English School Uniforms: Bill: London Schools (1960s-70s)


Figure 1.--Here I am in my grammar (secondary) school uniform with tie and blazer. It was my passport photo.

My brothers and I attended several different schools as a boy. These schools had different outlooks on both education and school uniform. As a result we boys had somewhat different educational expderiences. We attended regular state primary and Church of England (C of E) primaries and regular and direct grant grammar schools. This was in part because we moved and our parents choice of schools. Of course we had to do well academically to get into the grammar schools. School uniforms were adopted by each individual schools so there were differences in how we dressed for school. Changing fashion trend were also a factor here. My primary school was a traditional Church of England school in West London. I started there in September 1964. We had a strict uniform: cap, blazer, shirt and tie, shorts (grey), gartered socks with green rings around the tops, black shoes even from the earliest years (age 5). My friend who I used to play with started at the school on the same day as me, but his parents took him out of the school after a few weeks and sent him to a more relaxed school up the road (a low-level post war school - ours was an old Victorian building). His school had no uniform and I remember noticing that at an early age. I too had donewell on my 11+ and had been accepted at a grammar school, but a different one to my brother. We had moved in the Summer of 1970 to another district of London and I was due to start at my secondary school. This was what was known as a "Direct Grant Grammar School" My new items of school uniform were the school blazer, tie and long kneesocks in the school colours. Shorts were not compulsory in the main school but some of those who were moving up from the "prep" department wore them to start with along with those of us who were still had our primary school shorts in reasonable condition to wear out. My younger brother had meanwhile been enrolled at a new primary school in the area that we had moved to which did not require a uniform so he started the new school year in jeans!.

School Uniform Trends

I was thinking about what some of the other HBC contributors say about school uniforms in different periods. I think, as far as I am aware, that most Church of England primary schools were run along the same sort of lines in the 1960s as they had been since the war whereas there were changes in other state primaries (the non-uniform more "liberal" schools for instance). In some senses as far as uniform went you could argue that there were more rules in the 60s than earlier at my type of school - but I couldn't be sure. For instance I think in the 1950s the school would have the basic uniform of grey shorts, socks and, probably, shirts with the school tie but requiring blazers and, when I started, caps for all boys may not have been the case then. This could have been due to greater affluence. So too could be the fact that you could still wear grey shirts (as I did) to school but had to have a white one too for school trips and special occaisions. I think many boys at my type of school in the 50s would have only worn a white shirt to church - but again I'm not sure. I did notice things slackening off at my secondary school as the 1970s progressed as I've told you - allowing longer hair, not having a prescribed school coat or bookbag and this probably was very different to earlier periods such as the 1950s.

Our Schools

My brothers and I attended several different schools as a boy. These schools had different outlooks on both education and school uniform. As a resiult we boys had somewhat different educational expderiences. We attended regular state primarie and Church of England (C of E) primaries and regular and direct grant grammar schools. This was i part because we moved and our parents choice of schools. Of course we had to do well academically to get into the grmmar schools. School uniforms were adopted by each individual schools so there were differentsin how we dressed for school. Chanhing fashion trend were also a factor here.

Primary School (1960s)

My older brother and I attended the same primary school. It was a traditional Church of England school in West London. I started there in September 1964. We had a strict uniform: cap, blazer, shirt and tie, shorts (grey), gartered socks with green rings around the tops, black shoes even from the earliest years (age 5). Caps must have died out--I only remember having one when I first started at the school). We wore grey shirts most of the time but white was allowed too and as my older brother always chose (from when I was aware of it) to wear a white shirt I always insisted on wearing a grey one--just to be different! I also remember objecting to wearing his "hand me down" shorts as at that time (I was about 9). They were too "baggy" in comparison with my friends'. I learned tom always wore by socks fully pulled up and with garters. It was big trouble at school to have your socks down, the only worse offence regarding clothing I can recall is having your hands in your pockets. One incident I do recall was when we had a trainee teacher for P.E. in primary school.

Other Primary Schools

I remember there were several primary schools in the different neigborhoods we lived. There were a lot of different approaches to school wear at these different schools. I can tell you a bit about this based on my own experieces. There were quite a variety of schools around the area of West London where we lived. Most did have uniforms - it seemed that the church-based ones - like mine (C.of E.) or my mate Michael's (Catholic) - were the most strict. There were, however, other junior (primary) schools which had uniforms including ties, but not blazers like we had. There were also non-uniform schools like the one my friend who started at infants with me went to after his parents took him out of our school.

New Jumper

I think I also mentioned that when my elder brother got his new secondary school uniform I got new shorts and a new jumper as well for my last year in primary school. The latter seemed the best to me - there was something about it - not being darned or worn in any way that made it special to me. It wasn't fancy wool or anything, just shop bought acrylic, but maybe that was it. I liked this as it was lightweight and stretchy so I could tie it round my waist after school if I was too hot. I used to wear it either on or round my waist every day. My previous jumpers had been hand knitted by my grandma or a "well-meaning neighbour). The shorts did not seem so important then--I had grown used to those I was wearing (even though they were his). I didn't even go to try these on - my mum brought them back for me after she and my brother had gone to buy his new uniform. I was so pleased with that jumper I wore it on the first day back to school - even though it was the Summer. I think I wore it every day--either on or tied round my waist. It was only a plain grey school jumper--but it was mine. I remember an incident involving my jumper that will tell you a bit about my school rules when we went out of school field trips.

My Brother's Grammar School

My elder brother used to set off even earlier than me as he had a long tube trip to his school. He was now in his second year - but I'm pretty sure he started his school in long trousers. We were still at the old flat then - otherwise his uniform was pretty standard - plain black blazer with the school badge, black trousers, white shirt, and tie.

My Grammar School (1970s)

I too had done well on my 11+ exam and had been accepted at a grammar school, but a different one to my brother. We had moved in the Summer of 1970 to another district of London and I was due to start at my secondary school. This was what was known as a "Direct Grant Grammar School" - most of the boys paid fees to attend it, but under a government scheme they took a proportion of boys who had passed their own internal enterance exam - and the fees were then paid by the local authority. This was considered to be a much "better" school than the run-of- the-mill grammar schools (like the one my brother was attending) and were really day-boy versions of the public schools. They expected all of their students to go on to Oxford or Cambridge Universities and had "rolls of honour" all around the main hall with the names of past students who had done just that. The school also had a "preparatory department" which took in boys from the age of 9-11 who then went on to the main school as well as boys joining from various state primary schools from all over London. I was the only boy from my primary school who went to this school--similar to other boys who I met there who had won a "free place" from inner-city London boroughs. Most of the boys who's parents paid to send their sons there lived in "posher" areas of the capital--in effect the suburbs). My mother had been pleased that my elder brother had got into his grammar school a year earlier, but was not so sure that I should be entered for this school--thinking it was "out of our league". She had finally been persauded to do so by my primary school teacher who no doubt saw it as reflecting well on her school.

My Little Brother's Primary School Clothes (1970s)

My younger brother had meanwhile been enrolled at a new primary school in the area that we had moved to which did not require a uniform so he started the new school year in jeans!. This may be a bit of a mistatement when I said that my younger brother started his new primary school in jeans. There may have been jean shorts or some other type of shorts it being September. I only recall it seeming him odd going off to school not in a uniform. Primary schools started back a day or so earlier than secondary schools for some reason. The rest of the time I was out of the house and on my way to school while he was still waiting for Mum to get his clothes ready. I do know that jeans were allowed because I do recall him going off in them after the Christmas holidays, by which time I had long tousers for school too.

My Grammar School Uniform (1970s)

My new items of school uniform were the school blazer, tie and long kneesocks in the school colours. Shorts were not compulsory in the main school but some of those who were moving up from the "prep" department wore them to start with along with those of us who were still had our primary school shorts in reasonable condition to wear out. I recall thge caps and scarves that were worn. Despite the fact that the school was somewhat flexible about the uniform, somehow the issue of sarves seemed to setthem off. Maybe this was because caps (for sporting acheivement) and "college scarves" were a University tradition - that these boys hoped to go on to.

My Photograph

The photograph here is a passport photo It shows me in my secondary school uniform.Note that I am still wearing my grey shirt, which was unusual in our secondary school, although obviously not forbidden. The blazer is a plain black one with the school badge (which you can't see here on the breast pocket. I remember that it was made of a wool mix, which was quite warm. Caps,if worn, were black as well with the school badge on the front. Older boys tended to wear blazers in a different more shiny material - barathea. The tie is blue and black - this style was worn by the first, second and third year boys as well as those in the prep department. Older boys wore a different style of tie and prefects yet another. The jumper is grey with blue, black and white stripes at the neck.This pattern was the same on the tops of our socks. I'm not sure if I was still wearing shorts when this photo was taken - I only wore them for the first term. It would be 1970 when I was in the first year because once I grew out of my primary school grey shirts I had to wear white ones. I'm not sure if this was because they were no longer made in older boys sizes, my mum's decision or me deciding to be like the other boys in the second year. (Grey shirts were seen as more childish for some reason. Maybe they were the uniform reqirement in the prep school - I can't remember.) I recall reading on HBC the speculation that grey shirts became common schoolwear as they would not show the dirt so perhaps white shirts were meant to indicate responsibility in this respect. I also think this is the origin of the white socks for girls and grey for boys convention - girls supposedly not getting up to such rowdy games in the playground. I also,of course, no longer felt the need to appear different to my older brother as he was at a different school now. My haircut with the bit of a fringe was still chosen by mum - some boys were growing their hair longer - but the school wouldn't allow it to fall over the collar. I wanted to grow my hair to cover my ears but mum wouldn't alllow it - though the school would have.

Conversations

I don't recall a lot of discussions at my secondary school about short trousers with other boys. Some boys wore them and some didn't seemed to be the attitude, for school anyway. Out of school was a different matter but I didn't really mix with these boys out of school as we lived far apart. There was that boy I told you about who came to school in his shorts and boots. And I recall a few years later (and we were allowed out of school out lunchtime) a group of us were passing a local primary school playground on the way to the chip shop where the boys were in shorts one boy saying that if he'd have had to wear shorts to our school he wouldn't have come and us all agreeing. (I didn't tell them that I had worn them for the first term!) By this time - about 1974 - hardly any boys still wore shorts in the main school. I do recall one other discussion about short trousers with boys from this school in the Science Museum one Sunday afternoon but I'll leave that for now.

French Classes

I do remember of clothing, especially short trousers, coming up a couple of times in a classroom situation. One was in my third year at the school and we used to have a French woman come in so we could practice French conversation. This in itself was a big event as all of the normal teachers - or masters as we called them - were men it being an all boys school. She would come in once a week and talk away in French prompting us to try to get us talking. Anyway on this occasion she was trying to get us to use the "past tense" in French by asking us what we used to do when we were younger, what we used to wear etc. and writing up any new words on the blackboard. Of course short trousers came into the conversation! She latched onto this as a practice sentence for us to try to repeat to her "Quand j'etais a l'ecole primaire je portais un culotte courte mais maintenant je porte un pantalon long" or something - meaning when I was at primary school I wore short trousres but now I wear long trousers. I remember this being a fun lesson as some boys would try to explain when it came to their turn that they didn't wear shorts at primary school (in French - she wouldn't let you speak in English). There was also one boy in the class who was still in shorts and she had to feed him the word for "still" and there was some laughter at all this that carried on after the class. Quite a lot of these sessions were based around cultural differences between France and England and clothing would crop up and we'd learn new words. For instance she told us then that the French had no word of their own for jeans and borrowed the English word for them - "le bluejean". Our French text book had a lesson on French clothing. Because of the section on French clothing in our French text book, we had a class discussion on the topic. Our French teacher (who was from Marseilles in the South of France) had told us that French boys wore shorter shorts than even the English boys did at the time. I only knew one French boy. His name was Didier. He was about a 13 yeaars ols and lived with us a short time. He came as part of an exchange program with my younger brother's school. I was a little surprised because he didn't wear the short cut short pants like our teacher described.

An English Lesson

The other classroom situation when I remember the subject of trousers coming up was in an English lesson. We had been discussing the subject of punctuation and "ambiguity". and were sent off to find examples of this for the next class from newspapers etc. At the start of each new school term we were given (in fact I think we had to buy it!) a "journal" which was a booklet with the school crest on it and a page for us to fill in the lesson timetable,as well as normal diary type pages where we had to fill in any homework set (so we couldn't claim we had forgotten it!. At the front of this journal was a summary of the school rules, including those on uniform. Many of us knew sections of these pages off by heart as a favourite punishment for transgressions was to make us copy them out a hundred times. One of the items on the list was "...Dark grey shorts or long trousers. Long trousers may not be worn in the preparatory departement." I remember one boy coming back the next lesson with this as an example of "ambiguity" as it meant that shorts had to be dark grey but any colour long trousers were o.k. and the English master explaining that for that to be the case there would have to be a comma after the word "or" or something and the boy not accepting this. I think the boy must have gone on to be a lawyer. Anyway it diverted the lesson into a general discussion of school rules and the English master telling the boy he could test out his theory in practice by wearing non-uniform trousers but that he would have to take any consequences! The boy didn't take up the offer but he was still going on about it after the class. (I rember that the next sentence to the above was: "If wearing short trousers the official school stockings are to be worn. These may be purchased at the school shop." That was what the boy I told you about who turned up in non-uniform socks had to copy out.

Lunch

We took lunch communially in what was grandly called a "refrectory", but was a pretty drab building at the end of the school. There were two or even three "sittings" and the prep. school boys and the first and second year boys were lumped in together. I think sandwiches were allowed from the 5th form upwards at that time - later all boys could bring them and the game then was to try and get off the school premises and go to the chip shop - but that was 2 or 3 years later and, maybe, demonstates a further loosening of regulations as the 70s progressed.

After School

I was still playing football after school with my new mates (i.e. the ones I'd met that Summer where we now lived) and some of them attended the local C. of E. secondary school I'd mentioned so there were a few of us playing in school shorts - as well as others who'd gone home and changed into football strip or whatever - again no-one said anything at that point. I just had to pretend to my mum that I'd been held back at my new school as she had changed her working hours to be home for my younger brother when he got out of his new school as she didn't know anyone to take him in yet as she did in the old area.I normally told her I'd been doing homework with other boys at my new school.

Toy Weapns

A whole new topic is clothes as toys--or most commonly weapons for us boys! Throwing wellington boots around (out of school) or using garters as "catupults" was also popular. A satchell full of books and swung by the strap was a formidable weapon. I even remember being nearly knocked out by a school cap that an older boy had thrown and the peak (they were very stiff and hard) caught me on the bridge of my nose.) The snake belt fear I had was that on turning out of school we often indulged in (play) fights on the way home and these would escalate - satchells being swung etc. and if a boys satchel was "captured" he might take off his snake belt and charge at his opponents swinging it round his head and I always feared this as the buckle of the belt (in fact the "snake" due to it's shape") was metal and for some reason I feared it would catch my eye,althogh this was probably just a fear put into my head by teachers. I think that the fact that we were not allowed to be too boisterous (or should I say boys-terous) in school led to these after-school fights being all the wilder--but nobody was ever seriously hurt.

Boys Attitudes

Many boys at my gramma school were into trendy clothes of the 1970s that I described on my main page. I should add at this point that it was not ALL boys at my school who followed these trends, but a sizeable proportion did. Others stuck to their academic studies and followed the "correct" uniform and others still dabbled in these school fashion shows--including the unfortunate boy I mentioned before who showed up in "bovver boots" and short grey trousers neatly ironed by his Mum. I should also point out that our school could not be taken as across-section of all London schools. Some would not tolerate any deviation from the rules.

Other Schools (1970s)

Secondary schools at the time had widely different policies concerning uniform. It has been pointed out to me by a friend who attended a grammar school in a smaller town (Wolverhampton) that the compulsory wearing of caps on the journey to and from school allowed boys to be identified if they were wearing winter overcoats which is why - even when the older boys were allowed long trousers (and so not identifiable by the school colours on their kneesocks). His school still insisted on the cap being worn. There ws a C. of E. school (St. Marks) that I mentioned earlier which kept the boys in short trousers. A friend of mine went to a Catholic secondary school ( Cardinal Vaughn?). He claimed that the head delivered a fire and brimstone lecture on the evils of "shaven heads" and boys their were sent home for turning up with too short hair Another sermon on the evils of drugs threatened to expel any boy whose hair was touching his collar at the end of that week. (He also claimed that the head kept a bottle of whiskey in his study - but that's another topic). Yet other schools - such as Christopher Wren had a uniform but let boys dress more or less as they liked - including jeans - as long as they wore tha blazer and tie. The C of E. school, by the way, was a mixed gender school - as was Holland Park Comprehensive school (one of the largest in the country) which had quite a traditional uniform--certainly a blazer. And it occurs to me whether fashion following in school was more or less intense in single gender schools. I mean for the boys - the girls I hung around with seemed to look good in anything at that age but I suppose they had their ups and downs too. There were "skinhead girls" - one I worked with in the shop borrowed one of my favourite Ben Sherman shirts to go out after work and I never saw it again! - but then again she was helping clothe her two younger brothers by working so I didn't complain ).

Hair Styles

Another interesting subject is hair styles. was never sure if it came under "clothing" or not but I think that it related and I know HBC cover hair styls. I can only write about my own experiences - but it is interesting to read about other's experiences in HBC - and in so many countries too! This relates to my secondary school too as I have photograph of my friend's form at my secondary school. I am not in it - it is a form in the prep department - but it is in 1971 during my first year at the school and also illustrates a bit more about our uniform other than that I have already told you. What strikes me about my friend's photo is the hairstyles! I think that I already told you that I was the only boy from my primary school who went on to this "posh" school. I know that I soon found out that their parents were more lax as far as clothing went than boys from my area were. I know that my Mum always insisted that we had a "short back and sides" at the barbers - and so did most of my friends' - my mate Michael's uncle used to cut his and his brothers' hair and I can tell you some funny stories about that! Anyway - the boys in this photo still had to wear caps (we didn't) and it was always amusing to see them perching their caps on top of their "barnet's" ("Barnet" is London slang for hair - rhyming slang - "Barnet Fair" = "Hair"). As for the photo. - well it is how I was dressed when I started the school. The stripes on the socks are the same colours as the ones on my jumper in my passport photo. (these don't wear jumpers as it's the class photo at the end of the year - Summer). The prep school boys wore exactly the same uniform as us - except for them shorts were compulsory. Some of us only wore shorts for the first year or or so.








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Created: Dcember 14, 2003
Last updated: 8:48 PM 3/1/2005