School Uniform: The School Book Bag or Satchel

Figure 1.--I'm not sure what country this boy and his book bag are from, but it appears European--perhaps French but probably German. Notice how similar his clothes are to the French boy in the drawing below. Also notice that he wears a smaller satchel in front.

School children have for years faced the problem of dragging their books back and forth from home to school. School children in different countries have approached this problem in a number of ways. The problem has been addressed differently in different countries and in different periods. Book bags or sachels were a common answer. Germany in particular is noted for sbook satchels, but they were worn in many other European countries. Some boys used a leather belt to strap their books together. It was a less expensive sollution. HBC has relatively few detailed photographs of book bags, primarily because most available potraits are frontal shots and the book bag is on the child's back.


Boys over time have addressed the problem of taking their books to school in a variety of different ways. There are several different types of book bags. The most traditional one has been a leather one worn on the back. We have few portraits taken from the back, so at this time we only have limited information on the desisgn of these bags or satchels. Interestingly, many of the boys wearing these over-the-shoulder bags also wore a smaller bag at the front. Some boys wore a belt to strap up their books. This was especially popular in America. Book bags are still popular, perhaps even more so among older boys. Today the back packs as they are often called are made out of tough synthetic fibers, often in bright colors. Bags for the younger boys might have popular cartoon characters. British boys at private schools are often seen with folding attache cases, rarely the rectangular omes.


There are differences among countries in the use of school book bags, although ther have also been many similarities and shared trends. The more sinificant variations, however, have been over time. We do not yet have any information on Austrian bookbags, but believe that they were similar to German styles. Belgian book bags seem to have been quite similar to French trends. English boys have often had book bags. This has been especially true of day boys at private schools. Boarders did not need book bags to take their books back and forth to school from home. French boys wore over the shoulder book bags as in Germany before World War I, but hand carried satchels after the War. Some modern researchers now believe that the weight and size of book bags pose risks to health. Available images of German children show that bookbags were also widely used by German children. They appear to have been the standard style worn over the back. Hungary until 1918 was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Thus German influences have been significant. Hungarian boys in the 1960s often had portfolio-style bookbags. No information on Italy yet, but we believe that books bags were commonly worn by Italian school boys. Japanese school children going and coming to school with book bags on their backs has long a traditional sight. Japanese teachers are strong believers in the importance of homework. And parents insist on the children doing their homework. Scottish boys have have used bookbags much like English boys. The continental over-the-shoulder type of book bag used by European boys does not seem to have been common in Scotland. Boys at private schools in the 1980s had porfolio type bags, but these were less common at state schools. Many American schools still incourage the children to bring book bags to school. Modern reserchers in America also have health concerns.


We note that many boys in the mid-19th centuy in both America and Europe used a kind of belt around their books for school. This was standard in rural America. Most European boys in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had leather other the shoulder book bags. we are not precisely sure whn this style of bookbaf first appeared. This was primarily a style for primary school boys. Many of these look to have been of rather standard design. Thy seem rather large. Presumably boys at the time were mot intended to leave their books at school. Boys often had a smaller satchel for lunch, but this varied among countries. The same style seems to have been common from the late 19th century to World war II. After World War II, hand carried brire case-like satchels became common in Europe. we have seen them in america, but they were not as popular. American boys by the 940s were beginning to use military style back packs. Gradually companies began to offer these back packs epecially made for children and teens. These have also become very popular in Europe.

Modern Trends

I assume that some sort of carrying device is still necessary. My niece who attends a Catholic school uses a uniform backpack designed in the school colours and emblazoned with the school motto. Her school will not allow any other type of bag because the school body would look "untidy" if everyone decided what type of bag they would use for themselves.


One interesting aspect of bookbags is how children wear them. Primary school children, especially the younger ones wear their back pack book bags on their back with their arms through the shoulder loops. This is the case in America, Japan , and many other countries. Almost all German children wore their book satchels like this. Teenagers, both boys and girls, let the straps on backsacks free-floating. Many wore only one strap overa shoulder ort used one of the shoulder straps as a hand strap. There was another way to wear book satchels and back pacls. Others might wear one of the shoulder straps, but rarely both. This certainly is the trend in America, but we tahink it is a generalized pattern throughout Europe as well. We are not sure why this is. We suspect it may be because teemagers see wearing a back pack correctly is what little children do. Perhaps they preceive as a small act of rebellion or casualness, like wearing a baseball cap backwards or not tieing shoe laces, but in fact we do not know why this convention is so common among teenagers.


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Created: June 5, 1999
Last updared: 7:55 PM 11/3/2010