Scottish Boys' Clothes: Personal Experiences during the 1960s in Scotland and England


Figure 1.--Me, aged 10, nearest the camera, watching some kind of special run-past of trains. As a railway manager's son I was privileged to stand at the trackside, the price of this being reasonably smart clothes. Note the immaculately turned down knee socks. My shorts look enormous on me, as they were almost certainly new and therefore still ooked presentable, not hopelessly creased and out of shape as tended to happen with khaki shorts after several washings. The open-neck short-sleeve shirt was also considered "smart-casual"; boys would not usually wear a tie except as school uniform or for Sunday best. The fact that other boy in the picture has the grey school-type shorts on shows how boys wore both types in and out of school in summer.

As promised, some recollections about what I wore as boy in Scotland and England. Apologies for writing so much, I don't know whether a lot of the subjective stuff about attitudes, likes/dislikes and social connotations is really useful to HBC. I was born in 1955. I can't remember really thinking about my clothes until I was about 9, and after the age of 15 my clothing probably no longer reflected "boyhood" (unless one counts the school uniform, which was however no different to what 18/19-year-olds wore). So my personal experiences cover the approximate period 1964-1970. As you'll see, the long/short pants issue left quite a mark on my life so perhaps that's why I can remember so much detail. I asked my wife to help me edit it down, but she thought I ought to send the lot (she's a psychologist, which probably explains it!), so here it is.

Personal Background

I was born in 1955. I can't remember really thinking about my clothes until I was about 9, and after the age of 15 my clothing probably no longer reflected "boyhood" (unless one counts the school uniform, which was however no different to what 18/19-year-olds wore). So my personal experiences cover the approximate period 1964-1970. To fill in a bit of background, I was perhaps not very typical of boys of the day because our family moved around a great deal whilst I was at school, my dad being a signal engineer on the old British Rail. This, coupled with me being an only child, perhaps altered the effect of peer-pressure on dress code during that part of my life.

British Trends

The chronology given on the website for Scotland and England is pretty much as I remember things, but there were very noticeable variations between different parts of the United Kingdom (UK), and between different social classes and income groups, as to the time when the various changes in clothing styles took place. In this context, it is difficult to consider Scotland, England and Wales as different cases during that period, except in as much as progressiveness, wealth and climate varied across the UK generally. Rightly or wrongly, people felt much more "British" 30-40 years ago, and London was by default a leader in style for the whole country. At that time, the items such as shirts, shoes, sweaters and jackets (other than school blazers) that boys wore were much like men's styles. In the mid-60s boys even down to 9 or 10 were becoming fashion conscious and quite keen to have their clothes mirror current teenage fashion.

Kilts

Of course, the obvious exception is that Scotland retains a distinctive male traditional dress (kilt and accessories), but that had already long been marginalized as everyday wear, especially for children, at the time that I am considering.

Caps

Headgear had also come into line with adulthood by then: although I had a school cap as a little boy in the early 60s, they were definitely passť by the time under consideration, and any kind of hat or cap was decidedly untrendy for many years

Gaberdine macs

The other school kid classic, belted gaberdine macs, were also pretty much obsolete by '65, though I did continue to see them being worn by kids at specific schools, doubtless due to rules on uniform. Something else that died out when I was about 10 or so were grey Clydellon shirts, which I'm fairly sure were only made for schoolboys, not adults.

Pants and socks

Pants (I use the term to mean "trousers", not the Southern English meaning of "underwear'!), however had much more of a social significance, in particular the wearing of short or long ones at any given age. This question naturally extended to socks, as these were obviously more visible with shorts, and formed an important part of keeping warm in winter. So shorts and socks will be the main area that I will focus on in my personal experience. I think for all boys of my generation, the short/long pants issue was qualitatively different from other clothing preferences, though for me it turned out to have have much more of a significance than for probably 99% of other boys.

Climate

Incidentally, I'm not sure whether climate really had much effect on the choice of pants. I can't remember ever feeling especially cold when wearing shorts as a boy. In fact winters with bare knees may well have toughened me up - today when I go hillwalking I can comfortably leave my legs uncovered long after I feel the need to put on a jacket or sweater for my upper body.


Figure 2.--Looking very smart for a trip with my dad. Again, well-behaved socks and neat, crease-free shorts. The school kind were definitely considered to be more suitable for well-dressed occasions. Although probably taken at weekend, this would have been very much what I would have worn for school. The even better turned out younger kid on the right was the son of a friend of my dad's.

My Schools

I attended quite a few different schools in Scotland and different areas of England.

Scotland

Until I was in my final year of Primary school (1965) we lived in Central Scotland, and the only long pants that I ever owned was a pair of jeans, which were mainly used for playing outdoors in winter. They were certainly not considered "respectable" for anything else. I only rarely saw boys of my age wearing long pants at school or when out with their parents, and those that did always seemed to have "nice" clothes generally, so probably came from wealthier families. I think that boys wearing long pants was seen as being a bit of an Americanism at the time.

Northeast England

Then we moved to the north-east of England, and I was amazed to find that only a small proportion of my new classmates wore shorts. I had a lot of difficulty settling in to this school in what was quite a tough area, as the kids there seemed much more grown up for their age than in the smaller Scottish town we had left. Being small for my age, having the wrong accent and a surname that sounded silly to English kids didn't help matters. To try and make things better, my mum asked if I'd like to start wearing long pants, then at least I'd look a bit older. Deep down I think I knew it wouldn't solve anything, but I was ready to try any idea. So, at age 10, that was my first real pair of long pants. However, I didn't wear them much out of school, and I began to become aware in many small ways that my parents approved much more of shorts. They would make remarks about shorts looking smarter, being more practical in wet weather, and needing less care, and also encouraged me to see "being grown up" as a matter of behaviour, not dress. The generally negative associations of this period I think put me off wearing long pants later in my childhood. Also, at a time when tight trousers were the youth fashion, a pair that were deiberately bought oversize, to survive a growing spell, hardly added to my credibility! (Slightly over- or under-size shorts were much less noticeable and, being cheaper, could be replaced more frequently anyway.)

English Lake District

It was partly due to my school misery that my dad put in for another transfer very soon, and we moved again to a much smaller town near the English Lake District before I started Secondary School. Here, about half the first-year boys wore shorts for school, and most of the neighbourhood kids that I had got to know during the summer played out in shorts as well, so I was quite happy to go back to wearing shorts pretty much all the time myself. I remember how good the feeling was of wearing shorts to school on hot and sticky, or very wet days, compared with longs the year before. I think I had jeans as before for winter and a more fashionable and expensive pair of longs for very best. By the winter of second year at Secondary School, I was definitely in a minority as a shorts wearer, but I still didn't feel a major impulse to change to longs, with all the bad memories of my last school. But I had already noticed that no 3rd year boys wore shorts there, and expected that that was when I would change over. Although my parents would never have forced me to keep on wearing shorts I could sense that they were pleased with my decision (or perhaps more accurately, my inertia). I don't remember as much about what I wore at weekends and during school holidays, but I am almost certain that I always wore shorts when out with my parents.


Figure 3.-- This was on a family outing to York Railway Museum, hence my much more casual dress of t-shirt and khaki shorts, typical summer clothes, even for school (in Scotland at least). Though on close inspection I seem to be wearing well-polished black shoes, not pumps or sandals as would normally be the case at that time of year. The wide-neck t-shirt with multicoloured narrow horizontal stripes was very much a children's style, which couldn't have lasted long after that date. The shorts were in the light grey variety of khaki, and they stick in my mind as a pair that I liked very much, for some reason. The picture was taken when I was 11 (1966) and we lived in that part of England.

Southern England

But then came another move, this time to the South Coast of England, and a much more prosperous region than we had ever lived in before. There I found that a few 3rd year boys at the High School wore shorts, so I decided not to change after all. I did take a certain amount of stick: this was 1968 and kids were beginning to become more assertive about what they wore, and to wear something regarded as juvenile implied that one lacked this assertiveness. So although I still liked my shorts and thought I looked good in them, around that November I told my mum that I wanted to wear long pants "during the winter" (using the weather as an untrue excuse). The reply was that I couldn't wear my best ones for school, and if I wanted a school pair it would have to be instead of a trendy and expensive style of shoes that I had set my heart on. I went for for the shoes! I was then 13, nearer 14 years old, and beginning to think more for myself, and so I decided I would just keep on wearing shorts and try to make a kind of virtue out of being different that way and not just following the pack. Looking back at it, probably with all the moving around that we had been doing, and my being an only child, my parents were the one point of stability in my life, and their approval was probably more important than that of other boys my age. By the end of summer term I was one of only three boys in that year still wearing shorts as pretty much everyday clothing.

The next term started in September 1969 and off I went to school in shorts again, as a 4th year of 14, not really knowing how to stop, and almost feeling that any "giving in" would earn me as much stick with my peers as carrying on. At a stage in life when it seemed like we were always being urged to act responsibly (i.e. boringly!), I also had a feeling that dressing less like an adult might somehow exempt me from all this. And at that time, kids had to pay adult bus fares after 14, but the conductors always assumed that a boy in shorts must be younger than that. So there were advantages! But that year, even the kids in the year below me started wearing long pants as quickly as they could persuade their parents to let them. It was just getting too embarrassing, especially as I could only parrot out the same old phrases when I was continually asked "Why??!!". Again in the autumn I used the "just for winter" excuse with my parents, but this time there were no problems. I could wear my best longs and have others to replace them. Then, the following spring, in the new decade of the 70s and with me almost 15, my parents reminded me of my "just for winter" remark (I think the "girlfriend" story told below may have sparked this!). But I could tell that it wasn't meant seriously, and they had accepted that I wouldn't wear shorts again. (And in fact it was not until the sporty look of the mid-80s when shorts became fashionable for men, that I ever wore them for anything other than doing sports.)

Even so, the damage had been done to my image and I had marked myself out as "strange" or even immature (a reputation that stayed with me until we eventually moved back to Scotland a few years later) just by choosing a particular style of pants, in a way that I don't think could have happened in connection with any other garment. Also if I had been living in our original home town in Scotland at the time, I think to dress that way at that age in the late 60s would not have caused quite so much teasing. Certainly, I always saw more other boys my age wearing shorts up there when we went to visit and never felt as much that other kids were looking at me, compared with in England.


Figure 4.-- Soon after we had moved to Southern England, so I would be 12 or 13. My ankle socks look more light in colour than boys would normally want to wear, but this is probably a trick of the light as I can only remember having light grey or light brown ones. The shirt collar turned over the sweater was a bit of a fashion thing at the time, showing that even as schoolboys we weren't oblivious to trends. This would be normal weekend spring/summer wear for me at that age

Clothing Details

HBC readers may be interested in some details about the clothes I wore as a boy and have mentiond above.

Shorts

For as long as I can remember accurately, I only ever wore two kinds of shorts: grey/black lined terylene ones all winter and for more dressed-up occasions in summer, and unlined khaki cotton ones for more general summer wear (confusingly, the latter were often referred to more specifically as "shorts", whilst the grey variety were just "pants" or "trousers", no doubt on the grounds that you weren't going to be wearing long trousers as such anyway!). The khaki shorts actually came in a range of shades in the mid-60s, from the traditional dirty yellow, through to light grey and off-white hues. These also had a wider variety of little style features (which I quite liked as a boy) such as belt loops, waist adjustments, and back pockets, compared with the more standardized school-type shorts. Sometimes khaki shorts had turnups at the bottom, but I din't much like them and never saw them later on. At that time, If you saw a boy in khaki shorts in the depths of winter you would assume his family were very poor and couldn't afford the more expensive lined kind. I never had to wear the long baggy flannel shorts that you sometimes see in 50s and early 60s pictures. As the years went by, shorter styles increasingly became the in thing, doubtless influenced by fashions on the football field. But in later years, when I was trying to convince myself that shorts could really look quite grown up, I went off the short kind, as they looked too much like the sort of thing that very small boys wore. This also happened to fit in with my parents' preferences: they were afraid of people thinking that they couldn't afford, or didn't care enough, to buy me clothes that fit properly! The latterly quite popular jeans-style denim shorts did not exist during this period.

Socks

Before going to secondary school, where uniform rules applied, I would always wear long socks in winter time and ankle socks in the spring and summer. Unlike the use of grey or khaki shorts, which was as much about smartness as seasons, knee/ankle socks went with the weather. So any permutation of sock and shorts type was OK. However the first Secondary school I went to in England insisted on the school's variety of knee socks all year. The second one didn't seem to bother, but by the end of the 60s there was less choice in shorts and long socks on sale for bigger boys, so that probably determined the matter, and I mostly wore ankle socks in later years and surviving pairs of long ones only when the weather was cold or wet.

At Primary school, the knee socks I wore were a medium grey, with two bands of colour around the tops, which were normally turned down (with varying degrees of neatness!). At my Primary school the kids were divided arbitrarily into 4 colour-coded teams for sports and other competitions, and, although it wasn't compulsory, a lot of us always loyally insisted on having socks with the corresponding colour of bands. These went out of fashion in the mid 60s, and we started wearing plain-coloured ones that usually didn't turn down, usually in a lighter grey or light brown. Some boys had elastic garters to keep their socks up, but the rest of us just used to keep pulling them up, more or less frequently according to taste. I remember finding it a bit annoying having my socks drop down, but I think my mum didn't want to give me garters on health grounds. The later kind of socks stayed up much better on their own. I have a vague recollection from early Primary school (62/63 time?) of some bigger boys wearing long socks turned down neatly several times to make them ankle sock length, but whether this was their choice or something their parents liked I've no idea. I never wore the very woolly kind that I've seen in older pictures, by my day I think all socks were of some kind of synthetic mixture.

The ankle socks worn with shorts were definitely not the same as normal long-trouser socks. Nor were they at all like the sport socks that became fashionable in the 80s. They were always plain in pattern, and normally medium or light grey or brown. I think they sometimes had coloured bands at the top as well. You could turn these down at the top as well if you wanted to look particularly smart. Lighter shades were sold but seen as being a bit girlish, and white ones were definitely for girls only! With my jeans, and when I wore long pants at first aged 10, I still wore my long socks under them in winter. When I eventually started wearing long pants permanently, I still wore my short-trouser ankle socks with them until these wore out, but I made sure I was given "proper" socks as a replacement.

Other Clothes

Perhaps as a "reward" for not insisting on wearing long pants, I was often allowed to choose quite desirable and trendy looking shoes, shirts and jackets, so on some occasions I must have looked a strange mixture of teenager and schoolboy! This was not the usual pattern: there was often a correlation between boys wearing shorts until a late age, and having conservative clothes and haircuts generally, no doubt reflecting views held by traditionally-minded parents.


Figure 5.-- This was taken at Manchester in September 1969 when I was just over 14. I think that I was actually wearing my school clothes, minus blazer, as my dad had collected me straight from school on a Friday afternoon so that we would have time to travel to see this special steam train on the Saturday morning. Note the very typical ankle socks that were worn with shorts. When the prints came back I remember parental remarks being made about "looking grown-up", which may have been intended to defuse my anxiety about being the only boy of my age at my school still wearing shorts. The shorts were almost certainly bought at Marks & Spencers, which was one of the few places that still sold grey shorts in bigger sizes by that time. (I think this is the last photo of me dressed this way.)

Kids' Attitudes

I think I've explained enough about my own attitudes above. I hardly ever asked other kids why they wanted (or otherwise) to wear the kind of pants they did. Up to the age of about 11, when nearly all of us wore shorts every day, to ask someone why they did so would be about as sensible a question as "Why do you breathe air?" Later on I was just glad that a few other kids were still turning up in shorts, and perhaps afraid that making them think too much about it might make them change their mind! With some friends I didn't like to ask in case it turned out to be all that their parents could afford. Another group who carried on wearing shorts were from obviously wealthy families and had rather superior attitudes, and I knew that they would just go on about the wardrobe full of trendy clothes that they could wear at home. And to stand there in shorts asking another kid, especially a younger one, why he wore long pants would just have been setting myself up for a put-down. Of course I got plenty of unasked for opinions from other boys on why they would never ever, not in a million years, be like me and wear shorts at that age. Usually these were predictable variations on the theme of not wishing to look like a younger kid.

Parental Attitudes

I never really talked about this topic with my parents until I was in my mid-30s, when one evening we were going through the family albums with my wife-to-be. She is 8 years younger than me and grew up in Northwest England. She was amazed to see me in shorts at 13 or 14 as she couldn't remember ever having herself seen boys of that age dressed that way, and associated it with her father's generation. I was still feeling a bit sensitive about our age difference, so my parents took it on themselves to explain that they had indeed quietly encouraged the practice. They admitted that there was an element of not wanting to "lose their little boy", also socio-cultural associations that parents who just let children wear whatever they fancied were basically uncaring. But mainly they had not wanted me to miss out on any of the experience of being a child, especially in the later years when I was more independent, and this was part of their way of helping me to appreciate this. Afterwards my (now) wife told me how touched she'd felt by what they had said. But it made me wonder what I would do if we had boys! But as it turned out I only have daughters, so I've been spared these questions related to boys' clothing. My input to the debate about what my girls should or shouldn't wear is usually limited to "Do what your mum says!". In any case the landscape has totally changed since the 60s and 70s. Now I wouldn't like to see my daughters dressing too much like adults at a young age, but for very different reasons, as we unfortunately live an age of child abuse and prostitution, and a too-adult look can send all the wrong signals.

James's Account

In fact, my experiences have a lot in common with your other Scottish correspondent "James", although in my case perhaps the parental pressure was more subtle, and I felt as though I was making my own choice. Actually, I have nothing but admiration for the way in which James was able to handle being the only boy in his school wearing shorts, as late as 1980! It would have been much, much less accepted at that time than it was for me 11 years earlier. My two brothers-in-law are about his age, and my wife's photo album shows neither of them wearing shorts "in public" after they were around 8 or 9. The town where he went to school at the time is a very working-class, industrial place, and these were usually the very places where boys stopped wearing shorts at the youngest age. I can't remember ever seeing boys in the white knee socks that James mentioned. Maybe these were more a 70s thing? Certainly older boys would have hated them just as much in my day.

A Girl Friend

I had almost forgotten this little incident until reminded of it by something a bit similar in James's account. It was spring 1970, I was a couple of months off my 15th birthday (though I still looked a bit younger), and had been wearing long pants for school and jeans for leisure for about 6 months. Some friends of my parents from another town came to visit us with their three kids: a girl a year or so younger than me and two even younger boys. I immediately warmed to the girl and set out to try and impress her. After lunch the adults decided that we would all go for a country picnic, so I was told to go and change into something more suitable than my Sunday best. The girl came with me to my room and I decided to ask her to her choose which of my two (presentable) pairs of jeans I should wear. Just for a joke I also got out the last pair of khaki shorts that still fit me and said "... or these". To my dismay, she immediately pointed to the shorts. I knew she was daring me, but I put them on anyway, and wore them for our trip, which fortunately took us well away from the local area. Thankfully her kid brothers were wearing shorts too! But while we were out she teased me about my shorts whenever we were away from the adults, and at the picnic place she deliberately called me over to near where a group of 10-11 year old boys in jeans were playing, though luckily they didn't react. But I think all this made more of a bond between us than if I'd ducked her dare, and we wrote letters to each other for a while afterwards. OK, not really my first girlfriend but still good going at that age!

The Photos

To save time I've scanned some pictures that I have lying around here, rather than have to get hold of my parents' albums and search through them. Just to explain some of the rather bizarre backdrops: like many British schoolboys of the 1950s/60s I was keen on trains and railways. In my case this was encouraged by my dad who was a railwayman and an enthusiast himself. One of the things my dad liked to do was travel on special trains organised for railfans, pulled by ancient locomotives, or travelling down semi-derelict branch lines. Starting from when I was about 11, he would sometimes take me along with him on these trips. As he was a kind of junior manager, and could possibly meet his subordinates and/or bosses on the trip, he felt it was important for him to dress the part, and that of course had to extend to me as well. Long pants were of course out whilst I only had them for best, as these trips always involved a lot of scrambling around sidings and overgrown platforms, so I invariably wore my shorts (either school type or a new and still neat pair of khaki ones), and a smart shirt, sweater or jacket depending on the time of year. My dad usually took a picture or two with me on it, and would always give me prints to keep, telling me that I'd be able to prove years later that I'd seen such-and-such a no longer existing engine or railway track! Actually, I thought the trips were a bit boring in parts, since like most boys of the day my idea of enjoying trains consisted more of standing at the side of the track writing down the numbers of passing engines (yes, really!). But it felt nicely grown-up to be doing something in a group that consisted mainly of adults. The inconsistency of aspiring to involvement in the grown-up world, whilst still being unmistakeably dressed as a schoolboy, never really occurred to me. Perhaps I was subconsciously coming to realize that with adults it was what you said and did that made you look grown-up or childish, but the outward, appearance-type things were vital for impressing other kids, style of clothes being a major item.








Christopher Wagner




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Created: Octobr 12, 2002
Last updated: October 13, 2002