England: 1940s-50s Boys' Clothing

I was born in 1939. I don't know whether it was the austerity of the War period and the time after the war when materials were still not available or whether it was simply that boys were still boys and not 'young men'. Today we seem to go out of our way to make boys them seem older--in my view, todays' modern fashions are simply a way to get them to spend more on clothes and other fashion accessories. The market rules not parents.

As a little boy I always wore short trousers all year round. Including the cold winter months. I attended an all boys primary. At primary school I wore both flannel and corderoy shorts. I don't remember any boys in longies at primary school but that might be my memory playing a trick. I can remember wearing corderoy shorts, one pair brown and another green. But I mostly rember my grey flannel shorts. They started a couple of inches above the knee and as I grew they looked shorter and shorter. I always wore knee socks with my school shorts.

I never had play shorts as such. The shorts I wore after school for play were always the last pair of school shorts so they were always very short. I liked then and still prefer the shorter ones.

As a younger boy I sometimes wore sandals for play. I never wore them to school and didn't like them very much. For school I wore black leather school and "pumps" (gym shoes)after school. I always had to change out of my uniform and good leather shoes as soon as I got home.

I wore short trousers full time until I was very nearly 14 years old in 1953 and after that I was allowed long trousers at school, but had to change back into my shorts when I got home until I left school at 16. This was quite a normal routine to change into your last pair of trousers for play in order to keep your school clothes 'decent'.

I attended an all boys grammar school (academically selective state secondary school). All the short trousers I wore in secondary school were always grey flannel. My grammar school, like virtually all grammar schools, had a ubiform requiring a blazer and tie. Short trousers were not required, we could wear "longies"--as they were known. A lot of the bigger boys wore them that first year. Most of us that first years, however, wore shorts. The number progressively reduced as we got older. I was about third or fourth last to switch in my class. The last boy, who was the son of a headteacher, at another school was 15 when he switched. Nobody ever commented on what we wore tht I know of. It was so common for boys to wear shorts at the time. Our uniform included caps. Our school required caps until the third year of secondary school, 13-14 year-olds.

I was a Boy Scout, indeed I was a patrol leader. The uniform was a light brown shirt, brown shorts. Everybody including the scoutleader and the venture scouters (who were older teenagers) wore shorts--though the term hadn't been coined yet, wore shorts as Baden powell had instructed. We wore a striped neckerchief (each troop had its own colours) fastened with a woggle, a little leather ring.

As an older boy I wore shorts after school until I was 16. This was not unusual. A lot of my friends also wore shorts after school. Some did switch completely, both for school and after school, to longies when they were about 12 or 13.

I had some suits but not many. Money was tight and so I usually wore my uniform for church.

I never asked my mummy for long trousers. She bought them for me as a surprise and a 'treat'. (The next bit is vanity but true). I was a very nice looking boy with a good singing voice. The local rep theatre company auditioned for boys to sing and act in their Christmas production and I was one of the boys chosen. Mummy was so proud that she bought the trousers as a 'well done' present. Actually, I was horrified if the truth were known. I hated the longies, not least because they were not lined like my shorts and I had a sore rash on my inside legs. Anyway I wore them to school but, as I said, I couldn't wait to get home and change. That lasted until I was about 16.

I was a slow developer and it was about 16 when I changed. After that shorts went out of the window and I wanted fashionable clothes.

Christopher Wagner


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Created: April 25, 1998
Last updated: April 25, 1998 >