Swedish train drivers get a bit skirty over uniform rules - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson

Train drivers in Sweden were banned from wearing shorts to keep cool in the hot summer weather - so they decided to wear skirts.

Swedish train drivers get a bit skirty over uniform rules

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 10 June 2013

Train drivers in Sweden were banned from wearing shorts to keep cool in the hot summer weather – so they decided to wear skirts.

And in so doing they triggered a debate around the world about the appropriateness of men wearing female attire in public.

About a dozen drivers on the Roslagsbanan line north of Stockholm made the choice after their employer, Arriva, took over the line and put the ban in place, despite temperatures reaching 35 degrees Celsius in the drivers’ cabins. “The passengers stare at us but so far no one has said anything – well, not to me, anyway,” said driver Martin Åkersten. “And I don’t mind as it’s more about comfort.”

Their fashion choice prompted headlines worldwide, with the company admitting that its dress code did not prevent men from wearing skirts.

“Our thinking is that one should look decent and proper when representing Arriva and the present uniforms do that. If the man only wants a skirt then that is OK. To tell them to do something else would be discrimination,” Arriva communications manager Tomas Hedenius told local newspaper Mitti.

Wearing skirts as a form of protest is not a new phenomenon. In 2011, schoolboy Chris Whitehead took advantage of a loophole in the rules of Impington Village College near the English city of Cambridge that allowed boys to wear skirts to school, but not shorts, during the summer months. His stand led the school to review its school uniform policy; he also went on receive recognition from the human rights charity Liberty.

Skirts for men are common in many cultures, from the Scottish kilt to the south Asian sarong, made famous by David Beckham in 1998. (After his retirement from football this year, he said: “I look back on some stuff and think I can't believe I actually wore that. I have no regrets, though – I knew at the time it was good.”)

Despite the efforts of designers from Jean Paul Gaultier to John Galliano over the years, the look has failed to catch on for the majority of men in Western countries.

Only this summer J.W. Anderson triggered controversy at the London men’s fashion week when he dressed his models in skirts, attracting the attention of mid-market right-wing newspaper the Daily Mail, which published pictures under the headline “Is there a prize for the stupidest outfit?”

But there is clearly some market for this kind of wear. Perhaps the most popular male skirt is the Utilikilt, which each year sells more than 15,000 of its manly skirts in military colours.

“That’s fantastic news! This means the publicity helped,” said Mr Åkersten, on being told the ban was lifted. “I’m not going to miss the skirt though, I like shorts – that’s the whole reason I started this thing.”

Questions for discussion or research:

  • How do you feel about the uniform rules at our school? Do you think that they are fair?
  • What is the point of a uniform? Why do many organisations choose to have them?
  • Is it generally more acceptable for a woman to dress like a man or for a man to dress like a woman? Why do you think this is?
  • “The clothes make the man” is a common expression. What do you think this means?

Resources for you


  • Who wears a uniform and why? Start a debate with this thoughtful PowerPoint activity.

School uniforms

  • Help students learn the endings for regular-ar Spanish verbs by talking about their school uniform.

School uniforms: Good or bad?

  • Most students have an opinion on school uniforms. Explore this issue – and get them writing – with this discussion text.

Gender equality

  • Examine the issue of male and female gender equality both globally and at home with a lesson from TES Connect partner Plan International.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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