No country has inluenced the school uniforms worn by children around the world more than England. The tradition of school uniforms in England is a little complicated. School uniforms in England are oftn assocaiated with privlidged children at the country's elite private schools. Uniforms at school, however, were first worn by poor children at charity schools. Only later were they adopted by priavate schools, in typical British fashion, referred to as public schools. Children at the country's developing state school system during the late 19th and 20th century did not wear uniforms. Britain was late to provide a free public education to children. Some European countries, especially the Germans had a much more extensive public school system. Britain had a great variety of state and charity schools for those who could not afford a private education. Uniforms were first intriduced for children at charity schools to identifybthem and for purposes economy. Uniforms for the affluent children at private schools were introduced much later. Children at statte elementary schools until the 1960s did not commonly wear uniforms. Both privatevand state secondary schools did require uniforms. Uniforms served to build the esprit de corps of the school. Uniforms also prevented rich parents making poorer parents feel humble. Despite thism Left-wing politicians (Labour) in the 1960s and 1970s objected to uniforms which led to the individualistic fashion shows of today which make poorer parents subject to the new uniform dictates of "Nike", "Puma", "Adidas" and rendered blazers very expensive as suppliers shrank.
A school uniform consisting of a blazer school tie, and dress or formal trousers has been widely worn by English boys since the 1920s. No other garment is more asociated with school uniform than the school cap which became common in the late 19th century, although it is not commonly worn today. The style spread to many countries, especially English-speaking countries. This uniform evolved in the England during the late 19th century. Blazers as most school uniform items were at first sports wear, but in the 1920s began to replace the estimable Eton suits and stiff white Eton collars and by the 1930s had become the standard uniform at many private schools. The neck tie, another symbol of school uniform, became widely worn in the 1920s and continues to be a mainstay of English school uniforms and is commonly worn today. The gaberdine raincoat and duffle coat are other items that many remember from their school days as well as their bookbags.
There are substantial similarities between boys and girls school uniforms in England. Girls have adopted many items worn by boys such as ties and blazers. We are not sure precisely why this was, but suspect it may be because there was a long tradition of boys' boarding schools in England before the first girls' school was opened. The girls' schools apparently followed the examples of the already prestigious boys' schools. Besides the blazers and ties, girls wore the same sweaters that boys wore. Girls wore different styles of headwear, inckluding berets and brimmed hats. There were of course differences. Girls always wore different headwear than the boys. Also they wore skirts rather than trousers. Here many schools for some reason had blouses and skirts for cool weather wear and light-wight dresses for warm weather. There were also differences in hosiery. Some girls wore grey kneesocks, but white ankle and kneesocks were very common. Also footwear varied. Although both boys abnd girls wore school sandals, girls commonly wore strap shoes. There were also sturdy school oxfords, but they were styled somewhat differently than the boys' shoes.
While there were many similarities among the uniforms worn by British boys, there were wide differences between private and state schools. There were also a wide variety of color combinations and other variations. I have begun to collect some of the descriptions of uniforms at different types of schools and during different periods.
Age trends are a little complicated to Americans where the basic system is standardized with children beginning achool at age 6 years in grade (or age 5 years if they start in Kinfergarten). They then proceeed in lock step: elementary schools (grades 1-6), junior high school (grades 7-9), and senior high schools (grades 10-12) was widely adopted througout the country. Middle schools replacing junior highs only slightly muddied the waters. Private schools generally followed this basic system. The system in Briitain is more complicated. There are more different kinds if schools with more varied age spans. A British reader tells us, "Our Primary schools, sometimes called infant schools, often now take 'pre-school' child as well as children from 5-11. At eleven children usually go to seconday school where the age range is 11 -19. Some state education authorities have Middle Schools which take the 9-13 age groups. The private sector now tends to include what is called
'pre-prep' which takes children as soon as they are out of nappies. At 7 they go into the Junior school where they stay until 13 and go to Public (private secondary) School.
A HBC reader has provided us a glossary of important terms concerning the modern British education ststem. These terms relate primarily to the modern British education system in England and Wales, and to a large part Ulster. Scotand is somewhat different.
Modern school uniform has in many ways been a British creation. The first uniforms were implemented in the 16th century for charity children at the famed hospital schools. Eventually more modern styles emerged in the 19th century, but at the country's elite private schools. School uniform garments like peaked caps, boaterrs, and blazers emerged at this time. The British school uniform as we now know it became widely worn in the 1920s as soft collars and ties replaced Eton collars. These basic styles have been little changed since the 1920s. There have, however, been some changes. The peaked caps once so common are now little worn. The school sandals once worn with a narrow center strap now mostly have wide straps and look more like shoes. The major change has been in the trousers worn
by boys. Short pants once so common are in the 1990s much less commonly worn, but there are still some schools that continue to require them for the younger boys.
Uniform regulations at English schools have varied over time and there have been substantial differences between schools. State primary schools until after World War II did not gernerally require uniforms, but boys usually wire short pants suits with a school cap--which seems to have been required. Private schools did commonly require uniforms, both preparatory schools and public (private secondary) schools. The uniform at these schools, especially before World War II could be quite elaborate and uniform regulations were often involvedf and strictly enforced. Most schools required a cap. Prep school boys generally wore blazers with short trousers and kmeesocks. Uniforms at the public schools were more diverse. The regukations at these schools provided by uniform destinctions based on age height, or form. In recent years the uniform has generally become less elaborate and formal and the regulations associated with it are usually less complicated than in earlier years.
The particular arrangements for state education depends on the the policy of the particular Local Education Authority. These used to be managed by the individual Counties. A new system has evolved, whereby State Schools can opt out of Local Authority Control, being responsible to the Central Department of Education. Goverments could be frustrated by Local Authoities. This happened when the Labour (Socalist) Government in the 1960s tried to abolish selective Grammar schools, as they were seen to be 'elitist'. Grammar schools were converted to Comprehensives. The Socialist couldn't get their heads round the idea that successful parents often begat successful children. The effect of abolishing Grammar Schools was seen as a dumbing down of standards. Right of centre County Councils kept their Grammar Schools, and league tables show that these are more successful than the 'one size suits all' state schools. The left of centre school authorities went for the abolition of the Grammar Schools, and in the view of many, a down grading of British Education.
Selection is one of the most contrioversial practices in British education. As Britain began expanding its secondary system, British primary children took an examination at age 11 years while still in primary school. It was called the '11+ exam'. It determined their future academic trajectory and ultimately job opportunities. Academically capable children that did well on the exam gained entry to grammar schools, academically string secondary schools. Other children went to secondary modern, providing a less demanding curriculum. A reader writes, "I think that maybe selection at 11 is too young, as children do sometimes develop at a later age. Streaming according to ability within one school maybe better. I experienced streaming at Jr. High School in
my American years. We had it too, back here, when I returned to America and went to Public School after the War."
The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have a long established role in education at all levels, historically beginning with the universities founded during the medieval era. Today there are both Anglican (COE) and Catholic primary and secondary schools. The Labour Government allowed Muslim schools to receive state funding (1990s).
The term discipline has several meanings in English. It can mean a field of study. but here we are discussing the idea of training to act in accord with a set of rules and expectations. Discipline often is seen as punishment, but that is a more of a method to achive discipline than the actual goal of affectung the child's behavior. Many younger teachers make the mistake of failing to understand the importance of discipline in a desire to be liked by their students or to get on with the subject matter at hand. This is an approsch that they are soon disabused of when they begin teaching. For without a degree of classroom discipline, teaching is impossible. Educational experts may disagree about the degree of discipline needed or the types of discipline most effective. Some may even argue that instilling a sence of internal discipline in children is as important as the curriculum subject itself. British schools as schools in other countries had very strict discipline standards in the 19th and early 20th centuries. School discipline relied heavily on corporal punishment. Since World war II the schools have moved away from draconian punishment toward more humane methods using both positive rewards and a variety of less coersive punishments such as writing lines, doing chores, or various restrictions. Other metods involve house (group) competitions in which members can earn or lose points for the house. Often the standikngs of the competitions are posted and regulsrly updated. Ponts can be won or loss in academics, ports, behavior, uniform, and a range of other areas. The once notorious private schools in England seem to have made this transition sucessfully and maintain a very high standard of discipline. The situation in state schools is more varied with some schools having very lax discipline standards. A problem here is that many parents to do not properly duscipline their children at home. The perception of poor discipline standards is a factor in many parents chosing the private (independent) sector.
Several materials and fabrics have been used for English school uniforms. Some of the most important have been: Artex, cotton, corduroy, flannel, and Terelyn. These have been mostly used for blazers, jackets, shirts, and trousers. Several other materials are also of some importance. The popularity has varid over time. Th new blended fabrics had begun to appear in the late 1930s, but the outbreak of World War II meant that they were not used in school uniforms until well after the War ended in 1945.
The color most associated with English schoolwear is grey. School garments including shirts, jumpers (sweaters), pants, and socks have traditionally been grey. Caps, ties, scarves, and blazers on the other hand have often been done it colors, especially at private schools. These colors are often repeted as trim on the grey jumpers and kneesocks. A wide range of colors have been used, especially by the prep schools. The most common are black, blue, and red. These bright colors are not as common as they once were when school chikldren in colorful uniforms were once a common sight on the high street after school. Black in particular has become a common color, especially at state secondary schools. We have, however, noted quite a range of other colors, including: brown, green, pink, and yellow. Some sxhools had stripped blazers in various colors. White is not a color commonly used except at cricket matches and for girls kneesocks.
Schoolwear is often sold at local shops which specilalize in the neighborhood schols. Until after World War II (1939-45), this primarily meant private schools. Few pre-War elementary schools had uniforms although some did have caps. Almost all the private scools, including the grammar schools did require uniforms and were brought in local shops. After the War a much larger number of schools began to require uniforms. This meant not only the new primary schools, but also the new state secondary schools as the Labour Government significantly expanded access to education. As a result, some of the department stores and chain stores began giving greater attention to schoolwear. Companies like John Lewis and Marks and Spencers began carrying extensive stocks of schoolwear.
Conventions for wearing school uniforms have varied over time and from school to school. Some schools had a dress uniform and school uniform differing only in that they wore white rather than grey shirts. Other schools had the boys wears suits for dress occasions and blazers for regular schoolwear. Other schools had cord shorts and jacketrs for everyday schoolwear. Often at school boys only wore their sweaters and not their blazers. In many cases rules were different at day schools and boarding schools. Some boarding schools insisted on the boys wearing their uniforms all day long. Other schools let the children change into their own clothes after classes.
Once school attendance was made compulsory, the problem of tuancy appeared. Boys being boys, there are some children that want no part of school, for a variety of reasons. Many school systems hired truant officers. As the compulsory attendance age was raised, the problemn of truancy increased. This continures to the present day. England during 2004 is testing five pilot schemes where instant £50 fines are imposed upon the parents for each incidence of truancy. This rises to £100, if not paid within 28 days. The program is controlled by the schools. Plans are to impose the scheme nationwide in the 2005-05 school year or in 2005.
We are not sure to what extent state schools had hair cut codes. Certainly grammar schools and other state secondaru schools did, at least until the 1970s. Private schools certinly did. Prep schools used to be very strict about hair cuts. They did not normally require short back and sites cuts, but the styles were definyely on the short side. Attitdes about hair changed considerably and the prep schools for the most part decided go go with the flow. We note a range of different styles in the 1980s. Most schools allowed the children considerable lattitude here as long as the hair was kept reasobanly near and off the collar. Here schools varied. Some schools continued to be very strict about hair styles. Sone schools have a barber come to school on a regular basis. Other schools let the parents handel hair cutting. This was especially true of day boys. Headmasters might, however, have boys whose hair is demmed beyond the pale visit a local barber. Girls cut for the most part left up to the individual as long as nothing exotic appears.
Some information is available on individual schools to illustrate school schools. Schools have had different uniforms over time, but there is great similarities as so many schools used the same basic styles. This is especually true of the boys' uniforms. There is much more difference over time as schools are constantly updating their uniforms. The schools archived here on HBC can be viewed by the type of school, the name of the school, and the chronological period. Old boys and girls from these and other schools are incouraged to contribute information about the uniforms they wore.
School uniforms in many ways originated in England and in few other countries have they been so commonly worn. They weee initually used at private schools and came to be seen as symbol of private education and exclusivity in education. These attitudes began to change after World War II. In many other European countries, school uniforms have never been worn. Yet even in England, the merits of school uniforms as well as appropritate sizes and regulations have been extensively discussed. Some object to uniforms while others fell they play a valuable role. School uniforms have been more associated with private than state schools, but they concern both. School uniforms are still widely worn in England, but the issue of school uniforms has become more intensely discussed in recent years. We note recent charges that uniforms requirements have been used to keep poor children out of some state schools.
Each school had a standard uniform. Often there were detinctive elements of the uniform for the older students or students that had achieved various destinctions. This varied from school to school. The older students at some schools were allowed to wear long trousers. This is less common today as often all students wear long trousers. Older students were also often not required to wear the school cap. There were also often destinctive items for prefects such as special ties or baddges. Students excelling in sports or other aspects of school life were awarded theifr "colors". Ofen this meant a special school cap. These destinctiins have varied from school to school and over time.
Many schools sponsored youth group units. The most common were Boy Scout Cub Packs or Scout Troops. Some schools, especially Church schools, may have also sponsored other groups such ads the Boys' Brigade or the Church Lads. These groups, however were more commonly sponsored by Churches than schools. We notice some of these units were particularly well uniformed. A HBC reader writes us, "I remembered a photograph of my secondary modern school Scout Troop that appeared in the local evening paper in July, 1999. The photograph was was taken around 1951. The gentleman in civilian clothes looks to be the headmaster, and the person to his right wearing glasses was one of my teachers at the school, he also became District Commisioner for Scouts. His father was my family doctor. It would be another 7 years before I would attend the school, and although I knew of the Scout Troop, I wasn't interested in joining it, as I was never one for mixing with my peers. I much prefered adult company at that time of my life."
There are a wide range of activities conducted at school, both inside and outside the classroom. Many of these activities required a specaialized uniform or sports gear. English schools, especially the private schools probably had more elaborate uniforms and specialized schoolwear than any other country. Many schools had a dress uniform worn on Suuday or special school events. During regular school days a less elaborate uniform was worn. At scome schools boys would come to schools in their blazers, but just wear their jumpers while in class. Some class room activities like art or science might require some sort of protective gear. Quite a number of schools sponsored youth group units such as Scouts. Some secondary schools had Cadet units. Many schools had a gym uniform. There was a variety of specialized uniform for various team sports.
Mothers and grandmothers as well as aunties once knitted school items for children. Some pattern companies offered special school patterns. We note, for example, Robin jumpers in the 1970s.
Both private and stste schools have accomodated foreign students. Many come from countries where school uniforms are not worn. We note some references to the more uniform-conscious private schools. One reader writes about American children, "From the few that do arrive and stay here, they do tend to adjust well to wearing school uniforms. Some American mothers have commented on how smart they look better behaved they are." One American reader reports that his English mother suggested that he spend a year at an English preparatory school. It was during the 985-86 school year. He was quite suprised when he found out about the uniform.
English readers have provided HBC a variety of personal accounts about their school experiences. These accounts focus on the school uniform. We will also add information from published historical accounts and memoirs. We believe that thezse personal accounts add a perspective that can not be obtained by simply reviewing clothing catalogs or assessing photographs. These accounts provide information about school authorities and parents as well as the boys' own point of view. We incourage English readers to add their own personal experiences to those already provided to HBC.
We have found some photographs that we are unable to classify. The uniform or clohing styles often provide valuable clues. The background or sending lso provide important clues. These clie have helped to classify quite anumber of these unidentified images. Here we will load impages that have stumped us. Valuable insights can be gained by assessing these unidebntified imageds. Often we can date these images or determine the type of school involved. In other instances we are confused as to the type of school. Hopefully our British readers will help us categorize the type of schools involved in these images.
There are many illustrated history books for children on the subject of schools.
Karen Bryant-Mole: At School; Wayland, 1994 ("History from Objects" series)
Faye Gardner and Anne Richardson: School Life in Grandma's Day; Evans 1997 ("In Grandma's Day" series)
Rosemary Rees: The Victorians at School; Heinemann, 1995 ("Life in Victorian Britain" series)
Jane Shuter: School; Heinemann, 1997 ("Picture the Past" series)
Monica Stoppleman: School Day; Black, 1990 ("Turn of the Century" series)
Margaret Stephen: Schools in Victorian Times; Wayland, 1996 ("Victorian Times" series)
Natalie Swift: Schools; Cherrytree, 1993 ("Learning Tree 1,2,3" series)
Stewart Ross: Our Schools; Wayland, 1992 ("Starting History" series)
Richard Wood: A Victorian School; Wayland, 1993 ("Victorian Life" series)
Careful this will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but these sites are highly recommended by HBC.
Boys' British Preparatory School Apertures Press printed book on British preparatory schools
British Preparatory School: Apertures Press E-books on British preparatory schools. There are six volumes available.
New Zealand School: Apertures Press E-books on New Zealand schools. There are three volumes available. New Zealand as a former British colony has been heavily influenced by British education.
Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
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