20th Century English Boys' Clothes: Post-war Era--the 1950s


Figure 1.--Most British boys in the 1950s wore short pants and knee socks to school.The boys were photographed in 1954. There school was probably a grammar school--a academically selective secondary school.

Most boys, including quite old boys still wore short trousers in the early 1950s. They were worn for both dresswera and casual wear. Fewer boys wore short oants all year round, but they were still commonly worn in the summer. Corduroy shorts were popular for casual wear and were even adopted at some schools. Styles finally began to change by the mid-1950s. The most notable changes were the declining popularity of school caps and the a shift toward long pants suits. Many schools comtinued to require short pants school uniform. Even state secondary schools often required shorts for the junior boys. Some private schools requited then even for the older boys. Short pants suits became less and less common. While British boys commonly wore blazers and ties to school, many boys rarely dressed up for other occasions. Church attendance, for example, was much less common than in America. As a result, many boys did not have a dress up suit. Casual clothes became increasingly popular Jeans and other American styes were not common in the early 1950s, bit were increasingly worn by teen agers by the end of the decade.

A 1950s Boyhood

A HBC reader has provided this view of boyhood in the 1950s: Close your eyes and go back in time.... Before the Internet or the Apple Mac. Before semi-automatics, joyriders and crack.... Before SEGA or Super Nintendo... Way back........ I'm talking about Hide and Seek in the park. The corner shop. Hopscotch. Butterscotch. Skipping. Handstands. Football with an old can. Fingerbobs. Beano, Twinkle. Roly Poly. Hula Hoops, jumping the stream, building dams. The smell of the sun and fresh cut grass. Bazooka Joe bubble gum. [HBC had thought this was American.] An ice cream cone on a warm summer night from the van that plays a tune Chocolate or vanilla or strawberry or maybe Neapolitan. Wait...... Watching Saturday morning cartoons....short commercials, The Double Deckers, Road Runner, He-Man, Tiswas or Swapshop?, and Why Don't You or staying up for Star Trek. When around the corner seemed far away and going into town seemed like going somewhere. Earwigs, wasps and bee stings. Sticky fingers. Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians, and Zorro. Climbing trees. Building igloos out of snow banks. Walking to school, no matter what the weather. Running till you were out of breath, laughing so hard that your stomach hurt. Jumping on the bed. Pillow fights. Spinning around, getting dizzy and falling down was cause for giggles. Being tired from playing....remember that? The worst embarrassment was being picked last for a team. Water balloons were the ultimate weapon Football cards in the spokes transformed any bike into a motorcycle. I'm not finished just yet..... Eating raw jelly. Orange squash ice pops. Remember when... There were two types of trainers - girls and boys, and Dunlop Green Flash - and the only time you wore them at school was for "gym". You knew everyone in your street - and so did your parents. It wasn't odd to have two or three "best" friends. You didn't sleep a wink on Christmas eve. When nobody owned a pure-bred dog. When 25p was a decent allowance. When you'd reach into a muddy gutter for a penny. When nearly everyone's mum was at home when the kids got there. It was magic when dad would "remove" his thumb. When it was considered a great privilege to be taken out to dinner at a real restaurant with your parents. When any parent could discipline any kid, or feed him or use him to carry groceries and nobody, not even the kid, thought a thing of it. When being sent to the head's office was nothing compared to the fate that awaited a misbehaving student at home. Basically, we were in fear for our lives but it wasn't because of drive-by shootings, drugs, gangs etc. Our parents and grandparents were a much bigger threat! - And some of us are still afraid of them!! Didn't that feel good? Just to go back and say, Yeah, I remember that! Remember when.... Decisions were made by going "Eeny-meeny- miney-mo." "Race issue" meant arguing about who ran the fastest. Money issues were handled by whoever was the banker in "Monopoly". The worst thing you could catch from the opposite sex was germs. And the worst thing in your day was having to sit next to one. It was unbelievable that British Bulldog wasn't an Olympic event. Having a weapon in school, meant being caught with a catapult. Nobody was prettier than Mum. Scrapes and bruises were kissed and made better. Taking drugs meant orange-flavoured chewable aspirin. Ice cream was considered a basic food group Getting a foot of snow was a dream come true Older siblings were the worst tormentors, but also the fiercest protectors If you can remember most or all of these, then you have LIVED.


Figure 2.--This photograph is unidentified, but we think it was taken at an English prep school in the late 1950s.

Garments

Trousers

Most boys, including quite old boys still wore short trousers in the early 1950s. They were worn for both dresswera and casual wear. Fewer boys wore short pants all year round, but they were still commonly worn in the summer. Corduroy shorts were popular for casual wear and were even adopted at some schools.

Decade Trends

Styles finally began to change by the mid-1950s. The most notable changes were the declining popularity of school caps and the a shift toward long pants suits.

Schoolwear

Many schools comtinued to require short pants school uniform. Even state secondary schools often required shorts for the junior boys. Some private schools requited then even for the older boys. Short pants suits became less and less common.

Dressing Up

While British boys commonly wore blazers and ties to school, many boys rarely dressed up for other occasions. Church attendance, for example, was much less common than in America. As a result, many boys did not have a dress up suit.

Casual Clothes

Casual clothes became increasingly popular Jeans and other American styes were not common in the early 1950s, bit were increasingly worn by teen agers by the end of the decade.

Clothing Catalogs

English mail order catalogs and other soyrces suych as advertisements and sewing patterns offer a very useful time line on changing fashion trends. English mail order catalogs and newspaper ads provide great detail on fashion trends. We notice knitted sunsuit patterns for younger children. Littlewoods was the principal company selling mailorder clothing in Britain during the 1950s. Their catalog offers a wide range of boys clothing, including suits, coats, shirts, trousers, and hosiery. We notte classic coats for younger boys. We notice an advertisement by Chilprufe for children's coats. They describe utility and non-utility clothes.

Demographics

We are looking at clothing trends througout England in rural areas, villages, towns and major cities. Basic trends were largely determined in the major cities and unlike some countries, we do no notice major differences in the various areas. Boys in rural areas were most likely to be involvd in actul work, thus requiring practical clothing. ellies were a necesity in rural areas and widely worn in villages. But other than work clothing we do not notice major differences. The 1950s is the firsr decade in which most children attended secondary schools, schools in which there were required unifoms. We also see some primsry schools adopting uniform by the end of the decade. This all affected how children dressed. Many boys wore their school uniforms as their dress up clothing. A factor here was the economic policies of the Lbour Government. The Socialist policies meant that World War II rationing continued for nearly a decade (1953). In addition there was nothing like the German Economic Miracle in England. This all affected family income and the anount a family could spend on clothing.

Vacations

Summer vacations beame possible in Brtain with the advent of the railroad (1850s). At firt it was just afordable for the middle-class, the first country to develop this convention. Britain is ann island. And with the rail systen, no spot in Briatin is more than a few hours from the coast and seaside resorts. By the turn of the century the working class had begun to enjoy family summer taking advantage of the rail system. A new wrinkle was added--the coach (bus) trip. This meant both coach tours and bus transit to vaction spots. Seaside resorts are probably the most popular domestic enues, but there are many other attractions such as the scenic Lake District smack in the middle of Britain. This became popular during the inter-War era. There were both coach trips and holiday camps. All of these options were available in the 1950s. Vacactions were available in all price ranges. There were luxury hotels as well as low-cost boarding houses in tourist locations. Seafront locations were especially popular. There were also holiday camps. By the 1950s car ownership was becoming more common. We see holiday camps accomodating camper vans. There were also cabins for those arriving in cars and coaches. We begin to see some vacations to the Continent in the 1950s, mostly France. Until the 50s,however, it was rare for ordinary Brits to travel on the Continet. It would not be until the 1960s, when low-cost air travel became available, that European travel began to take off.

Northsea Floods

Massive Northsea floods devesrated the coat of East Anglia in 1953. The flooding occurred on January 31. As it moved southwards down the English coast, each town along the coast was flooded. The testruction was enormous. Many families were devestated. The Netherlands was even more seriosly impacted because part of the country is below sea level.

Personal Experiences

Beginning in the 1950s, HBC has much more detailed personal accounts on boyhood recollections from HBC readers. Quite a few English readers have kindly provided interesting accounts describing the clothes that they wore as boys. Many of these accounts concern school uniform, but they all include descriptions of the play and dress up clothes they wore as well as Cubs and Scout uniforms and other topics converning clothing.






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Created: July 29, 2000
Last updated: 11:03 PM 3/1/2019