** English mail order catalogs and newspaper adverisements with boys clothes

English Mail Order Catalogs and Newspaper Advertisements with Boys Clothings

Figure 1.--These advertisements for schoolwear appeared in English newspapers. One is dated 1960 which advertises flannel shorts. Some of the others may have appeared in the 1950s.

English mail order catalogs and newspaper advertisements as well as home sewing and knitting magazines are a wonderful source of information on clothing styles over time. The articles, ad cooy, and illustrations help to illustrate destinctive English clothing styles and fashion changes over time. We are archiving here the material that we have collected.


English mail order catalogs offer a great deal of information on specific clothing styles worn over time. A variety of boys' garments are especially associated with England. Some of these garments include sailor suits, sweaters, various styles of suits, short pants, suits, kneesocks, and school sandals. As many of the catalogs are dated, they provide useful information on importan fashion trends. We have begun to collect catalogs with various garments. Currently we are primarily archiving them in the chronological section, but as we expand our archive will eventually will eventually cross reference them in this garment section as well.


English mail order and other retail catalogs offer a very useful time line on changing fashion trends. I am not sure precisely when these catalogs first appeared in England. IOt appears to be after the United States as merchants and consumers were not separated by long distances as was the case in America.


HBC is also collecting information on individual stores and retailers. We had originally conceived of separate sections for mailorder and regular stores. We have since reassess this decission and decided to combine this information. Tis allows us to use the information to better assess fashion trends over time. Our information on English stores is still very limited at this time. Some of the most important chain stores carrying boys clothing is Brithish Home Stores and Marks and Spencers. There have been other smaller chains. One HBC reader has porovided us a copy of the Colts catalog. Colts was a store operating in England and other European countries during the 1960s and 70. There are also local boys' and menswear reatilers. These stores often stock the uniforms for local stores. We do not yet have information on mailorder companies. We also would like to add information on manufacturers, but have very limited information at this time.

Importance of Catalog Information

One important question to be considered is just how accurate is catalog and advertising information as a reflection of contemporary styles. HBC tends to believe that American catalogs (Pennys, Sears, and wards) are a very useful if not infalable reflection of American clothing styles. This may be because Americans extensively bought from these companies. The same may not be true in Europe. A British reader writes sugests the same may be true of England. The subject came up in a discussion about a French lesson when he was in grammar (selective secondary) school , "Altough I agree that English textbooks could get what French boys were wearing in the 1970s wrong I am not sure that your suggestion that catalogues give a better idea. As I told you my mum never bought from catalogues as she always wanted us to try clothes on in the store and I only knew a couple of other boys who had clothes from cataloges - and then their mums complained that what they got through the post was not like the illustrations in the catalogues.Catalogues always (naturally!) show their clothing in the best light - with "perfect" people modeling them. They rely on people being attracted by these images and buying on that basis.If they are not satisfied the next year's catalogue would have a new "latest" range to seduce them, and their children. Even when I was growing up there was a big market in "ex-catalalogue" clothing - i.e. that which the manufacturers couldn't sell through the catalogues as boys or their parents weren't attracted.These ex-catalogue (or "rejects" as we used to call them) were sold very cheaply on street markets. Any boy I remember wearing these clothes would be ridiculed as they were out of fashion and obviuosly from an old catalogue.Few did.How they made a profit I don't know - probably from one-off sales.The advantage was,of course,that parents could get the clothing for their children and then pay for them over time in installments. When I was growing up most parents preferred to save up the money and then buy their children's clothes at a store like BHS.Overall this was cheaper than catalogues and only the very poorest would have to resort to the "live now pay later" idea of buying from a catalogue - and only then when they were desperate for a new item of clothing and they had no ready cash.This was the situation in England anyway as I recall it. France may have been different but my point is that, as with film/TV books and the like catalogues are not necessarily an accurate historical guide to period costume as worn by most people.They give a general sense of course of what's "in" and what's "out" - that's their business - but they also used to try to "set fashion" and their clothes were rejected by both boys and parents and ended up on those market stalls.

Stores had a much bigger influence on boys fashion - yet few published catalogues then.It was just that if one boy turned up at school or on the street in some item that other boys liked the look of they would soon spot them in the local BHS and persaude their parents to buy them. In fact as far as school uniform was concerned BHS would bring out a "back to school"range every August and most boys would get similar clothes - as long as their parents could afford new clothes for the new school year. As I told you the new style of "continental" (although we never used that term) shorts had been stocked by BHS in their "Summer Collection" for 1969 and my mum had bought me two pairs to go to Germany in. Their "back to school" range included this style of shorts in grey and I was lucky enough to get a pair. The catalogue "back to school" clothes were always at least 2 years out of date - often because they were trying to get rid of their old stock. We boys saw through! this - but that didn't stop us taking the mickey out of boys who had to wear them - which was unfair, I know, but that was how it was.


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Created: December 2, 2000
Last updated: 9:44 PM 10/29/2013