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The Evolution of Ridley’s Dress Code and School Uniform

As Ridley moves towards a new uniform design, Archives Intern and Queen’s University Concurrent Education student, Ella Foss ’16 takes a look back on the traditions, functionality, and design trends that have inspired more than a century of our school’s dress.  

Since the establishment of Ridley, it has been clear that uniformity was an intentional way to create a sense of community, to place all students on an even playing field, and to foster a strong sense of belonging. The first headmaster, J.O. Miller was determined that, “Ridley College from opening day would be meticulous about the students’ school dress.” In staying true to Miller’s vision, a dress code has remained a constant, while changing with the times as Ridley itself has matured. To understand how the school has arrived at the uniform’s next update, we must first revisit the trends from decades past.


1889 to 1910s

During the early years, when the packing list for boarders included “knickerbockers” and “pocket handkerchiefs,” a Ridley College cap with an embellished orange Ridley crest was issued to students for weekday wearing. At this time, the remaining garments of the dress code did not include the emblem but promoted a professional style—the boys sported suits on school days, consisting of trousers, button-up shirt, tie, and blazer). Given the church services, Sundays in the late 1800s were even more formal; the boys wore black suit jackets and black waistcoats (suit vest).

Images of the First Cricket Elevens decorate our ACTAs, with Ridleians sporting white blazers which would eventually inspire the Prefect blazers of more recent times. This nod to Ridley’s British roots dates back as early as 1900 and remained through to the last year of cricket in 2001. As early as 1919, the Second Cricket Team can be seen wearing the black blazers with orange piping, which would soon become part of the Lower School uniform.

1920s

Ridley’s British independent school roots were also evident in the boys’ post-war attire. “Eton collars were the bane of the Junior’s existence…[they] found so many excuses to avoid wearing the collar that it amounted to passive rebellion.” Due to the perceived discomfort of the garment, older students were permitted to instead don Marlborough sack coats.

1950s to 1970s

Twenty years later, “blues and greys” became the number one dress, to be worn on Sundays and for Chapel.

As indicated in the ACTA of the era,  “This term has seen the School emerging in new blue flannel blazers with an embroidered Ridley crest on the pocket.” At the same time, the Arts Tie was introduced, with thin, widely spaced orange and white stripes on a black background, still worn today by our thespians, musicians and artists alike.

It must be said that Ridley’s long-standing Cadet Programme has had significant influence over aspects of school dress. Our traditional military uniforms have progressed from army green to navy, khakis and maple leaf red. 

At this time, the regular uniform of the Lower School students included the black blazer adorned with orange piping, a white, grey, or light blue dress shirt, the Lower School tie (orange, black, and sliver) and either grey or black pants. Blues and greys were worn only on Sundays, with strictly grey, black, or navy blue socks. Unbelievably, at the time, every clothing item had to be labelled with the students’ name, down to the individual sock!

Perhaps the most casual shift during this time was the introduction of “summer dress,” which became an alternative option for the Lower School students during the warmer months. A golf shirt and grey or navy Bermuda Shorts worn with navy blue or grey knee socks made the heat and outdoor play more enjoyable.

In 1971, a new disciplinary code was put into place,  based upon several firm beliefs: “that the individual student must be given increasing responsibility for his decisions and his actions; that the order and efficiency of the School should be maintained with a minimum of oppressive interference upon a boy’s freedom; and that good discipline does not depend necessarily upon absolute conformity, nor does it mean that a student’s cherished individualism need be sacrificed.”

The students of Merritt House North can still be found marking Frau Day each year to nod to Josselyn’s self-described “eye-sore” look.

While older students continued to wear a plain jacket or one with small checks, some of the students found their individually in loud, colourful ties. It’s no surprise then that ‘Frau Day’ has its roots in this decade, when Merritt House North student, Mark Josselyn ’76 “set about to make his own ‘fashion statement.’” Back then, he would be found wearing contrasting patterns, stripes and plaid, from his tie to shirt, to his jacket, pants and even socks. The term ‘Frau’ (Josselyn’s nickname) was used to “describe anyone messy, disheveled or dirty…” The students of Merritt House North can still be found marking Frau Day each year to nod to Josselyn’s self-described “eye-sore” look.

In the fall of 1973, Ridley welcomed female students for the first time. The dress code, previously written for all male students, was amended to state “or equivalent” for females. There really were no clear standards outlined for the young women: what was seen as within the rules varied between faculty members. For the first Ridley women and staff alike, it was difficult to determine what fell within the rules. It was a time unprecedented in Canadian independent schools, and Headmaster Richard Bradley’s progressive decision to go co-ed meant Ridley had to chart new territory—including with its uniform.

Students have always worked to show their individuality through the uniform and in this liberal era some students elected to wear three-piece suits, while others pushed the limits of “trousers” by wearing corduroy pants. Summer dress was only an option for the boys.

It was a time unprecedented in Canadian independent schools, and Headmaster Richard Bradley’s progressive decision to go co-ed meant Ridley had to chart new territory—including with its uniform.

1980s

By the 1980s, the majority of Ridleians abandoned the busy and bright ties and began sporting popularized thin monochrome versions. The College’s first cohort of girls could wear pants or a skirt/dress which went below the knee with socks or nylons, and often displayed their individuality by way of their jewelry and hairstyle. It did, however, take some time for a formal female uniform to be formalized.

At the end of the decade, the Lower School updated its uniform. The black and white kilt, white button-up Oxford shirt or turtleneck, and black sweater or vest are cited as staples for the younger Ridleians.

“Change is needed everywhere one goes, and luckily at Ridley, most things simply got better [with change].”

– clipped article found in the 1988 ACTA

1990s to 2000s

During the 1990s the Upper School female students continued to push the limits of the dress code; wearing babydoll dresses, Mary Janes, and small hoop earrings (studs alone being permitted previously). Headmaster Doug Campbell, among others, sought to improve the standards of the students’ daily dress and resurfaced the discussions surrounding the dress code. The fruits of those ongoing debates came to fruition in 2000 when the Upper School gained its first official classroom uniform.

By the 21st century, the daily classroom dress included grey or blue trousers, the blue plaid kilt, a white button up shirt, tie, and a blue or grey pull-over sweater or vest. Blues and greys remained the number one dress. With dwindling competitors in Ontario, 2001 marked the final year of cricket at Ridley, and the white sport coats with orange piping were reassigned as Prefect blazers—this distinctive addition complementing the existing Prefect Tie and an homage to Ridley’s history.

The last year of the white Prefect blazers was 2016: a new system of recognition was adopted the following year: white piping along the lapel of the of the Prefect.

2010s

The last year of the white Prefect blazers was 2016: a new system of recognition was adopted the following year: piping along the lapel of the of the Prefect (white) and House Captain’s blazers (respective house colour).


Fashion Forward

Along with the changing times, Ridley has experienced many positive transformations, cementing its position as one of the top independent schools in Canada—the introduction of co-education, technology, younger grades, the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, and positive education have been among the most notable. It’s no wonder then that our student attire has remained a strong marker of our connectedness.

As we can garner from the evolution of Ridley’s dress code and uniform, every once in a while a refresh is necessary. In the coming years, our alma mater is planning for another redesign that nods to our storied past but serves the current era. A Uniform Committee, made up of students, faculty and staff, has been working to restyle the look and functionality of the uniform. In speaking with key members of this group, the update is said to be inspired by Ridley’s traditions and history—and we can’t wait to see future generations of students continue to proudly sport our insignia and that telltale vibrant pop of orange.

By Ella Foss ’16

Special thanks is owed to interviewees:

Ken Hutton, Trish Loat, Geoffrey Park ’80, Zack Jones, Gary Atack, Michele-Elise Burnett ’86, Wendy Darby ’99, Janet Lewis, Lance Postma, and Hanna Kidd.