School Uniform: The Blazer

Figure 1.--The English boy in the 1980s wears a smartly stripped Blue and silvber school blazer. Notice the matching tie.

The colorful ubiquitous school blazer is almost synomamous with school uniforms in England and many other countries. The blazer added a bit of color to English streets in the morning and afternoon as the children moved to and from schools. The children in their distinctly colored blazrers and until the 1960s, caps, were walking advertisements for their schools. The blazers which became commonly worn as school uniforms England during the 1920s, is still the most popular style of uniform, at least in England.


The blazer was developed as smart summer wear for affluent Britons as was soon adopted by the country's elite Public Schools. The developing preparatory schools also adopted the blazer. They were viewed as somewhat informal wear. More formal atire would be an Eton suit and hard collar. Blazers were worn with soft collars and the school tie. Blazers became in the 1920s the primary wear of the British schoolboy. Boys in brightly colored blazers and matching caps are almost a symbol of British boyhood from the 1920s through the 1950s. The blazers came in every conceivable color, including single and multi-colored stripes. Many single-colored blazers had edging in contrasting colors. Often senior boys and prefects had slight differences in their blazers to set them apart. It was the private school schools that had the most destinctive and colorful blazers. State school uniforms tended to have much more muted colors.



The blazer was a male garment. Britons in the late 19th century were beginning to increasing attention to the education of girls. While still considered to be of less importance than that of boys, girls schools were founded in the late 19th century. They followed the teaching methods and curiculum of the boys' schools and even adopted the blazer and tie worn by the boys--one of the earliest examples of the still common practice of girls and women wearing boys clothes--of course the practice was never reciprocated.

Current Usage

Blazers are still widely worn at British schools. Styles and practices, however, have changed somewhat. Colors are no longer as diverse. Some styles such as stripes and blazers with contrasting borders are less common, primarily a matter of cost. A much wider spectrum of the English population now chooses private education and schools have attemopted to simplify the uniform. The clothing list required of boys until the 1960s could be quite daunting for a small boy--and very expensive. Multi-colored blazers and those with edging work are more expensive and tnus have gradually disappeared. Even so there are still a wide variety of brightly colored blazers worn by British school children. Often the girls schools now have the most brightly colored blazers. Presumably the girls take a little better care of their blazers than do the boys. The blazer is worn less today than in earlier years. Some schools do now mot even have blazers. Most preparatory schools do still require blazers, but they are mostly worn while coming and gong to school and for school functions. While at school, British boys mostly wear their jumpers (sweaters) or just a shirt during the school day. They rarely put on their blazers. An English contributor does not agree with this HBC assessment. He writes, "Obviously, as always, rules vary from school to school, but I (nor my family) know of any school where blazers were/are only worn to and from school. They were/are too expensive an item for that, and so are worn almost continuously whilst at school. At schools that I attended where blazers were required, and those by my now grown-up son and daughter, blazers could only be removed in class with permission, and normally that would only be granted when the weather was excessively hot during the summer. Yes, things are a little more relaxed than they were, but that general rule still generally applies. The adoption of sweatshirts and jumper only (nearly always badged) uniforms is certainly changing ideals over this aspect, but there is still a long way to go." HBC believes that these two differing views may represent observations at different types of schools. HBC believes that blazers are rarely worn during the day at most boarding prep schools in England, Scotand, Wales, New Zealand, and Australia. Blazers are more commonly worn at day pre schools or English and Scottish secondary schools (both state and private).

Figure 2.--This traditional Australian private school has both a blazer and grey suits. Most boys, however, wear open-necked shirts or jumpers for everyday schoolwear.

Colors and Patterns

The school blazer is an English originating as games clothing in the mid-19 century. The different colors and patterns all originated in England. After World War II when England began building a modern state secondary system in which everyone had the opportunity to attend secondary school many new schools were established. Most had uniforms consisting of black blazers and grey pants for the boys and skirts for the girls. Before this there was great profusion of colored blazers worn in England. Many schools, especially prep schools were closed in the 1970s mean that the numbr of colorful blazers declined. At about the same time, some primary schools decided on uniforms, but often blazers are not part of the uniform. Each school had a destinstive color. Private prep schools especially chose colorful blazers, often witn matching caps. Some prep schools chose suits rather thn blazers, but the blazers wetre more common. Of course there was not enough colors for every school in England. But locally each school tnded to have a destintive color. The most common color was vlue in various shades, but just about ever color was worn at some school. Yellow was not very common. The only color we have not noted was orange. In addition to colors, there were also stripes. As far as we know that was the only pattern. The striping was done in differet widths. The boy here wears a blazer with very narrow stripes (figure 1). Commonly this mean two colors, but we have seen three colors. This raused thge cost of the blazer so especially in recent years they have become less common. There was also some detailing, primarily piping at some schools. We see these colors and patterns in many other countries, primarily British Empire countries, but other countries as well.


School blazers were almost always single breasted. The basic style was thus fairly standard . Most had a patched breast pocket where the school shield or letters could be placed. Flap pockets at the side were also common. While the basic design often with a patch pocket was fairly standard, the colors and detiling was quite varied. The most common style was the solid colored blazer. These were often bright colors, but many schools--especially state schools--had black blazers as well. Stripped blazers in a wide variety of colors were also popular, although by the 1970s these had become less common because of the added cost. Amother blazer has colored piping at the hem and lapels.

Figure 3.--Here we see an unidentified English girl in the 1930s wearing her school blazer. Mptice the piping on her blazer. We suspect that her school was more strict about the unifiorm than the school her brother's attended.


The blazer began as a boys' games (sports) garment along with the peaked cap. Gradually girls also began wearing school blazers. The public schools established traditions and approaches that were copied by grammar schools and preo schools. They also influenced girlss schools which began to appear in the 19th century. Girls' schools followed many of the traditions of the much older boys' schools, including the games ethos. They also adopted some of the uniform items, including boaters, ties, and blazers. We are not sure just when girls began wearing blazers. It must first have occurred in England, but we do not know at what school. As far as we can tell, it was an established convention by the turn of the 20th century. The style of the blazers were identical to that of the boys, except that the buttoning was rerversed. Many girls schools were more strict than the boys' schools, including uniform maters. Girls continue to wear school blazers in the countries where boys wear blazers.

Country Trends

The blazer originated at exclusive private schools in England, but has been adopted for school wear by state and private schools in many countries around the world. British boys once wore blazers in a wide range of solid colors and stripes with caps to match. American boys commonly wear blazers as a kind of informal dress wear with khakis or grey flannel trousers. In most countries, however, the blazer is commonly associated with school weat. It has been most popular in Empire countries, but is worn in other countries as well. The ise of the blazer has declined in many Empire countries, especially during warm weather. It is srill, however, commonly worn at British schools, although the standard blacl blazer is becoming increasingly common. Most state schools in Australia no longer require blazers. Some of the private schools, however, still have them. They are mostly worn by senior boys. Junior boys generally wear open-necked shirts or jumpers for ordinary school days. Some preparatory schools require blazers. Once both private and state secondary schools generrally required blazers or some kind of suit jacket. The blazer is today primarily worn by private school boys, both prep schools and secondary schools, although some of the schools have suits rather than blazers. They come in a wide range of colors, although blazers in Australia have generally been more subduded than the many bright colors and stripes that English preparatory school boys once wore Chilean state secondary schools require boys and girls to wear a standard navy blue blazer with grey skirts or trousers. It is in England where it originated that the school blazer was mos widely worn and worn in such great variety. Blazers used to be commonly worn at New Zealand secondry schools. This no longer is the case. Blazers are worn at a few private preparatory schools, but at few secondary schools--even the private schools. Most schools, however, still have blazers, but they are usually only worn by senior boys. The junior boys mostly wear shirts and jumpers. Scottish school bazers were esentially the same as as Englisg blazers. Tweed jackets were more popular in Scotland, but they were usually worn in addition to rather than instead of blazers. Often Scottish schools had a blazer for every day wear and tweed jackets for formal occasions to be worn with kilts. Many South African school children wear British-style school blazers. American boys who have not traditionally worn school blaxzers. The public (state) schools who are introducing school uniforms do not normally make blazers part of the uniform. The prestigious private schools which have modeled themselves on British schools have required dark suits or tweed sport jackets, but usually no brightly-colored school blazers.


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Created: June 5, 1999
Last updated: 12:56 AM 7/2/2019