*** school : South Africa

South Africa Schools

South African schools
Figure 1.--These South African school children are participating in a sports pagent, we believe in 2003. It appears to have taken place in Pretoria.

South Africa like many former British colonies (Australia and New Zealand) has had uniforms based on traditional English styles. A school uniform consisting of a blazer, school tie, and dress pants which has been worn by boys in many countries, especially English-speaking countries. This uniform evolved in England during the late 19th century and spread to the English colonies which at the time spanned the globe. South Africa of course was one of those countries. Australian schools, despite the widely different climate tended to follow the British syles very closely until the 1960s when they begun to develop their own distinctive styles and standards. Schoolwear was of course affected by overall South African boys' clothing trends.

Ethnic Groups

School uniform standards tended to be quite similar throughout South Africa for white children. There were two major white groups, the English and Afrikaaner (Dutch). While the Afrikaaners eventually won control of the Government in all white elections, English school standards and uniforms were firmly established. Even elite Afrikaaner private schools were run like English public schools.


HBC at this time does not have detailed information about chronolgical trends in South African school uniforms over time. We do know that school uniforms and children's clothing in general has changed over time. We have very limited information about South African schools in the late 19th and early 20th century at this time. Hopefully our South African readers will provide some addiional information here. We note that traditional school uniform styles appear to have persisted in the 1990s and 2000s, at least at someprivate schools. A 2001 newspaper article entitled "Rather death than being out of Fashion!" provides some insights on current trends in South Africa. Generally speaking, South African school uniform fashions have followed those in Britain, perhaps langing somewhat behind Britain.


Public schools under the Aprtheid system were strictly separated by race. Schools for black childrens were poorly funded. The campaign to bring down Aprtheid began when the Government began instruction in Afrikans rather than English. The Apartheid regulations, however, did not extend to private schools, many of which also had colored (mixed race and Asian children) and blacks. Thev term'colored' primarily meant mixed race, but sometimes included Asians. Sharlto Copley (1973- ) is a South African producer, actor, and director. He is perhaps best known for playing the role of Wikus van de Merwe in the Oscar-nominated sci-fi film District 9 (2009). He next starred in the new film version of The A-Team (2010). He recalla at age 10 forming an A-Team 'gang' in his class in a private school. At the time the 'A Team' was a popular TV program in Soyth Africa and Sharlto's favoirite show. A nother group of four boys also formed an A-Team gang. Both had a black member for Mr. T. They had a fight to determine who would be the A-Team gang. A 11 he had a Mr. T birthday cake with Souh African flag decorations. [Copley] Even with the end of Apartheid. South African schools remain largely segregated altyhough no longer by law. Public schools are primarily attended by bklack children and many white children attend private schools. This varies somewhat by locality. Some public schools in areas where mostly whites live there are public schools that white children. Coloreds meaning Asian children are a third group. White students almost exclusively attend former whites-only school. The average white student attended a school that was 69 prcente, 3 percent Asian, 9 percent colored, and 20 percent black. The number of black children at private schools has been increasing, but the children at these schools are oprimarily white. This is because privae schools are fee paying schools.

South African school uniforms
Figure 2.--This private secondary school boy wears a straw boater. Notice the khaki shorts. Khaki is also a popular color for school uniforms in the Caribbean.

Types of Schools

We have begun to collect some information on South African schools, bith state and private schools. I am not sure how elementary children dresses for school in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I think that uniforms were generally not required, but have little information. Elementary children at state schools have generally wore shorts since the 1920s, often going barefoot. In the cooler weather, knee socks were worn to school. Many elementary schools currently require uniforms. Often the regulation is short pants in the summer and long pants in the winter. Often a sweater ("jumper") or sweat shirt is worn as part of the uniform. Blazers and ties are rarely required. Many secondary schools followed English dress standards through the 1950s. It was not uncommon for state secondary schoolboys to wear wear caps, ties, blazers, shorts, and knee socks. Private schools both elementary and secondary tended to follow Engish uniform standards and this has continued to the current period. Private schools are much more likely in South Africa to require a formal uniform. There have, however, been some changes over time. Many schools have the boys commonly wear khaki shirts and shorts. I am not sure why khaki has proven so popular in South Africa. Surely it must be related to the khaki worn by the British Army. The Army wore khaki uniforms in the Boer War. No similar war was fought in Australia and New Zealand, so presumably this is the primnary reason that khaki became so popular in South Africa. Other schools may have colored, often blue jumpers (sweaters). Knee socks are commonly worn, often grey kneesocks. We have no information on parochial schools in South Africa.


South Africa school uniforms were stringly influenced by British school uniforms. Thi was true throughtout the 20th centyry, but epecially the case after world War I when public schools became more establoshed and modern uniform styles became widely adopted. The school uniform garments worn by South African boys are quite similar to traditional English school uniforms. Some of the private schools still wear quite traditional uniforms. Some South African schools have continued to wear styles that English schools have discarded. The differences are the commom use of khaki shorts and kneesocks in South Africa and the tendency of many primary school children to go barefoot. Schools had a range of special days. First day was paricularly important for children just beginning school. South African parents like parents in other countries often take photographs on their children's first day of school. We do not know of any special ceremony or practice at school associated with the beginning of school in South Adrica. Most South African school traditions are based on British schools. We note that some South African school children wear seasonal uniforms. We do not know how common this is. We note some schools with grey cotton shirts and shorts like the summer uniforms worn in New Zealand. Here we note this uniform being worn at prep schools, we o not known if it is worn at the secondary level or public (state) schools. Unlike New Zealand we note boys wearing the uniform with kneesockds and shoes rather than Roman sandals. South African school uniforms were primarily based on English styles. Until relatively recently the English had very formal uniform styles. The uniforms were also relatibely heavy, designed primarily for the cold, wet English climate. These same styles were widely adopted in British colonies, even though the climate was much milder in these colonies than in England itself. Only gradually did lighter more informal styles become accepted in the colonies like South Africa where the climate really demanded different styles. South African boys and girls wear distinctive school uniforms. The notice a range of styles, uniforms based on English school styles as a result of the colonial association. These English styles continuee to be widely worn. Boys commonly wear collared shirts and short pants. The girl's' outfits are some what more varies. We see girl wearing three different uniforms: gym frocks, blouses and skirts, and summer frocks. All three were commonly worn. While the girls' uniforms were distinct from the boys, there were many common items, including blazers, ties, sweaters, and knee socks.


There are a wide range of activities conducted at school, both inside and outside the classroom. Many of these activities required a specaialized uniform or sports gear. Most South African schools, both private and state schools, require school uniforms. Many schools, especially private schools, had a dress uniform worn on Suuday or special school events. During regular school days a less elaborate uniform was worn. At some schools boys would come to schools in their blazers, but just wear their jumpers while in class. Some class room activities like art or science might require some sort of protective gear. Quite a number of schools sponsored youth group units such as Scouts. Some secondary schools had Cadet units. Many schools had a gym uniform. There was a variety of specialized uniform for various team sports.

Individual Schools

We do not yet have much information on individual South African schools. Hopefully our South african readers will provide us some information on their schools. We will archieve information on individual schools here as we acquite it. We have some images, but at this time little information about the schools to go with them.

Personal Experiences

We like to include personal accounts about individual experiences. This includes both published works and accounts from readers. A South African reader has provided us some information about the rainwear he wore in school as a boy.


Copley, Sharlto, Appearance on "Red Eye", June 12, 2010.

Related Links: Careful this will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but both sites are highly recommended

Apertures Press New Zealand eBook: New eBook on New Zealand schools avaialable
Apertures Press British Preparatory School book: New eBook on British preparatory schools avaialable
School Uniform Web Site: Informative review of British school uniforms with some excellent photographs
Boys' Preparatory SchoolsLovely photographic essay of British preparatory schools during the 1980s containing over 200 color and black and white photographs.


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Created: June 5, 1999
Last updated: 2:01 PM 3/21/2023