School ban on ‘iconic’ Australian hairstyle

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Many might see it as Aussie as meat pies, Chiko rolls and AFL, but one Catholic college in Victoria has labelled the mullet as a look that is not welcome on school grounds.

Students from Emmanuel College, in Melbourne’s west, have hit back at the school’s strict uniform policy that bans make-up and nail polish, as well as the mullet – with students claiming it is an iconic Australian hairstyle.

The complaints are in response to a letter sent to students at the school by Emmanuel College principal Dr Janine Biggin, stating “excessive hairstyles”, which include mullets and dreadlocks, were unacceptable.

“When students make a choice not to observe these standards, they are choosing to disregard college expectations and staff will be obliged to issue consequences to assist the students to be responsible for their choices,” Dr Biggin said.

Earrings only belong in ears, school says

When it comes to earrings, Dr Biggin said students may only wear a “single, simple ear-stud” in the earlobe only.

“Other earring or sleeper styles should not be worn. Nose piercings and other piercings are not permitted. Clear studs are not permitted.”

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The no-no list also included “make-up, fake nails, nail polish” and “fake eyelashes/extensions”.

Students fought back in an open letter to staff and the wider school community, saying they had noticed some expectations were “becoming stricter”.

“Students are not intentionally seeking to disregard the college’s expectations; rather, they may not perceive those expectations as significant due to the lack of impact it has on their education and behaviour in school.” the letter said.

“Dreadlocks are commonly worn by people of colour, and due to them being deemed as unacceptable, it raises questions and concerns of racial bias within the college,” the students’ letter stated.

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Restricting earring styles was, the letter also said, “excessively limited”.

“Earrings have no impact on a student’s education and learning and it is their personal choice, the students’ have rights over their body and can do what they choose. Clear studs have also previously been allowed as a replacement for piercings other than the lobes, and it is obscure as to why they are prohibited now. If the college only wants one piercing in the earlobe, then clear studs should be allowed, as they are subtle and able to blend in with the natural skin tone and prevent piercing holes from closing up.”

The launch of a petition by the school’s students call for improvements to be made to the Emmanuel College uniform policy.

But with Dr Biggin standing firm on strict uniform guidelines at the school, it is unclear how successful the student-led campaign in support of a more relaxed approach to the school’s dress code will be.

“As a matter of equity, comfort, and safety, along with pride in the college, we maintain clear expectations for student appearance and grooming,” Dr Biggin said, pointing out that the college’s uniform policy was developed in consultation with school community families, through the School Advisory Council.

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For the students, though, saving the mullet is seen as a recognition of something they claim is an iconic Australian look.

“Mullets are a popular Australian hairstyle and it’s unclear why it is deemed as unacceptable, as many students have mullet hairstyles already despite the expectations and are often not extreme,” the letter said.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]