School Uniform: Shirts

Figure 1.--These prep school boys at St. Aubyns, Rottingdean, wear grey shirts in a school photograph taken in 1936. I'm not sure precisely when the grey shirts were first introduced. Note that the boys all wear their collars open without a tie.

The standard school boy shirt in England after Eton suits disappeared during the 1920s-30s 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.


I am not sure what kind of shirts schoolboys wore in the early 19th century. We note boys by the mid-19th century wearing both shirts and blouses. The late 19th century was in England dominated by the Eton collar, alrhough that style never achieved equal accendancy in other countries. We note American boys at the turn of the 20th-century wearing both shirts and blouses. I'm not sure what kind of shirts French boys wore under their smocks. English boys by the 1920s were wearing soft collared shirts, often grey shirts during regular school days. The English shirt was a heavy wool blend to help keep the boys warm. The Rugby style became popular in England, probably in the 192os, but that cannoy yet be confirnmed. Flannel shirts were popular in America. After World War II, light-weight fabrics appeared and helped the trend toward casual, comfortable fashion, including schoolwear. Artex appeared in England after World War II and polo shirts in America. Today the traditional English grey school shirt is disappearing except at a few private schools. Many schools in the Caribbean, America, and other countries are in the 1990s adopting colored shirts.

Shirt Types

We notice a range of different shirt types being worn as part of school uniforms or other schoolwear. White shirts of various styles are perhaps the most common school boy school uniform shirt today. In some countries such as France, Catholic boys might wear their badges on the shirts. White shirts at many English and New Zealand schools were the dress outfit. Normally grey shirts were worn which do not normally show dirt as well. White shirts have since the 1970s become increasingly common in England, especially at state schools. White shirts are rarely worn by boys othe as part of a school uniform. Several countries, primarily England and former English colonies like New Zealand, commonly wore grey shirts which do not show dirt as well. I'm not sure when the grey shirts were first introduced in England, but it was probably in the 1920s as Eton collars began going out of fashion. Colored shirts are worn in many countries. These are often shirts meant to be worn without a blazer and jacket. They are usually worn open collar without a tie. Khaki is popular in many former English colonies, South Africa and the Caribbean Islands. Blue is a particularly common color. Rugby shirts are the horizonal-striped "T" shirts in bold colors with a white collar and partial front buttons. They were very popular in America during the 1970s-80s. They are best known as uniforms in Rufby football matches. A popular summer shirt style in England during the 1950s was the the Aertex shirt. HBC believed that this style appeared after World War II, but has not yet confirmed this. The Aertex shirt was usualy grey with an open weave material. It was almost always short sleeved and with buttons all the way down the front. nglish school boys in the 1950s generally wore Viyella shirts. The material was mainly of a wool and cotton blend (Viyella), making for a warm, rather heavy shirt. Whilst the Viyella shirts are still available, at about L30 per shirt, they cost much more than the more common L5 cotton shirts most boys now wear. These heavier must have felt good as until recently few English homes had central heating and the schools were notriously drafty places. While Viyella was the most common brand, a similar shirt was made and marketed as Clydella. Many schools have adopted polo shirts. They arecoften used as a summer uniform orvin tropical countries worn year round. They have become increasingly popular in recent years as school uniform has moved toward more casual styles. Many Australian schools have adopted them, at least for summer wear. While not a common style, a few schools in some coutries have used turle neck shirts for the uniform. They have generally been white are various shades of blue.

Figure 2.--This advertisement shows some of the varied shirts worn as school uniform in Australia, during the late 1990s. They vary from informal polo shirts to dressy white shirts.

Country Trends

Shirt styles like other fashions have varied from country to country. We note quite a variety in different countries overvtime. There are many common trends at schools in different countries, but there are also some destinctive country trends. England as is the case for many other school garments was important in establshing some school uniform shirt styles. This was especially ythe case for some of the more formal shirt styles. TheEton collar was British creation. We note British boys wearing both white and grey shits which became populsar in other contruies as well, although ties were most common in British Empire countries. Some of the more informal shirts such as polo-styled shirts rthat have become popular in recent years show an American influence. We know less about other countries and of course many countries did not have uniforms so schoolwear was largely a mater of overal fashion trends.


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: November 18, 1999
Last updated: 4:39 AM 5/28/2008