School uniform: the dreaded Gymslip

July is the time of the year when parents are starting to think about next school year’s uniforms for their children. And they can be expensive items to buy – more of this later.

I am reminded of the time when I attended my local primary school in Kirkstall where I grew up.

In those days, although the wearing of uniforms was not compulsory, my primary school encouraged those parents who could afford it (and maybe some who could not) to purchase uniforms which for the girls was the wearing of gymslips, an article of clothing I detested. The gymslip was ‘invented’, probably at the beginning of the twentieth century, or perhaps earlier, to protect the modesty of girls and young women at boarding schools ‘doing gym’ and was the most unflattering garment ever devised. For some reason it became the universal uniform in state schools. My school’s colour was maroon and the gymslip was gathered in by a gaudy bright yellow sash tied at the side in a slip knot. The irony was that when we did ‘gym’ (we called it PT short for physical training) we took our gymslips off! And there was not much in the way of gym equipment.

Instead of gym or PT, when the weather was fine, we had walks in the nearby Hawksworth Wood. Everyone loved this. It was a marvellous way of children expending surplus energy, playing games of ‘Hide and Seek’, ‘Robin Hood’ and exercising our imagination. We were brought up on Enid Blyton’s ‘Far Faraway Tree’ and this tree or that was imagined to be it. At the time, most of the trees were oak but we learnt to distinguish them from the invasive sycamore, discovered oak apples made by insects and, later in the year, had acorn battles.

Flowing through the wood is Oil Mill Beck. Branching off the Beck there is a small old goit which took water into Kirkstall Forge, originally to turn the waterwheels and latterly supplying water during the manufacturing process. One day the goit was empty of water and all the children from my class had the novel experience of running along the dry concrete bottom.

It was dry apart from a slimy green slick in the middle and I slipped in it soaking my gymslip. When we got back to the classroom I had to take off the wet garment and the teacher put it on a radiator to dry. Before long a most appalling stink pervaded the classroom and my classmates were full of “Urghs!” and “Aahs!” I then learnt the meaning of the word ‘embarrassment’.

When I got home my mother went barmy. But despite her best endeavours, she could not remove either the stain or the stink. That, as far as I was concerned, was the end of the gymslip and saved my younger sister from inheriting it.

No doubt my mother was concerned about the cost of replacement. Uniforms were not cheap even then. Nowadays school uniforms for girls are far more sensible but they can still be expensive. It has been estimated that a full uniform including school sports wear can cost up to £350 per child. Leeds City Council has given grants to the organisation Leeds School Uniform Exchange and 80% of schools in Leeds participate in this scheme.

Second-hand, but in good condition uniforms are given free to anyone needing them. All but three schools in South Leeds participate in the scheme. Full details at on Facebook ‘Leeds School Uniform Exchange’ or email:

In addition, school uniforms in good repair can be obtained from Cottingley Children’s Centre, Cottingley Drive, LS11 0JP every Wednesday and Thursday 9am-3pm; St Luke’s Cares, 250 Dewsbury Road, LS11 6JQ every Wednesday from 2:30-4:30pm; BITMO’s Gate, Aberfield Gate, Belle Isle, LS10 3QH every weekday, hours vary.

Apart from giving out uniforms, all these outlets welcome donations of school uniforms in good repair. So please do not hesitate to donate a uniform even if no replacement is required. You will not only help those in need of uniforms but also help the environment by recycling them.


This post was written by Hon Alderwoman Elizabeth Nash

Photo: By David – originally posted to Flickr as Hyde Grammar School, Creative Commons licence 2.0

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