England: Clothes during the War

I was a wartime child and well remember some of the odd clothes I was made to wear as I was growing up during the 1940s and 50s. Clothes rationing was in force and therefore appropriate dress was not always easy to find or afford. Thinking back to those long distant days I suppose my parents did a good job in clothing us children in very difficult circumstances--at least we had something to wear.


Clothes were strictly rationed in England during the War. Even after the War, England was in such terrible shape that rationing continued for several years after the war. Unfortunately, I was too young to remember precise details.

Play Clothes

Play clothes very often consisted of handed down baggy khaki shorts and a pyjama top. After the War there was a lot of khaki material available. In cold weather I well remember the humiliation of having to wear socks on my hands as a replacement for gloves. One thing not on ration were dusting cloths and my mother used to make my shirt cum blouses from these very small cloths. They were meant to be shirts but somehow looked more like a simple blouse. I don't recall being teased about wearing them.

Short Trousers

All my short trousers had buttons ( for braces to hold them up) as zips had not yet become the norm for the flys. The material was grey flannel with white cotton lining. I had a number of short trouser suits and I recall feeling quite proud and grown up when wearing them. Poor parents couldn't afford longs. It wasn't a school rule. It was a Secondary Modern School with a school uniform. The school colors were green and red. We wore traditional caps, green and red with the school badge.

I received my first pair of long trousers when I was 12 years old, however, I still had to wear short trousers to school until I was 13 years old.

I did have some corduroy shorts too, if my memory serves me right. I have only vague memories here, but I think I wore them normally for play. If I remember correctly, I liked them.

Dressing Up

Going to Sunday School was the occasion for wearing what was laughably called my 'Sunday Best' nevertheless I still wore my clothes with a degree of pride. The clothing for high days and holidays tended to be school uniform, which very often included the now 'extinct' school cap. It was not until I was about 14 years old that I was 'liberated' into more 'grown up' looking apparel.


I remember details about some garments:


I can only remember having a gabardine raincoat as a topcoat but I may well have had other types. One of my favourite jackets was made of corduroy and I always felt snug in its warmth. I can't remember exactly when but I did have a duffle coat at some time.


My school shorts (worn into my teen years) were of grey flannel, cotton lining with buttons for fly and braces. My first longs were made of denim (early cheap jeans) followed by a pair of grey flannel longs that were very baggy and hung terribly (I always liked to look smart). Sadly these longs didn't last that long and so it was back to shorts once again much to the derision of some at school.


Underclothes were of the knitted cotton variety with long underpants that sometimes would show below the leg line of my shorts. I think that was quite common in those days.

Ties and Belts

LIke most boys of my era ties and belts tended to be the same viz.- snake clasp belt and horizontal striped cotton tie.


Pullovers and sweaters were always hand knitted and sometimes the sizes were a little out of proportion to my own size.


Long socks were patterned or coloured turn over top but I always turned mine down to the ankle. I always preferred my socks rolled down. I recall that when I was about 10 years of age I wore white ankle socks to school, much to my dismay and the derision of my peers.


Most of my early years I wore T strap sandals with yellow "crepe" soles which was ideal for pulling out lumps! I wore them well into my teens--trainers hadn't come into being! Plimsols were worn for school PE etc. I only remember wearing them. No other details come to mind.


My football socks were horizonally striped and the boots were leather with leather studs nailed into the sole. The shorts were quite long and made of cotton as I recall.

Swiming Trunks

Swimming trunks were of a stretch cotton/wool material which tended to sag quite a bit when wet.

Hand Me Downs

My family was quite poor and as a younger sibling I very often received the hand-me-downs from my brother (glad it wasn't my sister) which, of course, included jackets and short pants and even the short pants suit. Most cardigans or pullovers were hand knitted by my mother or well intended friends. Even my long socks were hand knitted. I can still remember very clearly a particular sweater that was knitted for me - it had two deer on hindlegs facing each other - I always liked to wear it.

Dressing Up

Occasions for dressing up were much more limited in those post war days and so the need to look extra smart, maybe, was not so pressing as today when children always seem to be going out somewhere.

Age Appropriate Clothes

I sometimes think it sad in these so called modern times that many children are made to dress as young adults at such an early age. As children we were kept aware of our childhood by the juvenile nature of our clothes--boys would have to wait for their long (grown up) trousers and girls their first pair of tights or stockings. Are we depriving our children today of the innocence of childhood? Although some would consider it an outdated idea today I can recall both myself and others being disciplined by having to return to short trousers for a time - believe me it had a very salient effect on future behaviour. I really do wonder if today many youngsters would be brought into more order if parents used this sanction. Who knows?


Returning to a previous point I really do appreciate the more colourful aspects of todays clothes if not the actual fashion. The wide variety of materials also makes for a more interesting assortment of clothes. As I recall from my own childhood the colour was usually grey, the material cotton or wool--no such luxury as man made fibres etc! Ironing for mothers must have been a nightmare as electricity was quite a new thing and I can recall my mother using a solid metal iron heated on the coal fire. Washing childrens clothes, too, could not have been easy either as the modern washing powders were hardly even thought of.


Working in a school as I do, one of the big changes I observe (on mufti days particularly) is the vast array of colour compared with the rather drab and sombre apparrel of my childhood. Our play clothes were usually the worn or nearly worn out school clothes where as today there is so much sports wear (i.e. soccer strips and baseball caps) and ever changing fashionable attire to wear for after school activities. With so much more money around in today's comparatively affluent > society children are able to save their pocket money and birthday money to buy their favourite fashions items. In the post war years, not only was there no spare cash for lots of clothes but of course there was rationing to limit any desire for being trendy!

First Date

As a young teenager I can remember the first time I was attired in sports slacks and jacket. I felt so grown up wearing smaller versions of 'grown up' clothes. I think I took my first girl out in my first grown up outfit.

Christopher Wagner

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main English page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Bibliographies] [Biographies] [Chronologies] [Contributions] [Frequently Asked Questions] [Style Index]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
[The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s]
[The 1970s] [The 1980s] [The 1990s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
[School uniform] [Short pants] [Scouts] [Cubs]
[Caps] [Socks] [Jeans]

Created: April 2, 1998
Last updated: January 30, 2001