A HBC reader has provided us this wonderful account of his boyhood memories concerning clothing in the 1950s and 60s. He grew up in a family where money was tight. His family lived on a council estate (government housing). His mum, however, was careful to send him off to school, as he phrases it, "neat as a penny". It is innteresting to note that as a boy he occassionally wore a kilt for special occasions as did many other boys. This appears to have become much less common among working-class families by the 1960s. Interstingly, the article of clothing that he appears to have disliked the most was the gaberdine raincoat his mother often insisted that he wear.
Throughout the 1950s and well into the 1960s, the vast majority of school children dressed In the manner I have described. We did not have the wide array of clothes to choose from that the modern kid enjoys so there was relatively little room for individuality in the way we were dressed. Certainly, mothers generally were the main arbiters of what particular items we would or wouldn't be wearing on any given occasion, but they made their decisions within very narrow parameters. School uniforms were generally accepted as desirable and, presumably as a result of post-war austerity, the huge market in children's clothing which exists today had not yet evolved. When I see kids today in their expensive designer gear I may envy their comfort, their freedom and range of choice and their colourful appearance. Do they look any smarter or happier than we did though - I doubt it! Finally, and having mentioned smartness, I must confess that I must have just about driven my mother to despair when I was at school. Despite a lack of money, she scrimped and scraped to buy the items of school uniform that my brother and I required. She turned me out for school each morning as smart as a new pin - hands, face and knees scrubbed clean, hair combed, neat collar and tie, smart blazer and shorts, socks pulled up to the knee, shoes polished, raincoat smartly buttoned and belted; and how did I look when I returned home? Hair tousled, hands, face and knees filthy, tie askew, shirt hanging out of my shorts, buttons off my blazer, mud on my shorts, socks round my ankles, shoes scuffed, raincoat bundled under my arm with belt trailing behind. Kids eh!
HBC has noted reference in English books and newspapers to council estates and council housing. Some authors write about "council school boys". These terms have also come up in several of the HBC personal experience pages in the Englisg and other British sections. These references refer to children attending school in poor areas. A council estate would be referred to in the United States as public housing for low-income
Growing up in Scotland as a schoolboy throughout the 1950s, I wore short trousers until I was about 14 years old. It was never a matter of any dispute between my parents and myself as virtually every boy of my age dressed in the same way. The fashion for boys' shorts at this time was for fairly long and baggy ones although as I progressed through school they did become somewhat shorter and neater fitting.
Throughout my time at school I wore a navy blue blazer. The only difference between my
Primary and Secondary school blazers was the school badge worn on the breast pocket. At
Secondary school, prefects and members of the sixth year wore blazers trimmed with yellow
piping but I never reached such exalted status. I can honestly say that until I left school at 16, and acquired a sports jacket, I never possessed a jacket other than a blazer. For activities outside of school I simply wore school uniform or, for "messing about", items of uniform which had been relegated to that purpose. I don't think I was at all unique in this, most of my contemporaries were exactly the same, although some boys had casual jerkins of various kinds. We didn't discuss it much and I certainly did not feel in any way under-privileged.
School caps were commonly worn by boys in the 1950s and at many schools were compulsory items of uniform. Neither of the schools I attended insisted on caps but many boys did wear them at Primary School, particularly in wet or cold weather. Perhaps surprisingly, given her views on what comprised proper school uniform, my Mother never purchased a cap for me. I don't know what my attitude towards wearing one would have been as I never had to, although I did wear a similar cap with my Cubs uniform and never gave it a second thought. Caps at Secondary school were very rare but there was one boy in my class whose mother used to insist he wear a cap when it rained. As a younger boy I also wore a "pilot's helmet" and Balaclava.
The standard outer garment for school children in the 1950s was the "regulation" double-breasted and belted gabardine raincoat. In my part of the world it was
normally referred to as a "Burberry" although they were by no means necessarily made by the famous company of that name. I possessed and wore a gabardine
most of the time I was at school and if there was one item of my school wear that I did not like this was it. My Mother, however, seemed to believe that I was not
properly dressed for school without it and would insist on me wearing it even on days when the weather seemed to me reasonably mild.
The only other type of outer garment that I possessed during my boyhood was a plastic raincoat or "Pakamac" which was bought for me about the same time as my last gabardine when I was about 15. I did not particularly like wearing this item either but at least it had the advantage that it could be folded small enough to fit into a schoolbag orjacket pocket. This meant that at least I would be spared from having to wear my gabardine on warmer days when it was raining or rain was forecast.
For most of the time at school I wore black leather lace-up shoes. In my very early years some boys wore black leather ankle length boots, often heavily studded to
save wear and tear, but this fashion was already dying out and by the time I reached Secondary school it had disappeared completely. As a younger boy, during the summer, I would normally change into sandals. I never had a problem with wearing sandals as I found them comfortable and cooler to wear in the warmer weather but, once again, I suppose that was because all the other kids of my age also wore them and we never thought anything of it. As I grew older though, we began to regard sandals as slightly juvenile and went off them. In wet weather we usually wore black wellington boots. For "gym" at school, and for general play in summer, we had what were known variously as gym shoes, sand shoes or rubbers.
During my time in short trousers I nearly always wore plain long grey woollen socks which were intended to be worn pulled up to just below the knee with the tops neatly turned over. Despite the fact that my mother provided me with elastic garters to keep them up, mine were continually down around my ankles and I was forever being ordered to pull them up. Presumably this is where the expression "pull your socks up" comes from. As a younger boy I would often have ankle socks during the warmer weather but, as I grew older, I considered them to be rather babyish and preferred the longer ones. Most of my socks were provided for me by my grandmother who was a prolific knitter and churned them out at an impressive rate. I also had some long dark green "Scout socks" which I wore when in Cub or Scout uniform or when wearing my kilt.
Around the age of 9, I acquired my first kilt. At that time many boys of my age would be dressed in the kilt for more formal occasions, not just boys from more affluent backgrounds (I lived in a Council estate). I did not have the tweed jacket that often goes with the kilt, I simply wore it with my school blazer and either my school grey knee-length socks or my dark green Scout socks. I actually rather enjoyed wearing my kilt and was never unduly concerned by the occasional teasing from other kids who did not wear one. As I grew older, however, I gradually became more reluctant to be seen in my kilt unless I was in the company of others who were similarly dressed.
The shirts I wore to school were always either grey or white. In the early years the grey school shirts were made of some kind of wool/flannel blend and were incredibly scratchy and uncomfortable. I was always relieved when summer came and we changed into white cotton shirts, usually with short sleeves. In later years, as materials improved, we had grey school shirts in softer materials and the scratchy ones became a thing of the past. During the summer holidays we would usually have some casual shirts for play. Either striped tee shirts, we called them "sloppy joes", or coloured cotton ones. This was about the only concession to "casual" clothes that I can remember. I seem to remember that most of the shirts I wore as a boy did not button all the way down. They had buttons only to about chest level and you put them on over your head, very much like a football or rugby shirt. [HBC note: We have referred to this as rugby-style shirts in the HBC pages.]
School pullovers or jumpers were either sleeveless or long-sleeved and always, in my case, grey "V' neck. Most of mine were hand-knitted either by my mother or grandmother and I even had some coloured and patterned ones for wear out of school.
During the winter months I sometimes wore gloves. Again, they would usually be woollen and hand-knitted. When I was very young I had what we referred to as "idiot gloves". These were ordinary gloves joined by a length of tape and then passed through the arms of
your coat so that when you took them off they just hung there and didn't get lost. After a certain age, possibly around 7, you would be teased if you still had gloves secured in this way so the end result was that odd gloves were continually being lost. I didn't really mind whether I had gloves or not except when there was snow around when I wanted them. It was a bit pointless though, as after about five minutes making snowballs they became sodden and freezing and it was more comfortable to discard them and go without.
I wore a diagonally striped school tie in the appropriate school colours every day except in the warmest of summer weather when we were allowed to go open-necked. In the early years my mother used to have to tie it for me but you soon got the knack and learned to do it for yourself. In later life I was astonished to find that my own teenage son, going to his first job interview and being required to wear a tie for the first time in his life, did not have the slightest idea of how to tie one. How times have changed! In winter months I sometimes wore a scarf, again in the school colours. These came either in wool with the colours picked out in solid horizontal bars or in other materials with the colours in narrow diagonal stripes. They could be worn in a variety ofways; tied in a knot at the throat, draped around the neck or looped around the neck with an end hanging down front and back. The weather dictated whether or not I wore a scarf and it was never a matter of dispute between my mother and I.
I joined the Cubs at the age of 8 and remained with them until transferring to the Scouts at about I I . My Cub uniform consisted of green peaked cap with yellow piping, navy blue crew-neck jumper, neckerchief secured with a leather "woggle", grey school shorts and knee-length socks with garter flashes. For special events and church parades I would swap the shorts for my kilt. The Scout uniform in Scotland was slightly different from that worn by our counterparts in England in that hardly any boys wore the traditional "lemon squeezer" hat. During my time an alternative hat was introduced--a balmoral-style beret in a khaki colour. One item of our gear which I suspect is not part of the modern Scout uniform was the sheath knife. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in both Cubs and Scouts and remained in the movement until I was about 14. The reason I left is, I think, interesting and illustrative. At about this age 1 made the transition into long trousers and, I suppose, began to think of myself as a young man and no longer a boy.
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