Away with Frozen Knees
If you have ever seen pictures of polar explorers braving the blizzards of Antarctica, you will have noticed that there is not an inch of bare skin to be seen. Human skin that is. You don't have to strain yourself to find the reason. The same principle applies when the plumber lags a water pipe to protect it from the frost. He doesn't leave odd stretches of the pipe bare for the weather to go to town on, he covers all of it. Common sense, isn't it?
Then why, in the name of sanity, in the middle of a British winter, are the knees of tens of thousands of schoolboys up and down the country thought to be immune from any thing the weather may have up its dirt sleeve?
What weird illogicality is it that makes a mum wrap up her prodigy in pullovers and scarves and Wellingtons, nag at him for not for not remembering to put his wooly vest on, yet deliberately send him out to face the elements with a four inch section of bare legs half way down his legs? Whatever curious reasons (and some of tem ARE curious) adults may think of, not one of them makes any sense. I suppose one of the most overused excuses is that it is traditional for boys to wear short trousers. Well, if this is so, it is not a very old tradition, not much older than me, in fact, and I am not exactly in my dotage.
When my father was a schoolboy. He wore a very sensible "arrangement of knickerbockers descending to a couple of inches below the knee with woolen stockings reaching no doubt, the same distance above them. 0nly for sports and games did he wear shorts, and judging by the photographs I've seen, THEY were pretty long ones.
The only people I know who have a genuine tradition for bare knees in the middle of winter are the Scots, and Scottish knees have had centuries to get used to the idea. Anyway, like the little leather garments you see on those jolly yodeling Tyrolean characters, I suspect the kilt is very far from being the order of the day in the depths of the Scottish winter. Why DID they invent trews?
Well, my father was lucky, but by the time he had a schoolboy son of his own, he seems to have forgotten. When I was a member of the short trousered brigade, the idea of any boy under the age of 14 wearing long ones lead to raised eyebrows, and like the subject of underwear, was talked about only in whispers. Aping our olders and beaters, they would say.
So, while these adults eskimoed up to the cars and down to the ground at the slightest sign of snow, were going on about how marvelous it was to be a boy, wishing they could have THEIR time over again, and "You're only young once " and so on, we privileged boys crept agonizingly about with great swollen, chapped, and chilblained knees, a misery to ourselves and a trial to our parents. "Come on," they would say "Be a man" as they slapped Wintergreen ointment on to our raw and red not aching joints. It could just as well have been curry powder. What we would have given to BE men at those times, and never wear short trousers again!
That all happened about 25 years ago, and there have been quite a lot of changes since then. But not, sad to say, in the school uniform department. I find it remarkable that in this age of achievement and progress, I have to suffer the sight of own 11-year-old son hobbling about with sore, weather beaten knees, because, only when he rises to a more exalted form in school will he be allow to wear long trousers, and then only on Sunday! So, when I, in turn tell HIM to be a man and putt up with it for a couple of years more, I think I know just what dark and hidden thoughts are passing through his head.
If you can tell me of what advantage it is to a pair of young knees That thy must suffer the torture of icy winds, of sleet, snow and frost until they resemble the contours of some weird, parched Martian landscape, only to be wrapped up at 14 or so, seldom to see the light of day again, please put me right. And also tell me why it should be confined to knees. Why shouldn't elbows or ankles or shoulders receive the same treatment? If on the other hand, you cannot see the logic of such a painful fashion, then I think the time is ripe for a schoolboy revolution. How about a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Boys' Knees in Winter?
by Roy Raymonde, newspaper editorial, December 11, 1966
Related Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[ 1960s] [ Short pants suits] [ Long pants suits] [ Jacket and trousers]
[ Eton suits] [ Shortalls] [ Kilts] [ School uniforms]