** school uniform : short pants

School Shorts

Figure 1.--Catholic school boys in Belgium and France wore school uniforms, often with blue short pants, but other French school boys did not commonly wear uniforms.

British school boys after the First World War began to commonly wear short pants, or short trousers as the British call them. I think that before the World War I (1914-18) that boys more commonly worn Kneepants and knickers or knickerbockers as the British call them. This fashion to many British colonies, especially Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. It was also common in exclusive, British oriented, private schools in Canada and America. Short pants were commonly worn by European school boys, but not as commonly as part of uniforms as in Britain. Short pants did not prove as popular in America. Boys did not like them and mothers worried about unprotected knees in the winter. Knickers proved much more popular.


Short pants were first adopted for school wear in England during the early 20th century. The adoption of short pants, referred to as sort trousers, by English Boy Scouts helped to popularize them for school wear. Keepants were already common so it was not a major shift at the time. There use by the British Army in far flung colonial exploits was another important factor. By the 1920s they were widely worn in England and other British Empire countries like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Short pants became equally worn in continental European countries, but school uniforms were not common in Europe. Many Japanese schools in the 1950s adopted short pants school uniforms with especially short cut shorts. Short pants continued to be worn by boys in England to school through the 1950s, but beginning in the 1960s older boys began to want long pants. At the same time the length of the shorts becan to become much shorter than was the case in the past. American boys never wore uniforms to any great extent. School uniforms have begining in the 1980s began to be adopted by many elementary schools. The boys and girls commonly wear shorts during the warmer summer months. School shorts are still common in New Zealand, although the style by the late 1990s tended to be long and baggy.


We have some basic information on the various fabrics used for school shorts. The school shorts that appeared in the early 20th century in England were mostly made of flannel or other wool fabric. These fabrics were either a coarse flannel or a more expensive wool worsted cloth. This continued until after World war II when Terrelyn and Terrelyn worsted appeared. Some English schools also used corduroy. Corduroy shorts were not common in America, but boys did commonly wear corduroy knickers. Other schools adopted cotton shorts during the summer. Other cotton shorts were generally worn for gym uniforms. American boys at schools with uniforms commonly wear shorts with cotton blends. The same fabric is used for slacks. Cotton drill is a popular fabric. Although not worn as uniforms, some Austrian and German boys wore leather lederhosen to school. Hopefully readers from other countries can provide sonme inforkmation about the material used for school shorts in their countries.


The school short pants initially worn by British school boys in the 19th century were initially little different than the kneepants worn in the 20th century. Essentially knee pants evolved into short pants. Perhaps the most significant style element is the length of the shorts. They tended to be long and baggy. Like knee pants they were commonly worn at knee length. British school shorts, perhaps as an econoomy measure, generally had no back pockets. Shorts on the Continent were also worn long. It was not until after the World War II (1939-45) that shorter, trimer shorts began to be worn. Grey shool shorts were a formal style of short pants. This style did not become popular in England until the 1960s, about the same time that older boys began to want to wear long pants. Suspension devices changed over time. We also notice school shorts styled like slacks, usually in khaki or navy blue drill. We also notice nore sporty styles in America, but these were not a uniform style. The shorter style continued to be widely worn in England until the mid-1990s when a longer style that originated on the Continent became popular. This style shift received added impetus when American boys began wearing long baggy hip-hop clothing. There are many other sylistic elements besides length, these include vents, creases, ppocket placement, belt loops, side tab adjusters, cuffs, and other devices. Perhaps the most destinctive style of short pants is the lederhosen that some Austrian and German boys wore to school. We see a few boys wearing bib-front shorts to school, mostly in France. We also see rompers being worn.


Short trousers were originally lined in white cotton...it is thought that this was so that poor boys did not have to wear underpants. However,during and just after the war years,linings did not generally form part of the garment. During the 1950s white cotton linings became almost universal. During the 1960s white nylon linings became the norm, though in recent years white cotton has returned. In the 1970s and 1980s light blue linings did appear for a while (mostly Trutex and Jonelle brands) One firm in Scotland does still supply short trousers with grey linings. As a matter of interest it is noted that New Zealand short trousers followed the same pattern regarding linings but have this year introduced khaki linings. The current situation is that most chain stores produce short trousers without linings (Marks and Spencers, BHS, and Littlewoods) whilst the most popular brands like Trutex and Jonelle now have white cotton linings.

Figure 2.--Some British schools like this Scottish school requirred even older boys to wear short pants asclate as the 1980s.



School shorts have been made in a variety of colors. The most common color is grey, but this varies from country to country, English school shorts were from the start grey with relatively few exceptions. Boys might wear khaki shorts, showing the Army influence, during the summer for play, but for school it was usually grey shorts. HBC is not sure how the convention of grey shorts developed, but it was firmly established by the 1920s. Even the Cub Scouts adopted grey shorts as part of their uniform so boys would not have to buy a special pair of shorts for Cubs. A few schools adopted blue shorts. A visting New Zealand educator worked at one of these schools (Loretto) and introduced this style when he retuned. This is why a numbervof New Zealand schools have blue rather than grey shorts for their school uniform. Blue shorts were also adopted by a few French Catholic schools for their uniform. Unlike the British bous who wore grey kneesocks, these French schools adopted white kneesocks with the blue shorts. American schools began adopting uniforms in the late-20th century. Khaki shorts seemed popular in America, but we also see many schools adopting blue shorts. Grey seems less common in America. Blue shorts seem popular in Japan after World War II, but grey shirts were also worn.


School shorts were first widely worn in England, but soon spread to the British Empire countries which like England also commonly required children to wear school uniforms. Booys in France, Germany, Italy, and other Europan countfies also commonly wore short pants to school. Most schools in these countries did not require uniforms. English boys commonly wore shorts to school even to schools where there was no required uniforms. Until after World WarII (1939-45), it was only the private schools in England and the grammer schools (secondary schools) that required uniforms. Many primary schools began adopting uniforms in the 1960s and this often included short pants. About this time the older boys began expressing a desire to wear long pants. Uniforms are still commonly required in England, although only the younger boys wear shorts. French boys commonly wore shorts to school, although not as part of a uniform. Like English boys they began wearing longs to school after the 1960s. New Zealand boys still commonly wear shorts while Australian schools have extremely varied school regulations. Many American elementary schools have begin setting a voluntary uniform policy and many boys and girls wear shorts in the warmer Summer months.

School Photographs

Many schools had regulations about short and long trousers. At some schools they were optional. At other scools they were required or prohibited. Many schools had both long and short trousers, but rules such as age, class or height as to who should wear shorts as longs. As a result in school or even class (form) pofrtraits, there are often boys wearing both short and long tousers. In many school photographs the boys in shorts are scattered randomly througout the photograph. Some photographers, usually in England or Ireland, thephotographer has grouped the boys in shorts together ao in some pattern to apparently "ballance" the photograph. Often in school photographs the tounger boys in shorts are at the front. This is only logical, as the younger boys are shorter and thus logically should be at thde front. We notice the placement of boys in shorts, however, in some class pprtrairs when the boys are all the same age.

Personal Experiences

Some personal experiences associated with school shorts:

England: New school shorts

England: Matthew in the 1970s and early 80s

Careful, clicking on these will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but several are highly recommended

  • Apertures Press New Zealand e-Books: Appertures Press has published three different EBooks about New Zealnd schools.
  • Apertures Press British Preparatory Schools: A photographic book depicting life at British preparatory schools during the 1980s. Most of the schools are English or Scottish, but schools in Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ulster are also included. The pictures show the uniforms worn at many different schools.
  • Apertures Press British Prep School eBooks: Apperture Press has published six eBooks about different vaspects of British public schools. Volume I is a general assessnent. The other volumes deal with more specific aspects of the schools ahd school life.