School Uniform: Kneesocks

Figure 1.--The boys at this Scottish prep school wore both plain grey and purple kneesocks to match theor blazers.

Kneesocks were probably most commonly worn in Britain as part of a school uniform. British schools requiring shorts usually also required the boys to wear kneesocks as part of the uniform. There is some variety here. A few schools had the boys wearing ankle socks, especially during the summer--often with T strap school sandals. Proper kneesocks (a term not used for boys in Britspeak) were turn-over-top socks or stockings. Schools chose several different styles of kneesocks. Kneesocks were also commonly worn to school in France, Italy, and Germany, but not as part of a uniform. American boys also wore them, but generally with knickers.


HBC has first noted kneesocks worn with school uniform in the late 19th century. They were worn by English boys with knickers. They appeared to have been mostly grey without any colored trim at the cuff. At the turn of the 20th century, British Scouts began wearing shirt pants and kneesocks, however, HBC hs little information on school uniform trends at gthis time. English boys were commonly wearing trousers and kneesocks by the 1920s. We are not sure, however, just when the colored trim appeare. English boys in state schools often wore the kneesocks with the patterened tops during the the 1920s and 30s. American boys wore this style as well as comoletely patterened kneesocks, but with kinickers rather than short pants. After Worl War II when many English private schools began adopting uniforms, less expensive socks appeared that did not have turn over tops to form a cuff.


The common term for these socks in America was kneesocks. The British commonly refer to them as "turn-over-top" socks. When cheaper siocks appeare that were not long enough to be worn with a turn-over-top cuff, they began to be called long stockings.) This should not be confused with the long stockings described in HNC. We use this term to refer to stockings that were made to be worn over the knee.) HBC does not know what the term for these socks was in other countries, but will ad the terms here as we find them.


There are a variety of notable characteristics associate with kneesocks. Perhaps the most important was the length of the socks. Some were made quite long so that a turn-over-top cuff could be formed. HBC is not sure why this became so common. But when kneesocks first became common in the early 20th century they were worn with turn over tops. This is the only type we see before World War II, at least for boys. This changed after World War II when cheaper kneesocks were made to come just to below the knee without the extra length needed for a turn-over-top cuff. These were also commonly made in lwith less bulky material. This style became very common in the 1970s. Another common characteristic was ribbing. Almost all kneresocks were made with ribbing, although the number an width of the ribbing varied widely. An English reader reports, "I can't imagine there were many non-ribbed kneesocks around in the 1950s." The less expensive, non-ribbed kneesocks (generally without the turn-over-tops) appeare in the 1960s.

Figure 2.--This prep school has kneesocks that have turn-over-tops with a whole colored cuff. Note the distinctive-colored rust cord shorts.

Major Styles

There were quite a few different styles of school kneesocks. Many boys at state schools simply wore plain grey kneesocks. Most private schools and some state schools had socks done with the tops in the school colors. The major different styles of kneesocks included:

Top stripes

The most common style of school kneessocks were grey with colored stripes in the school colors incorporated at the top of the sock. The colors ranged from two single colored stripes to three different colored stripes. There was quite a different number of different combinations both in the width, number of colors and especially the color combinations. English schools always used a basic grey sock. Australian and New Zealand schools also mostly used a basic grey sock, however, occasioinally used a dark blue or black kneesock--occasionally with colored stripes.

Top bar

Some schools had a solid color topinstead of color stripes. A few Australian and New Zealand schools also used this style. Allmost all od the socks with a colored bar at the top were basic grey socks.

Patteren tops

A small number of schools had grey kneesocks with patterned tops. This style was commom in England during the 1930s. This style was commonly worn bu Amerivan boys wearing knickets on the 1920s and 30s, but not as part of anm offivial school uniform. It was more commonly worn by English boys going to a non-uniform scgool than adopted as part of a school uniform. More commonly schools adopted unifiorms with solid color band. Some Australian schools had this style. We know of only one Australian school, however, that had this style by the 1980s and no English schools.

Figure 3.--These prep school boys wear plain grey kneesocks without turn-over-tops or the school colors.


Little British boys were sometimes dressed in white kneesocks, but by the time they began school they wanted grey ones--considering that white kneesocks were for girls. Some schools, however, had the boys wear white kneesocks for sports. This was not true in all countries. French boys, primarily at private secondary schools, wore white kneesocks with blue shorts--in some cases cord shorts. The French schools often had the choir boys wear white kneesocks. Some schools in Italy and France where the boys wore smocks required white kneesocks. At least one Australian highschool required white kneesocks with blue shorts. Many small state or Church of England primary school have the children wear plain grey knee socks, often the less expensive style without the turn-over tops. Even at the schools with regulation school stocks with colored stripes or bars, some boys wear the plain grey kneesocks. They are less expensive than the regulation ones, so are sometimes chosen by thrifty mums. Since the mid-1980s the English chain stores like Marks & Spencers introduced knee-length socks without turn-over tops. These were worn mainly by children at state primary schools, though where preparatory schools did not strictly require socks with the school colors these were worn because they were much less expensive. Prior to the 1980s kneesocks of this style were mostly worn by girls. Almost all boys' schools required turn over-top socks. As many prep schools in the 1980s were making the transition from boys to coed schools and the primary schools were already coed, the kneesocks without turn over tops became more prevelent. (The schools did not require different grey socks for the boys and girls.) Almost all English schools used grey kneesocks worn with grey short pants. A few Scottish schools chose colored socks, including bright red and blue, as well as purple, green, and black. These colored Scottish socks did not have colored stripes. In England only grey kneesocks had the colored trim. Colored socks, usually dark blue or black, are also worn in New Zealand, although not as common as the grey kneesocks with colored tops. Some schools have colored stripes on the dark blue/black kneesocks. A few New Zealand schools have light blue knee socks--in some cases an option for older boys.

Up and Down

Active boys during the day found their socks would often fall down. Some schools thought that this presented a sloppy appearance. Many a British boy can be remember being gruffly told by a school master to "Pull those socks up, boy." This problem was for ever captured by the famous William series where the young anti-hero is always picture with his kneessocks falling down. One sollution was to insist that the boys wear garters at the top to keep them up. This was a special problem at the schools allowing grey kneesocks without turn-over-tops. Boys wearing the inexpensive kneesocks without the turn-over-tops could not use garters to keep their socks up. Without the turn-over-tops the garters showed which was considered rather unsightly.

Different Socks

HBC has noted that boys at some schools wear a school uniform, but in some cases different types of socks. Some schools are quite strict that the oroper kneesicks be worn. Other schools are less strict. Probably more flexibility is permitted with the kneesocks than any other uniform garment. Some schools will not strictly insist on socks with the proper colored bands so some boys have the bands and some have plain grey kneesocks. Some boys may have differebt colored bands, often a sign that they have changed schools. In a few cases boys wear different colored kneesocks. This could mean that the bouys are wearing game socks or in a few cases the school is changing the type of socks. In this case for a year or two some boys wear the old styled socks and other the new style.

Country Trends

Kneesocks have been worn as part of school uniforms in many different countries. HBC has noted kneesock trends in different countries. Kneesocks were most widely worn in England and English school uniform fashions influence styles in many other coutries. Many of these countries had schools that did not require school uniforms. In these countries the schoolwear trends are similar to the overall clothing trends. The general trend has been from the era before World War II when almost all boys wore kneesocks to after the war when kneesocks became less and less common. This overall trend, however, has varied widely from country to country. One important factor affecting the individual ttren in ech country has been climate.


A British reader tells us, "My brother and I during the 1940s used to pull up our school socks over our knees when it was very cold. We only did it when walking to school (about half a mile). We quickly truned them down as soon as we passed the school gate."


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Created: June 5, 1999
Last updated: 5:42 AM 8/31/2009