Scottish Boys' Clothes: Chronology--20th Century

Figure 1.--Some Scottish boys wore kilts on special occassions. I'm not sure how common it was to wear the kilt on less formal occassions. Here a boy makes a presentation to the Queen in the late 1920s or early 1930s.

HBC has much more detailed information about boys Scottish boys clothing in the 20th century. We are not positive how commonly kilts were worn by Scottish boys in the early 20th century. There appears to have been a dichotomy with both poor, especially rural boys wearing them as well as boys from affluent families. Of course affluent bys ore better cut kilts with all the Highland trappings. After world War I (1914-18), poorer boys much less commonly wore kilts, but they contuinued to be worn by boys from affluent families, especially for dresswear. As the century progressed, boys wore kilts to school less and less, although even today they are worn at private schools--motly as the dress uniform. Even by the end of the century, kilts were still worn for Scouts and special occasions such as weddings, Scouts, Higland gatherings, and Scottish dance.

Historical Background

The 20th century was a time of economuic and social change in Scotland. Unioin with England had brough unprecedented prosperity in Scotland. This began to change in the 20th century. The situation was still promising in the early 20th century. The West Highland Railway Line opened in 1901. The impact of two World Wars and the Depression of the 1930s was severe. The martial spirit of the Scotts promted many Scotts to enlist in World War I and the losses in Scotland were proportionally higher than any other part of the U.K. and indeed in comparison to most other combatant nations. A huge shipbuilding industry grew up around Glasgow. During the Wars, heavy industry was expanded to meet the needs for ships and other weapons. Housing and facilities for workers were inadequate even during the peak years of the economic boom. Most workers were not entitled to vote even in the early 20th century. Most Scotts that did vote supported the Liberal Party. After World War I, Scotland was affected both by the loss of men as well as the end if war-time contracts. Many working-class families lived in apuling circumsrances. Workers got the vore in 1918 and were increasuingly attracted to socialism and the Labour Party. The Irish Cathlolic immigrant workers were the first to support Labour, but oyther workers followed and Glasgow became known as Red Clydeside. There was a General Strike in 1919 and a Red Flag was raised in George's Square. The sutuaton was made worse by the Depression of the 1930s. Glasgow in the 1930s was the shell of a former great industrail city. It was noted for inadequate housing and poor public housing. Crime was rife. Some of the same Catholic-Protestant divisions seen in Ulster developed in Glasgow. There was a brief economic revival during World War II, but after the war Scotland faced the same problems that followed World War I. This time the Labour victory of 1945 meant government intervention. Programs like National Health, welfare, public housing and a new free secondary education program were introduced. The welfare program improved social conditions. The Labour Government also acted to subsidize existing heavy industry. The impact was to sustain inefficent indistries that could not in the long run support a healthy economy or provide decent wages. As a result, the Scottish economy continued to stagnate. Britain was virtually bankrupt after World War and Scotland and the north of England were oparticularly affected. Incomes and ecoinomic activity in Scotland were well below the national average. Many established industries were hoplessly out of date. The closing of coal pits adversely affected many families. Two developments un the 1970s were to have a major impact on Scotland. First the rise of the Conservative Party in England caused many cinformed Labour Scotts to begin thinking about separation. The other devlopment was North Sea oil which many Scotts saw as a Scottish resource. Voters began to give serious attention to the Cottish National Party. Although unpopular in Scotland, the winfing down of Gvernment support for inefficent industries has in the long run benefitted Scotalnd and the Scottish economy. There has been a resurgence of life in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. Incomes have increased. The century closed with the restablishment in 1999 of a Scottish Parliament in Eduinburgh after 292 years of union with England. [Magnusson] Scotland of course is remaining in the United Kingdom with representation at Westminster along with the devolved Parliament in Edinburgh.

Chronological Periods

We have limited chronolgical information on Scottish boys' clothes, but have begin to develop some basic information. I'm unsure how extensively the kilt was worn by boys in the early 20th century. In particular I do not known how common it was for parents to dress boys in kilts for everyday wear. I think that it was probably not extremely common as the kilt was a more expensive garment than kneepants or short pants. I think that there were some boys dressed in kilts for school and everyday wear before World War I. Although I'd be very interested; in input from our British visitors here. After the War I believe casual wearing of the kilt became less common. Perhaps most common in small Scottish towns. Also it was probably most common in affluent families, especially those particularly concerned with Scottish heritage. There were even some Engglish parents who adopted the Scottish kikt for their boys. We are not talking about the kilt suits commonly worn by British and American boys during the late 19th century. These would be Highland kilts as we now know them. There were major changes in boys clothes during the post-World War II era. Clothes were still quite traditional in the 1940s and early 50s. This began to change in the mid-50s. We suspect television may have been an important factor. Shirts were plain, but more trendy tops appeared in the 1960s. We see many Scottish boys wearing sweaters in the post-World war II period. Short pants and kneesocks were very common in the 1940s anf 50s. We see more boys wearing long pants in the 1960s. Jeans began to become popular in the 1960s, especially with teenagers. Clothes became more colorful and trendy in the late 20th century. We see colorful shirts, including T-shirts. There were colorful shorts for younger boys. Jeans became very popular. Bell-bottoms were a popular 1970s style. Schoolwear continued to be traditional. Trainers became standard wear, although they were discouraged by many schools. Kilts were still not commonly worn. They were adopted by some instituions or worn for special occassions. We note kilts being worn at some Schools.


Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland: The Story of a Nation (Atlantic Monthly, 2001), 752p. Magnusson is a broadcaster familar with virtually every Britain. He was question master of BBC television's 'Mastermind' Quiz program.


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Created: July 21, 1998
Last updated: 7:12 PM 5/26/2005