*** school uniform garments: pants

School Uniform Garments: Pants

school uniform triousers
Figure 1.--The boys at this Scottish school in the mid-1980s wore black shorts and kneesocks, but without ties. Navy blue or black short pants suits were worn in America, but not commonly worn in the U.K.

Schoolboys have over time worn a wide variety of pants or trousers. Of all the garments worn by schoolboys his pants are probably the most important to him. Until the modern era when women and girls began wearing pants, women were not allowed to wear breeches or other pants. Women who did so, like Joan of Arc, might be burned at the stake. As costume conventions and attitudes toward clothing changed, penalties have become less severe. Yet in Europe passing from dresses to breeches or pants was a major rite of passage. More recently, pants styles have been used as thevmajor article of clothing diffeentiating boys and men. Thus pants, or as our British frriends say, trousers, became the single most important garment in a boys' mind.


We notice boys mostly wearing long pants to school in the early 19th century. Younger boys began wearing shortened-length pnts at mid-century. But this was largely pre-school boys are boys from fashionable families that did not attend state schools. We continue to see most long pants in the 1870s and 80s. Only Gradually shortened-lenth patterns became more common and by the 1890s were srandard boys wear. There were variations from contry to country and even regions within country. Most American boys wore knee pants by the 1890s, but we see knickers and bloomer knickers being worn in Europe. American boys switched to knickers in 1910. Many boys in rural areas wore overalls. Both knickers and overalls remained popular until World War II. European boys shifted to short pants which remained popular in the post-War era. In England this often meant grey shorts worn as school uniform. Long pants for older boys were commonly grey or black. Japanese primary boys also commonly wore short pnts, both at schools with and without uniforms. Older boys in Europe wore knickers. We continue to see some European boys wearing knickers into the 1950s. Long pants became more popular after World War II, first in America, but gradually in Europe as well. We begin to see some American boys wearing casual short pants to school in the 1970s. American schools also began adopting uniforms. Short pants were often optional.


Boys have worn a variety of trousers or pants as part of school uniforms. We note breeches, long pants, knee pants, bloomer knickers, and knickers. For several centuries boys and men wore breeches. There was no difference in the breeches worn by boys and men. The first recognizable school uniforms appeared in English charity schools and were primarily designed to provide inexpensive clothing to the charity children and to identify them. Mostof these uniforms involved knee breeches, alyhough this was not different then the breeches worn by other boys. > The long pants so common among school children today first appeared at the turn of the 19th century. Curiously, at the time it was boys who wore the long trousers and men who wore kneebreeches. Long pants dominated at schools until after mid-century when various styles of shortened length pants became more popular for boys. Long pants did not become the primary pants for boys until after World War II (1939-45), although the pattern and chronology varied from country to country. Knickers appeared in England after the mid-19th century. They were soon adopted for schoolwear at many prestigious English private schools as well as state schools. Many English boys in the late 19th century and American boys in the early 20th century wore wore knickers to school. Knickers did not become popular in America until the 1910s, especially after World War I (1914-18). Kneepants appeared after the mid-19th century and were worn bu boys throught Europe and America. They were particularly popular in America and most boys wore them to school, although not part of a uniform. Kneepants were still widely worn in America at the turn of the century, but declined in popularity during the 1910s. Short pants are the most modern or recently developed style of male trousers. English boys in the 20th century have mostly worn long or short pants. They were popular throughout Europe. They did not prove as popular in America. The popularity of these various types of varied chrononlofically, but there are many factors besides fshion that have affected the different types, including seasonality, social class, and age conventions. There have also been differences from country to country. There were also specialized forms of these various types of panrs. Most boys and their families have chosen the type of pants, but some schools had school uniforms and the school made the decission.

Figure 2.--These British prep school boys are probably returning from the Sunday church service. All the boys at this this school wore the school's purple blazer with short pants, in this case grey terelyn shorts.


Some information is available on the trousers and pants worn as part of school uniforms or at least commonly worn to school. While the basic types are common in most countries. Styles and popularity have varied over time from country to country. American boys did not usually wear uniforms, but lnee pants knickers were very common in the early 20th centuty. After World war II, long pants were more common. English boys commonly wore knee pants or short pants during the first half of the 20th centurt, but long pants began to become more common in the the 1960s. French boys commonly wore snocks to school, commonly with knee pants or short pants. By the 1960s long pants began to be mpre common. German children did not commonly wear svhool uniforms. Most boys in the early and mid 20th century wore knee pants or short pans. Older boys might wear knickers. Some boys wire Lederhosen. More boys began to wear long pants n the 1960s, especially in the winter. Hungarian boys through the first half of the 20th century appear to have worn kneepants and short pants to school. Italian boys commonly wore smocks to school. Knee pants and short pants were common. Older boys might wear knickers. You negin to see more long pnts in the 1960s.


One of the first materials associated with school uniforms was flannel. It was used in England for school caps, blazers, and trousers. Flannel was used for both short and long trousers. Grey flannel was especially common for school trousers. I'm not precisely sure why this was. Perhaps because it was a good color for not showing dirt as well as going well with different color blazers. After World War II Terrelyn in Britain became very popular for school trousers, primarily because it did not need to to be iron and still kept a crease. One material that was not acceptable for school was denim. This was not just in Britain where uniforms were worn. American boys commonly wore denim overalls to primary schools in rural areas. Denim was not allowed in secondary schools. Most students until after World War II did not want to wear them. After the War, however, when jeans became popular, students did want to wear them to school, but dress codes untill the 1970s prohibited them./ As an indication of how times change, there are now schools that have denim uniforms.


Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[The 1880s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s]

Related Style Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Long pants suits] [Short pants suits] [Socks] [Eton suits] [Jacket and trousers] [Blazer] [School sandals]

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Created: October 27, 1998
Last updated: 10:06 PM 2/16/2012