School Uniform

A school uniform consisting of a blazer, school tie, and dress pants which is worn by boys in many countries, especially English-speaking countries. This uniform evolved

Figure 1.--English boys in their full school kit preparing to go to church.
in the England during the late 19th century. Blazers were at first sports wear, but in the 1920s began to replace Eton suits and stiff Eton collars and by the 1930s had become the standard uniform at many private schools.

Some of the common elements of traditional British school uniforms include:
Caps: Virtually all British schoolboys wore peaked caps through the 1950s. Both state and private schools required them. A great variety of colors, including circles and school creasts decorated these caps which flooded British streets with boys going and coming to school. As the fashion of wearing caps and hats wained, school caps began to disapear in the 1960s. By the 1980s only a handful of private schols still required them.
Blazer: A great variety of colors and stripped blazers were worn by British boys from the 1920s through the 1970s. The cost of the blazers and a trend of simplyfying the uniform caused many schools using blazers, primarily preparatory schools, to retire the more expensive stripped blazers. Most secondary schools continue to require blazers, but it is usually a basic black one. Tie: British schoolboys wore ties to school. Both state and private schools required them. The ties were usually stripped in the chool colors. Often prefects or boys who "won their colors" received the honor of wearing distinctive colors. Many elementary schools in the 1980s began allowing boys to wear more casual clothes, including shirts without ties. Almost all secondary schools, however, still require ties.
Shirt: The standard school boy shirt after Eton suits disappeared during the 1930s were grey straight collared shirts. For dress occasions a white shirt was substituted. Some elementary schools in recent years have intoduced more casual white or blue polo-style shirts.
Trousers: Senior boys wore long grey or black trousers. Most elementary boys and some secondary schoolboys (at least in the first two years) wore short grey trousers. A few private schools kept even older boys in shorts. Various materials were used, including flannel, rayon-nylon, and terylene worsted. Some schools adopted cotton corduory in grey or brown.
Kilt: Many Scottish and even a few Irish schools employed the kilt. A few made it required wear. Because of the cost it was at most Scottish schoolsusually only required on special occasions and Sundays. At some schools, usually private schools, boys were allowed the option of wearing kilts instead of long or short pants.
Shoes: Elementary-age boys often wore closed-toe brown "t" strap sandals for normal school wear. Some boys wore redish-brown or blue sandals or double strap sandals. Clark's school sandals were a standard. Some private schools required them. Sandals are still widely worn, but the center strap is now commonly quite thick. Regular black oxfords were used for dress wear or by older boys.
Socks Boys wearing shorts generally wore grey knee socks, or turn-over-top socks as the British might say. Some school pemitted ankle socks (or sandals and no socks) during the summer. Many schools had socks with the school colors at the top band, but many boys wore plain grey knee socks. Some Scottish schools had colored knee socks. British boys of any age never wore white socks with shorts, except for sports. English boys never wore white socks, except for cricket, as white socks, both ankle and knee socks, were generally worn by girls and thus seen as girls' socks.

Schools have differed greatly from country to country and over time in the required uniform pants. Curiously while British boys in the 1970s at some schools were arguing to be allowed to wear long pants, some American boys were asking for the right to wear shorts. Schools have had various ways of assessing the proper length or who could wear longs. In most cases it was by grade or form, but in some cases by age or even height. Schools and students have also disagreed over the length of the shorts. Schools have had rules in some cases prohibiting to long or to short shorts or other details such as material. Some examples include:

Matsuyama School (United States-California, 1997): Navy Bottoms and White Tops. Boys' Clothing: Plain white collared shirts without any logos showing on the outside. Long pants or short pants that are as long as the end of the students fingertips when the hands are extended. Denim blue jeans, sweats, baggy pants or bicycle shorts are not allowed.

Norwalk-La Miranda (United States-California, 1997):II. PANTS, SHORTS, SKIRTS, DRESSES Dark navy blue pants, skirts or dresses. Jumpers which are solid color navy blue are permitted. short pants are permitted if they are no longer than the knee and no shorter than fingertip length when arms are straight to the side. Skirts and dresses are to be no shorter than figertip length when arms are straight to the sidel. Pants must not be more than 2 inches larger in the waist, thigh and mid-calf. Pants, shorts, skirts and dresses are to be of proper length and hemmed (no cut-off, no draggers, no flooders, no half-mooners, no pants with slits).

American school children have generally not worn uniforms. Uniforms are used by some schools. Exclusive private schools generally adopted British uniform stylyes, even short pants for elementary children in some cases. Cathlolic schools generally required a basic uniform of white shirt, tie, and slacks. Military boarding schools of course had uniforms. With these exceptions, however, few American schoolboys have worn uniforms. American educators and parents have begun to rethink this and in the 1990s many American schools, often inner-city schools have begun to introduce uniforms at elementary and middle schools. Even President Clinton has addressed the issue. Many are convinced that uniforms help to promote discipline and may help to reduce violence.

Several foreign countries had distibtive uniform styles. Some still do Many Western European countries, however, have moved away from school uniforms:
Argentina: Many elementary school children wear white smocks.
Australia Australian school uniforms through the 1970s were similar to English styles, except shorts were more common. Beginning in the 1980s more casual styles were introduced and are increasingly common at both elementary and secondary schools.
Chile: School children wear traditional English styles. Almost all of the boys, even the elementary children now wear long pants. Schools are being given the option of not requiring uniforms.
Cuba: Cuban school children wear red pants or suspender skirts. Many of the younger elementary children wear short pants. The children wear white shirts with blue and red kerchiefs which I think signify participation in Communist Party youth groups.
France: School uniforms were formerly common in France. Boys often wore berets and smocks with short pants through the 1950s. White knee socksd were commonly worn with the shorts.
Germany: Since World War II, uniforms have been unpopular in Germany. Boys commonly wore shorts and knee socks, even secondary age boys in the 1950s. After the early 1960s, shorts are not commonly worn, except for casual summer wear.
Italy: Italian school boys commonly wore shorts and smocks, often with broad white collars to school. Both smocks and shorts have declined since the 1980s.
Japan: Elementary boys commonly wear brief shorts and knee socks to school, although this varies from school to school. Secondary boys wear military style and girls wear sailor style uniforms.
Korea: School uniforms are similar to Japan.
New Zealand: Elementary children, except for the Catholic schools, do not wear uniforms. Secondary schools generally require uniforms, often including short pants and knee socks for the boys.
Russia: Many schools have military style uniforms for boys.
Scotland: Uniforms are similar to English schools, except that the dress uniform (usually in private schools) is a kilt.
South Africa: South Africa has British style uniforms for the winter term. The elementary winter uniform often includes short pants and knee socks. Many schools have and a simple summer uniform of grey shirt and shorts for the summer.
Uruguay: Elementary school children wear white smocks with big blue bows.

The subject of school uniform is a complicated one and it will be some time before it can be addressed in detail. There are, however, some interesting links available elsewhere on the web.

Note: Space limitations do not permit me to provide more information on school uniform or historical photograhs. There is, however, additional information and many historical photographs on the expanded Boys Historical Clothing web site. For details click here >>>>>> Expanded Site.

Additional Information

Related Links: Careful this will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but both sites are highly recommended

Apertures Press International Project: Pictures at schools in different countries
British Preparatory Schools: A photographic book on preparatory schools (private elementary schools) in England, New Zealand, Scotland, and other countries
Apertures Press International Project: New book in preparation on New Zealand schools
Apertures Press New Zealand E-Book: New E-Book on New Zealand schools
School Uniform Web SiteInformative review of British school uniforms with some excellent photographs
Traditional school uniform: How to order a traditional school uniform

Christopher Wagner

Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[ 1880s] [ 1930s] [ 1950s] [ 1960s] [ 1980s]