their heads down, Neville Hughes included. After the first 18 months, Ashford Academy achieved record pass rates and the Ofsted report put the school high in the national league tables.
The tabloid press had a short lived field day when they got wind of the new uniform rules the school had adopted, with headlines such as 'Boys Will Be Girls' and 'Bonkers Head Bans Boys Pants!'. The broadsheets however printed more rational articles and prompted serious debates about the benefits and drawbacks of the new uniform rules at Ashford Academy. The issue was also raised on Radio 4's Any Questions and Any Answers programmes.
Although many locals began to nickname Ashford Academy 'the girls school', it was well known that the school was a very good one. So much so it was becoming increasingly hard to get a place for those outside of the school's catchment area. In two years, Ashford Academy has risen from a good school, to an excellent one and as such has become a popular choice for parents... yet the last place on earth any boy in the town would choose to attend.
One such boy was called Michael Smith. His mother had read about Ashford Academy in the local newspaper a few years ago when the new uniform regulations appeared; under the headline 'A Mixed Girls School?' The article slated the headmistress and the PTA for forcing the boys to wear what it felt were girls clothes. However a follow up article several months later highlighted the excellent pass rates the school had achieved and praised the school's strict uniform guidelines for being a major contributing factor.
“That's a sissy school!” Claimed 10 year old Michael when he overheard his mother, Karen telling his Auntie Sandra that she hoped he'd get in to Ashford Academy. “I'm not going there!” He insisted.
“If they accept you you're going young man!” His mother retorted, “It's got a better reputation than the grammar school.”
“The neighbour's boy Stephen goes there.” Sandra said, “...and it's done him the world of good.”
“Really?” Karen asked inquisitively.
Sandra nodded as she sipped her tea. “Yes... he was pretty bad for truanting but since the new uniform he's in school everyday as far as I know.”
“Not many boys would want to roam the streets in an Ashford uniform.” Sandra added knowingly.
Karen agreed. “...and you never see any Ashford boys running riot in town after school either.” she added.
“Nope, they go straight to school and straight home again.”
“That's because they're all sissies.” Michael added, reinforcing the stereotype of the Ashford boys.
“Well I'd like to see you say that to Stephen.” Sandra threatened. “He's anything but a sissy.”
Michael knew his aunt's neighbour by sight and there's no way he'd call him a sissy to his face.
“Anyway I think you'd look sweet in an Ashford uniform Michael.” She winked as fear swept across young Michael's face.
“I'm not really going there am I mum?” He asked with an almost pleading tone.
“Yes if you get in.” His mother replied matter of factly. “I put it as your first choice and it is the closest, so fingers crossed.” She added, crossing her fingers with a hopeful grin.
Michael's face dropped as he realised he'd very likely be going to the towns least desirable school for boys.
“Don't worry Michael... I'm sure plenty of your friends will be there too.” His aunt reassured.”and you'll al be dressed exactly the same.”
“Yeah, like girls.” Michael sulked.
“It's not as if you'll be wearing a gym-slip dear.” his aunt said in a reassuring voice.
“But it'll be freezing in those shorts in the winter.” Michael claimed.
“Well the girls manage well enough in short skirts through the winter.”
“But they wear tights.”
“Well some of the boys wear tights too...” Sandra replied. “...in the winter.” She added.
“I’m not going to wear tights... they really are for girls.” Michael retorted.
“They're also warmer than knee socks.” His aunt stated. “I think the boys who do wear tights are far more sensible than those who don't.” she smiled.
Michael tried to visualise it, but didn't like what he saw. “I'll look just like a girl.” He silently figured.
Several months passed before a letter arrived from the education department. Much his mothers joy, Michael had been accepted and he wasn't at all happy. His mother tried to convince him otherwise, “It's a very good school Michael, and it's a lot closer than the comprehensive or the grammar school.” He wasn't buying it. “Imagine walking across town for half an hour in the wind and the rain then spending all day in cold wet trousers... Ashford is a five minute walk.”
During the last few weeks of junior school before the summer holidays, Michael and a few of his fellow classmates got their fair share of teasing for going to Ashford. The boys who'd be attending Ashford all insisted they'd be wearing shorts, but almost everybody else called them culottes, or 'clots'. Rumours were rife amongst the children that Ashford boys also wore girls swimming costumes, gym slips and leotards, with some girls also claiming the boys wore knickers too. Michael however, was fairly sure none of this was true, but just the idea of wearing a gym slip or leotard put the fear of god into him.
It's an evil marketing ploy to fill many shop windows with 'back to school' displays no sooner the summer holidays begin, meaning children of all ages would spend those six long weeks in the summer being constantly reminded they'd soon be 'back to school'. For a minority of boys such window displays were doubly displeasing, as the ubiquitous image of the boy and girl in their generic school uniforms did not represent in any way, shape or form what they'd be wearing come September.
Midway through the summer holidays Michael reluctantly followed his mother to Parker Richards, one of several uniform suppliers in the town. In the window was a sign proudly stating Ashford Boy's Uniforms in Stock! Michael gulped as he glanced at the mannequin in the window. Its short hair made it clear it was a boy, and its short box pleated culottes made it clear it was an Ashford Uniform. His mother took his hand before opening the door and entering.
The loud ding ding of the bell alerted the assistant to their presence. “Hello there, can I help?” She smiled as she greeted Karen and Michael.
“Hello.” Karen said. “My son is starting secondary school in September and needs a uniform.”
“Are you really?” The kind looking lady asked the nervous looking boy, “...and which school are you going to?”
“Ashford.” Karen replied on his behalf. “He's a little nervous about going there.” She added as his hand gripped hers a little more tightly.
“Well you've got nothing to worry about.” The lady said, crouching down and addressing Michael directly. “My son goes to Ashford too and he really likes it... it is a very good school.”
Michael squeezed a smile. She was only being nice and whether or not Ashford was a good school wasn't the issue for him.
“Why don't we get you measured up.” The lady said before returning to her full height and addressing his mother. “So what does he need?” She asked, “Everything?” She assumed.
Karen nodded and smiled, “Shorts, shirts, shoes, overcoat, games kit...” She tapped each item on her fingers as she spoke, “...oh and a swimming costume.” She added pressing down on her thumb. She glanced down at her son who nervously looked up at her, before looking nervously towards the shop assistant and the numerous shelves of school wear behind her.
The assistant smiled down on him. “Don't worry, it's not a girl's swimming costume.” She reassured, knowing full well the fear and apprehension all new Ashford boys went though.
Michael soon found himself being measured; height, chest, waist and hips. Once she had his sizes, she began routing through the shelves. She took a bundle of Cellophane wrapped items under her arm and stepped over to the counter. “These are the Ashford ones.” She said as she placed the bundle down and worked through them. “Girls, girls, boys fourteen to sixteen, girls, girls, boys eleven to thirteen.” She stopped there and placed the 11-13 package to one side.
Michael glanced at the picture on the front of the package which showed the outline of a girls swimsuit. He then looked at the picture on the 'girls' pile and saw it was almost identical. “They're both the same.” He observed.
The lady pointed out that his had 'boys 11-13' printed on it, and the others had 'girls' printed clearly next to the outline of the style. She went on to point out that the girls had a slightly higher leg and also crossed over at the back.
Karen then said, “Yours is more like a vest and trunks in one.”
Why the boys didn't wear trunks was beyond him, but he was convinced his swimming costume was in fact a boys style, and not a girls as he'd initially feared.
“I do like these skorts too.” The assistant said as she opened a clear plastic package and removed a burgundy item. It was heavily pleated and as she unfolded it, added. “It's best if he tries these for size, the labels aren't very accurate.”
Karen bundled her son of to the changing room and told him to remove his shoes and pants. He did as he was told and no sooner he had his pants off, his mother opened the curtain and held out the bizarre pair of shorts for him to step into. They had full length knife pleats all round the back and sides and a flat panel on the front. He could plainly see the two legs as he looked into them, but knew they were like no pair of shorts he'd ever worn before.
His mother pulled them up and showed him how to fasten them. “Fasten this side first.” She said as she fiddled with a button on the inside of the waistband over his right hip, “And then this side.” She said as she fastened a second button on the opposite side.
Michael looked down and saw what could only be described as a skirt. He knew they were shorts really but they felt strange, especially when he ran his fingers over the endless pleats around the back and sides. “Lets go and show the expert.” His mother said as she led him out into the shop to show the assistant.
Michael stood blushing as the two adults asked him to turn slowly so they could see how it looked. “I think the twelve inch may be nicer.” The assistant suggested, “That's the fifteen inch drop and looks a little long.” She added, and with that he was back in the changing room trying a second skort on. This was significantly shorter than the first one and both his mother and the shop assistant agreed that it looked far better.
“It looks like a skirt.” Michael moaned as he looked down at himself.
“Not from behind love.” His mother reassured before drawing his attention to a mirror in which he could have a better look.
As he approached the mirror all he saw was a burgundy PE skirt. His mother told him to turn around for a proper look. He turned and watched as the numerous knife pleats came into full view; fanning down from his waist and holding the garment out slightly. From the side it looked just like a skirt too and the mortified boy continued slowly rotating.
“They're nice aren't they?” His mother commented.
“They are.” Agreed the assistant.
Michael didn't respond, he just rotated and observed the garment he wore in disbelief. Once he could see his rear, he could see where the garment became a pair of shorts. The two legs were just visible between the knife pleats. He lifted his knee and the legs became more obvious. Although he knew full well the skort looked like a skirt from the front and sides, the fact one could tell they were really a pair of shorts from the back was a small yet significant consolation.
Before long he found himself trying on a pair of the regular school shorts. Similar to the PE skort, the box pleated shorts looked like a skirt from most angles. However these 'shorts' had a single button and zip at the back. Michael couldn't fathom why they fastened at the back rather than the front, but figured he'd be able to stand and pee via one of the wide pleated legs.
Michael grew increasingly nervous as the shop assistant took a tape measure and measured the distance from the hem to his knee. “That's well within guidelines.” She said as the tape auto retracted back into its metal casing. “There's also a two inch and a six inch inside leg...” She said to his mother who stood admiring his new school shorts. “Those are four inch.” She added.
Karen asked her son which he'd like, but he couldn't offer an informed opinion so she said, “Well I think the shorter ones are nicer, so well have a couple of two inch legs and those he's wearing.” She smiled. “We can get you some longer ones in the winter if need be.”
“My Jamie wears woolly tights in the winter.” The assistant stated. “Although he did take some convincing.” She added.
“I think Michael will take some convincing too.” Karen replied with a knowing smile.
“I didn't give him a choice in the end.” The assistant answered. “Tights or nothing, I told him.”
A brief silence followed. Karen looked down at her son in his new school shorts. Deep down she couldn't wait to see him with his knee socks and shoes on. “Do they feel OK Michael?” She asked.
Michael looked down and nervously ran his fingers down over his hips towards the hem. Being box pleated they felt very wide, and very odd. “They feel really strange.” He murmured.
The shop assistant placed a small stool next to the boy. “See how they feel when you're sitting.” She suggested, adding, “It sounds strange but some boys prefer the skirt.”
“Er... make sure you smooth them under you as you sit love, you don't want to crease it.” Michael’s mother told him as he began to sit on the small stool. She then turned to the shop assistant and said, “Sorry, did you say some of the boys wear skirts? I didn't know they were allowed.”
“Oh it's definitely within guidelines.” Replied the assistant. Both ladies turned their attention to the boy who sat nervously on the stool in his short box pleated culottes. “Are they comfortable when you're sitting?” She asked. “Or would you like to try a skirt if the shorts are a bit er... constricting.”
An evil grin swept across Karen's face. “Would you like to try a skirt Michael?” She asked her mortified son. “It might be nicer in the summer.” She added persuasively.
He shook his head, not sure if she was teasing or being serious. He looked down at his new school shorts and his pale legs emerging from them. He felt silly in the effeminate shorts but at least they weren't a proper skirt. He glanced up at his mother who smiled sweetly at him.
“Only teasing.” She grinned, finally thawing the frozen look of dread on his face.
“Can I put my pants back on please?” He asked, and before long Michael was finally back in his own clothes. The assistant was totting up the the bill. She smiled at Michael as he reappeared with his own clothes on. He looked and felt a hundred times more at ease now he was finally back in his own clothes.
”OH I almost forgot!” His mother exclaimed, “Shoes!” She realised as she loitered by the counter. “You do stock them I hope!” Karen asked, not recalling seeing a shoe display.
“Yes of course.” The assistant replied. “Sorry I should have thought.” She added, almost apologetically. “He'll need PE pumps too?” She asked.
“Oh yes of course.” Karen replied. “He's a size four.”
The lady returned with a couple of boxes, saying “We're out of the T-bars in a four, but the single strap ones are very similar.”
Michael found himself feeling the fear once again, as what he'd call a girls shoe was strapped onto his foot. His knee felt significantly higher as the second shoe was fastened, and although the heels didn't look 'that' high (1 ½”), they felt much higher than his other shoes. He'd also not worn shoes with a buckle since he was in infant school, and hated fiddling with them then!
“They're very smart.” His mother said. “Do you like them?” She asked.
Michael shook his head. “They look silly mum.” He observed as he stood up in them, holding his trouser legs up so he could see them properly. “These are girl's shoes... they're horrid.” He pleaded.
“I think it's those socks that look silly.” his mother suggested, as he had his bright yellow Bart Simpson socks on. “They'll look much better with school socks.” She smiled.
Karen and the assistant were satisfied they were a good fit, in spite of Michael's protests; 'they look silly', 'but they have a heel', 'but... buckles!'. He didn't say, 'too small', 'too big' or 'not wide enough', so they were purchased, along with a pair of black pumps for PE.
His thoughts were unwillingly cast back to the final days of primary school... the boys wear gym slips, leotards and knickers too... those teasing voices echoed in his head. “Do I need a leotard too?” He asked immediately before cursing himself for for not thinking before speaking.
“Not unless you want one dear.” The assistant smiled. “Not all the rumours about Ashford are true you know.” She reassured. “But you might need some football boots.” She advised encouragingly.
Finally the assistant suggested something Michael considered to be for boys only... football boots! She also reminded his mother that he'd probably need some training shoes for cross country and track & field sports.
“He'll need plenty of socks too.” His mother added in an impatient tone. The bill had more than doubled with the cost of the the shoes, the pumps, the trainers and the football boots. She cast her eyes over the small stand by the till, upon which was a variety of socks. She began grabbing a couple of each... white ankle socks, white knee socks. “I'll get you some of these for winter.” she said as she took a few pairs of long white over knee socks.
“I'm not wearing those Mum.” Michael stated as he watched her grab a few pairs of long white stockings.
“Well come winter you might be grateful of them.” She replied, “...and these too.” She added, taking up a pair of thick black woolly tights for good measure.
“I'm definitely not wearing those!” He puked as he noticed the tights his mother added to the ever growing pile of clothing on the counter.
“Well it's up to you love... it's better to have and not need...” She replied as her son nervously turned his face away from the thick woolly tights and over knee socks which sat on top of his new school uniform.
He glanced around the shop as the assistant continued totting up the bill. The two mannequins in the window were silhouetted against the day light. He stepped closer as he tried to remember which was the boy and which was the girl as he realised how similar their outlines were.
Both women glanced over at Michael as he quietly loitered by the window display. Karen followed his gaze to the mannequins. “He's not too keen on the Ashford uniform.” she said quietly to the assistant.
“I'm sure he'll get used to it.” The assistant said with confidence. “My Jamie... er James hated it at first...” she paused. “...it doesn't bother him these days.” She added as she totted up the price of the shorts, skorts, blouses, polo shirts, shoes, pumps, etc... “I'll throw the socks and tights in for free if you want...” She suggested with a smile.
“Are you sure?” Karen asked.
The lady nodded and smiled, “Yes of course.”
“Thank you that's very kind.”
Michael kicked his heels as the assistant neatly placed each item into a large carrier bag. She made small talk with his mother about how good a school Ashford is and how well her son has settled in. Karen paid for the items before passing Michael the carriers bags which held his new uniform. “Thank you very much.” She smiled at the assistant, before pushing her son towards the door.
“You're welcome, call again.” The lady replied. “And you have fun at Ashford.” She said to the young Michael as he glanced back.
Michael smiled nervously and said thank you, before being shoved out of the door and onto the main street.
He was instantly faced with a group of boys from his former junior school. “Oh Mike's been to Parker Richard's... Have you got your culottes and leotard in there?” One teased, kicking his bags.
Michael blushed profusely. “They're shorts!” He blasted back. “and no... we don't wear leotards!” He insisted.
“Come along Michael.” His mother instructed. “Take no notice of them.” She advised.
When they arrived home, she took him straight to his room and began unpacking his new uniform. She placed his shirts and shorts on hanger and gave them to him to hang in his wardrobe, apart from one of each which she neatly placed on his bed. Michael glanced at the garments on his bed as his mother unpacked his selection of new white socks and placed all but one pair on his bed. She looked at her son who stood silently before her. “Well get undressed.” She said. “I want to see you with it on.”
“What now?” He asked.
“Yes.” She replied as she pulled apart the Cellophane wrapper of his swimming costume and unfolded it on her lap. “You can try this on first.” She said, holding the feminine garment up for him to see.
“Do I have to?.” He moaned as he slumped on the edge of his bed and kicked off his shoes and socks.
“Well you want to know it fits OK before you go swimming don't you?”
Michael reluctantly agreed and within a few minutes, found himself pulling on the swimsuit.
“Make sure the straps are straight.” His mother advised as she untwisted one of them. “That looks nice.” She smiled as she turned him to face her.
“It's like a girl's swimsuit.” Michael sulked as he looked down at himself.
“It is a bit like a girls one.” His mother agreed, before reminding him of the differences between the boys and girls swimsuits. “And at least you wont have to worry about your trunks coming off when you dive in.” She grinned, reminding him of that embarrassing occasion a few years ago.
“Yeah I suppose.” Michael admitted as he stood shyly in the unusual garment.
“Well lets see how the uniform fits.” His mother smiled.
Michael eagerly pulled his arms out of the swimsuit before changing into some clean underwear.
His mother unbuttoned the shirt before passing it to him. She watched him fiddle with the buttons as they fastened the opposite way to all his other shirts. Once done, she passed him the shorts and said. “You'll have to get used to the fastening... I'm not going to dress you every morning.”
“Why don't they fasten at the front like normal shorts?” He asked as he fiddled blindly with the button, before pulling up the zip.
“Because they wouldn't look as nice with the zip on the front.” She replied as she tuned him by the hips to face her. “...plus you can easily wee through the leg.” She added, holding the short wide pleated leg out, showing him there was plenty of room.
“We may as well be wearing skirts.” Michael said as he looked down at himself. “I'm going to feel such an idiot walking to school like this.”
“I did suggest a skirt in the shop love.” His mother reminded him. “Now I can always pick you one up if you don't like the shorts.” She mischievously suggested.
Michael shook his head.
“I didn't think so.” His mother said. “And in spite of how you feel, I think you look very nice.”
Michael looked down at himself once more and frowned, “Can I take it off now?”
“You haven't tried the shoes yet.” His mother replied.
Michael shuffled impatiently, eager to wear normal clothes again. “But I tried them on in the shop.”
“I know they fit, but I want to see them with the rest of your uniform.” His mother smiled. “Here, put these on.” She said as she passed him the pair of white knee socks.
Before long Michael found himself dressed fully in his new uniform. “I look like such a girl in this mum.” He sulked, sounding almost on the verge of tears.
“Of course you don't.” His mother replied. “You look like a very smart school boy.” She added. “Come on, I want to take a photo of you.”
“Oh mum.” He moaned as she took him to the hallway and stood him by the front door. She armed herself with her camera, took several photos, insisted he smiled, and took several more.
“Let's get one with the over coat on.” She suggested, passing him the double breasted black coat.
Michael fiddled with the buttons and fastened the belt before looking at his reflection in the large hallway mirror. The coat had an a-line cut below the waist and it just covered his shorts, leaving his pale thin legs fully exposed. The fact it covered the effeminate shorts was a bonus, but it looked like he'd just forgotten to put his pants on. His mother took several photos him wearing his coat and asked him if he liked it. “Not really.”
“Well it isn't a cheap one, and it'll be good in the rain.”
“But my legs'll get soaked.” He observed as he looked down at his bare legs, clad in only thin white knee socks.
“It's only rain Michael.” His mother replied, dismissing his complaint. “Your legs will dry out quick enough.” She suggested. “When I was at school we used to dry our wet socks on the radiators.” She added, reminiscing her own school days.
“Can I take it off now?”
His mother nodded and Michael began unfastening his overcoat. His mother took the coat from him and hung it on the coat hook by the mirror. Michael began heading upstairs.
“Where are you going?”
“You said I could change.” Michael replied, clearly puzzled.
“I only meant your coat love.” She smiled. “Now come on, I want to get used to seeing you in our new uniform whilst I make supper.”
Michael timidly followed his mother to the kitchen. His new shorts felt very odd as they barely came into contact with his legs as he walked, and the clumpy little heels of his new shoes clacked noisily on the hardwood floor. He went to sit down but his mother said, “With those kind of shorts you really have to smooth them beneath you when you sit down. I don't want to iron them every night.”
Over the next few weeks, his mother took great pleasure in telling any visitor to their home that Michael would soon be attending Ashford Academy, and often showed off the photos she'd taken of him in his uniform. The night before his first day his mother made a big fuss... she ironed his culottes and blouse whilst he polished his school shoes and made sure he had his books and pens and things. She reminded him how good the school was whilst he worried about looking like a sissy an being teased. His mother had heard this moaning too many times and said, “Look Michael if you don't get this 'sissy' thing out of your head I'll buy you a dress and I will make you wear it! Do you understand?”
“But...” Michael peeped.
“But nothing.” His mother snapped. “You are not a sissy and you will not look like a sissy...” She barked as she clipped his culottes on to a skirt hanger. “...and if I hear you say you look like or feel like a sissy one more time, believe me young man...” She threatened as she took his blouse from the picture rail, coupled it with his culottes and passed them to him.
Michael wore a look of absolute terror. His mother rarely shouted like this so he quickly murmured an apology.
“Well I'm glad to hear it.” She replied much more calmly. “The last thing I want is to start buying my sissy son frilly knickers and pretty dresses and sending him to bed in a nightie... so it's entirely up to you Michael.”
The uniform was one thing, an actual dress and frilly knickers was another. So Michael decided to put up and shut up. He hung his uniform neatly in his room and vowed never to 'think sissy' again.
Later that evening as he lay in his bed trying to get to sleep, he kept staring at the silhouette of his school shorts and shirt. He visualised how his feet looked clad in white knee socks and black Mary Jane's. He'd not worn the uniform since the day it was purchased several weeks ago, and he wasn't looking forward to wearing it tomorrow... outside, all day.
The following morning, both Michael and his mother were a bundle of nerves as he buttoned up his jacket. His mother picked up his satchel and opened it. “You'd better take a 'brolly just in case it rains.” She said as she slipped a small umbrella into his school bag.
“It would have been easier to get me a coat with a hood.” Michael silently mused. “Thanks mum.” He replied.
His mother kissed him on the forehead and wished him good luck. She smiled as she watched him walk down the path, proud that she'd got him into Ashford Academy. She adored his uniform. He looked so sweet in his Mary Jane's and white knee socks and his box pleated culottes. “It's almost like having a daughter.” She pondered as she began the housework.
Michael was one of about ten boys from his old primary school who ended up at Ashford, as opposed to about 50 girls. It wasn't a big school, but it wasn't in a big town. However the male female split became increasingly disproportionate since the new uniform regulations were brought in; another reason why Ashford had become known as 'the girls school'.
A few of the girls from junior school teased the boys they knew, telling them how pretty they looked in their culottes and white socks. Michael got and extra dose of teasing for his shoes, being Mary Jane's rather than the marginally more boyish T-bar sandals which most of the other boys wore. Michael did spot a handful of other boys who also wore the same or similar shoes to his own, with a more pronounced heel and lacking the t-strap. And much to Michael’s surprise, far more boys than he expected were wearing tights instead of socks.