*** school garments schoolwear items

School Garments

school cap

Figure 1.--The school cap became a symbol of the English schoolboy because it was so widely worn. Both boys and girls wore boaters, but only the boys wore peaked caps.

Some of the common school uniform garments worn by children around the world are discussed on this page. Some of these garments are destinctive to a specific country or group of countries. Most of the garments, however, are fairly standard around the world. This is in part due to the influence of British schools. Britain had a much larger system of boarding schools than other countries and many of these schools had uniforms. Thus the English uniform garments became widely adopted around the world. Several items worn at the English schools, like blazers, became stand boys' garments. School uniform garments have reflected changes in overall fashions overtime, usually a little behind overall fashion changes. Interesting is the degree to which school uniform styles have remained fairly standard over long periods.


School children around the world have worn a variety of different hat and cap styles. We are just beginning to acquire information on some of these headwear garments. Others we have collected considerable information. Perhaps the most widely worn school cap as part of a uniform was the peaked school cap which originated in England, but caps were worn in other countries as well. It was England, however, wear the cap reached almost universal status as a required part of any schoolboy's attire. Virtually all British schoolboys wore peaked caps through the 1950s. Both state and private schools required them. Some schools in the alte 20th century adoptedca related style--the Ameruican baseball cap. A popular hat style was rge English boater, worn at many English public schools. French boys commonly wore berets. Belgian boys also wore berets, but also a campaign styled cap was popular after World War II. Many American boys wore flat caps to school in the eraly 20th century, but these were not a uniform cap. As the sailor suit was a popular style for schoolwear. Many boys in the late 19th and early 20th century wore sailor caps and hats, but again these were not part of a school uniform. Quite a range of other styles have been worn to school. The styling of cold wear caps in particular has varied widely. Balaclavas have also been worm, but not as a uniform garment.

school blazer
Figure 2.--These Australian boys are wearing their school blazers. Note that the junior boy's blazer has pink piping while the senior boy wears a plain black blazer.

Suits and Blazers

Children used to dress rather formally for school, especiall school children. We see many childre in both oprimary and secondary schools wearing suits of various style to school. This varied by country and the age of the children. After World war I, children began dressing less formally for school, especually primary school children. Gradually secondary school pupils also began dressing less formally. As a result we see fewer children weaing suits to school. An exception here was private schools. Many private schools continued to require the pupils to dress more formally, in some cases wearing suit. Here a popular alternative was the blazer. Legend has it that blazers first appeared on a British naval vessel, the HMS Blazer in preparation for a visit by Queen Victoria. Some authors insist that they have been unable to find evidence of the HMS Blazer. They maintain that this is fiction and that the blazer originated in the bright jackets worn by a rowing club. The term blazer originaing in comments such as, "I say, Percival. Did you see that chap's jacket? A bit of a blazer, eh what?" What ever their origins, blazers were adopted by British school boys and came to become the primary uniform element of generations of school boys. A great variety of colors and striped blazers were worn by British boys from the 1920s through the 1970s. The cost of the blazers and a trend of simplifying the uniform caused many schools using blazers, primarily preparatory schools, to retire the more expensive striped blazers. Most secondary schools continue to require blazers, but it is usually a basic black one.


Neckwear at school has varied over time. Here there are two primary factors. One is formality. Where children dress formlly for school, they commonly wear some time of neckwear. Another factor is uniform. Many school uniforms include neckwear, but this is not always the case. We have noted a range of neckwear items. Boys mightwear bow ties, cravats, string ties, and other items, but the necktie is the basic schoolneckwear item. The most impotant is the neckties and here the genesis is Britain. British schoolboys wear ties to school. Both state and private schools required them. The school tie as we know it today appeared in England in the 1920s as soft collars replaced stiff Eton collars. Ties were considered appropriate school wear as formal clothes were the standard at school. Dressing in comfortable clothes was no considered appropriate for school. The ties were usually stripped in the school colors. Each school might have several different styles and colors of ties. Often prefects or boys who "won their colors" received the honor of wearing distinctive colors. Many elementary schools in the 1980s began allowing boys to wear more casual clothes, including shirts without ties. Almost all secondary schools, however, still require ties. Some Scottish schools did not require ties.

rugby school shirt
Figure 3.--These New Zealand schoolboys are wearing grey Rugby-style shirts. Two of the boys are wearing jumpers over their shirts. Note that this type of shirt normally has a chest pocket.

Collars and Shirts

English school uniforms was for years dominated by the Eton collar. The standard school boy shirt in England after Eton collars finally disappeared during the 1930s were grey shirts with soft straight collars. In an era when wash was more labor intensive, grey shirts were more practical for active schoolboys than whiter shirts. For dress occasions white shirt was substituted. Some elementary schools in recent years have intoduced more casual white or blue polo-style shirts. The main style in the 1950s for grey shirts was of a rugby type i.e. the buttons only came half way down the front and were made out of cotton. Many preparatory schools allowed Aertex shirts in the 1950s of grey, white or blue for summer wear. Aertex fabric is rather similar to the material in a cellular vest; small holes to allow for ventilation in hot weather. Ties were not normally worn these shirts.


The blazer, cap, or tie are generally thought of when the traditional English school uniform comes to mind. It is the jumper or sweater, however, that is the most utilitarian of all school uniform garments. Ties and caps were basically ornametal, although caps in the 1990s began to take on grater importance as the dangers of skin cancer are becoming better inderstood. The blazer is worn to school and then generally taken off until it is time to go home. The sweater, however, given the English climate is worn except for a few summer weeks and usually all day long at school. At school after school where uniforms are worn, the boys generally wore wool sweaters during the cooloer months. The English school jumper was initially a basic grey. Often the school's colors were added as trim around thgge neck or on the cuffs. Many more elaborate styles developed and brighter colors. By the 1980s, many schools had replaced grey sweaters with bright blue, red, green, and other colors. Sweaters at many schools were worn with neckties. A noticeable trend at some schools in the 1990s was to replace the wool jumper with less expensive and more casual sweatshirts--never worn with ties.

school short trousers
Figure 4.--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 for several centuries wore breeches or in the late 19th century, knickers. Many English boys in the late 19th century and American boys in the early 20th century wore wore knickers to school. English boys in the 20th century have mostly worn long or short pants. Senior boys in English schools wore long grey or black trousers. Most elementary boys and some secondary schoolboys (at least in the first two years) wore short trousers. These were worn both in the summer and winter term, with no seasonal change. Apparently the English until the 1960s did not think it unusual to send boys off to school in short pants in the middle of the winter. Private schools in the 1970s began introducing summer and winter uniforms. A few private schools kept even older boys in shorts. Various materials were used. Flannel shorts were still worn, but were being repaced with other materials, especially rayon-nylon, and terylene worsted. Some schools adopted hard-wearing cotton corduory, usually in grey. A few schools used light-weight cotton shorts during the summer.

Military-style Garments

Some countries and schools within countries had military style uniforms. This was the case both at both military and non-military schools. Here we are still collecting uniforms. Our information is incomplete, but we have acquired some preliminary information. Japan is one of the best known country where military uniforms were worn. After the Mejii Restoration (1860s), the Ministry of Education chose Prussian cadet uniforms for the boys and sailor suits for the girls. The uniforms were not required in rural primary schools, but the boys often did wear the Prussian cadet caps. Tsarist Russia had military uniforms for secondary students. The Soviet Union also introduced military-styled blazers for the boys, eapecially after World War II. The girls, however, wore non-military style dresses and pinafores. We notice some French students wearing military uniforms in the late-19th and early-20th cntury. Military uniforms were also worn by individual schools in various countries. We notice cadet schools in Germany and Austria. There were a few British schools where military uniforns were worn. And students at American military schools where uniforms, mostly army styled uniforms.

Sailor Suits

The sailor suit during the late 19th and early 20th century was widely worn to school by boys in many Europeam countries. They were not generally worn as a school military uniform, but rather a popular style at the time. It was especially common in France and Germany. Interestingly it was least common in England, the country where boys first wore sailor suits and which had the most poweful navy. It was also worn in America, but perhaps because of the British connection not as commonly as in Europe. A few schools, mostly military schools hadsailor suit uniforms, but for the most part boys simply wore it because it was a common boys' clothing style. Sailor suits becan to commonly appear in the schools during the 1970s and were commonly worn through the 1920. The began to decline in popularity during the 1930s, but trends varied from country to country.

school smock
Figure 5.--Little French boys continued wearing smocks in the 1960s, but all elementary-age boys once wore them in addition to some younger teenagers. These smocks appeared in a 1952 French advertisement.

Skirted Garments

Skirted garments are today in most countries primrily associated with girls, but in fact boys as well s girls over tim e have worn a variety of skirted garments to school. This has varied from country to country and chronologically. Age was anoyher fctor. The primary skirted garmnts are kilts, tunics, smocks, and pinafores. Two of these garments were specifically for boys, kilts and tunics. Kilts were worn by boys in several countries, but were only a school grment of any importanc in Scotland. Kilts were only worn by boys, but plaid skirts became very ppular scgool garments for girls in many countries. Tunics were only worn by boys and unlike kilts were worn by boys throughout Europe. Unfortuntely, they began to decline in popularity for school wear at about the time that photogrphy became common. Smocks became a popular school garment in the late-19th cntury, but only in a few countries. Unlike kilts and tunics, smocks were worn by both boys and girls. Pinafores were a very popular school item in the19th centuy. They were worn mostly by girls, but some younger boys alsp wore pinafores. Of course skirts and dresses are the twomist common skirted garmnt. And bothwere exclusively worn by girls as school garments. Young boys through the 19th century did wear both garments, but not for school wear with few exceptions even in the 19th century.

school socks

Figure 6.--Several Scottish schools had uniforms including colored knee socks like the blue socks worn by these boys. English boys almost always wore grey.


Boys in the late 19th century wore long stockings with kneepants and knickers. Stockings disappeared in many countries during the early 20th centuries as kneepants went out of style. Boys wearing shorts generally wore grey knee socks, or turn-over-top socks as the British might say. Some school pemitted ankle socks (or sandals and no socks) during the summer. Many schools had socks with the school colors at the top band, but many boys wore plain grey knee socks. Some Scottish schools had colored knee socks. British boys of any age never wore white socks with shorts, except for sports. English boys never wore white socks, except for cricket, as white socks, both ankle and knee socks, were generally worn by girls and thus seen as girls' socks.


We notice a lot of boys in the late 19th century wearing heavy boot-like shoes. After World War I, the oxford shoe became a standard shoe style American boys often wore sneakers to elementay schol. This was once most common for children from less affluent families. They were not llowed at secondary schools. Sneakers became standard school footwear in America by the 1970s. In England, elementary-age boys often wore closed-toe brown "t" strap sandals, referred to as school sandals, for normal school wear. Some younger boys or girls wore redish-brown or blue sandals or double strap sandals. Clark's school sandals were a standard. Some private schools required them. Sandals are still widely worn, but the center strap is now commonly quite thick. Footwear trends have varied significantly over time. We do not yet have much information on the 18th century. We also do not know much about the early 19th century. We know much more about the mid- and late 19th century as a result of the development of photography. And by coincidence this was also the time at which much larger numbers of children begin to attemd school as a result of the development of public education systems. We know much \more about the 20th century. Footwear trends varies widely from country to country. There were major differences between Asia, North America, and Europe. The trends in Europe varied from country to country, but were significantly different from North America until late in the 20th century.


An important part of the school uniform is the coat during the winter. The more formal overcoat coming down to knee level was generally chosen rather than shorter coats. Overcoats were more in keeping with the suits and blazers worn with ties. In countries like England where the weather is often cold or rainy, the overcoat was esenential. Most boys will remember the gaberdine overcoats they wore to school over their blazers. The most commom style had a wide belt. Other styles were also worn. The duffle coat was a popular informal style in England and widely worn in America. The longer style rain coat was particularly popular until the 1970s when shorter coats became more widely worn. Raincoats are now much less common haven been replaced by parkas. Some Japanese schools also have uniform coats, often blue.

Gym and Sports Uniforms

Countries around the world have varied in the attention given to Gym or Physical Education (PE). Britain, British Dominions, Japan, and the United States have had important PE programs. Many European countries (France and Germany) have given little attention to PE. Schools often had very strict requirements about gym uniforms, often referred to as gym clothes. Many schools in recent years have relaxed those requirements. A British HBC reader has provided us some details about his gym uniforms in the 1960s and 70s. The British term seems to be gym kit. An American HBC reader has provided us some details about his gym uniforms in the 1960s and 70s. We also have some information on Swedish gym uniforms. There were also a wide variety of sports uniforms. These uniforms have varied from school to school as well as from country to country and over time. Schools in American and Britain (especially the private scholls) as well as British Empire countries had strong spotys program. Other countries such as France had more strictly academic schools. We see a wide range of sports uniforms. This varied widely because the various sports unifirms were designed according to the demands of the sports.


While not precisely part of the uniform, book bags have been necessary for school children all over the world. The book bag was critical for French school children who are normally given considerable homework. But the purchase of a new school bag is pat of the annual back to school ritual around the world.


Private schoolboys often wore scarves during the winter. The scarves would be in colors matching their uniforms. Interestingly, scarves were not uncommonly worn with just a blazer and not always with an overcoat. A British source indicated that one could keep quite warm in just a blazer when a scarfe was worn. Another source indicates that this was just boys from posh private school flaunting their preceived status.


School boys in various countries have worn a variety of other garments. While perhaps not as important as the ones listed separately, they never the less need to be mentioned. HBC has noted several other relatively minor items of school uniform. Some of these items were optional, such as balaclavas or gloves. Often there were no specific regulations governing the wearing of these items. Some items, such as sacrves were worn in the school colors, but were optional as to whether they were worn or not. Other items could be very much a part of the school uniform such as snake belts in the school colors. Some items such as capes were primarily worn in one or a small number of countries. There were sometimes differences between boys' and girls' schools. Gloves were not normally required at boys' schools, but they were at some girls' schools.

Awards and Badges

Schoolboys wear a variety of garments and badges to signify their status and achievements. The most important of course is the badge they wear on their blazer identifying the school. The most common common is a colored badge or pin to indicate which house to which they belong. Athletic achievement is recognized when a boy is awarded his colors in Britain or letter in America. British boys may receive a cap aftter winning his colors. American boys wear their letters on jackets. The headboy or prefect usually recieves a special tie. A variety of other awatds may be worn as badges on the blazer or jumper.

Hair Cuts

While not a garment, hair cuts are generally dealt with at schools as part of the dress code. Thus for organization purposes, the garment page seems the best place to deal with this issue. Hair styles like clothes fluctuate greatly from time to time. As a result, school hair regulations have also varied over time.


Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[The 1880s/a>] [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: 1:24 AM 5/21/2014