School Uniform: The Suit

Figure 1.--Schools in England and former English colonies generally had uniforms consisting of blazers and short or long pants. Boys at a few schools wore grey suits.

Conventions on wearing suits to school have varied over time and by country. I am only beginning to piece the story together. This is my current understanding of the basic trends, but would be very interested in insights that HBC visitors might have on this.


Two of the most popular suits worn in the late 19th and early 20th century were Eton and Norfolk styled-suits. The Eton suits were worn at Eton (and with slight variations) at some other public schools. The Norfolk suits were worn at both private (public and preparatory) schools and state schools. They were almost always accompanied with a stiffly starched Eton collar.

Most school suits are currently a standard style. They are always single breasted, generally with rather narrow lapels. Grey is the most common color, especially in England and former English colonies.

Some schools have tweed jackets instead of more formal suits. Again unlike the blazers, the tweed jackets are worn without the school logo.

Eton Collars at School

Although not strictly speaking a part of a suit, the Eton collar was so closely associated with the suits worn by boys at school and for dress wear for so many years that it can not be omitted in any discussion of school suits. The Eton collar was most closely associated with England, but it was widely worn in America, Feance, and several other countries. They began to be worn widely in the 1860s and dominated school wear through the 1910s. Only in the 1920s did schools begin adopting soft collars for boys, although even in the 1930s some traditionally oriented continued insisting on Eton collars.

Country Trends

Trends have varied significantly on different countries over tine.


School wear at English schools in the early 19th century was highly variable. Boys wore their own clothes with little restiction imposed from the schools. Most schools were private schools like the countries famed Public schools. The Government was only beginning to open free state schools. The only uniforms at the time were worn by poor children at charity schools like the hospital schools where the boys wore cassocks and breeches.

English Public (exclusive private) schools began adopting uniforms in the late 19th Century to limit the increasingly elaborate clothes that the boys were wearing to school and the competition and distractions it was causuing. Many schools adopted the fashionable Eton suit popularized at that school. Eton was the first Public school to adopt a uniform and the renown of that school cause other schools to adopt it with a variety of small modifications. Schools which for centuriues had no uniform adopted them during the mid-19th Cebtury

Many new Public schools were founded in England during the late 19th Century. The country found it needed a greatly expanded civil service to administer the expanding Empire and the new schools produced a steady stream of civil administers. Many of these schools adopted standard suits instead of the more traditional Eton suits. Many of these suits were worn with Eton collars and the younger boys commonly wore knickers. Norfolk styling was particularly popular for schoolwear. The preparatory schools which opened for the younger boys, mostly after mid-century, generally followed the same conventions as the Public schools they served.

The blazer was developed in the late 19th Century as smart summer wear for affluent Britons as was soon adopted by the country's elite Public Schools. The developing preparatory schools also adopted the blazer. The school blazer was initially viewed as somewhat informal wear unlike the more formal Eton suits with hard collars. Blazers were worn with soft collars and the school tie.

Blazers after the turn of the Century began relacing suits at many Public and preparator schools. This process continued until the blazer by the 1920s had become the standard schoolwear of boys at private schools.

Blazers in the late 20th Century continue to be the primary dress wear at Public and Preparatory schools. Some English schools instead of a blazer and usually grey short or long pants have the boys wear a suit, usually a grey suit with matching jacket and trousers. Tha jacket is always single breasted. Some schools had blazers for every day schoolwear and grey suits for dress wear. The boys would wear their regular school caps--usually the same color of the blazer, with their grey suits.



New Zealand

Most New Zealand schools had blazers rather than suits. Several schools, however, choose the option of a suit. In almost all cases the suit was a standard grey one. The younger boys would have short pants, the older boys long pants with an identical jacket.


United States

While most American schools did not have uniform suits, dress standards at highschools through the 1930s were high and boys often wore suits to school. The suits through the 1920s were mostly worn with knickers. In the 1930s older boys began wearing longpants suits.

American private schools in the 19th Century generally followed the conventions of English Public schools with the boys wearing suits. Generally boys began boarding school later than in England so preparatory schools for younger boys were less common. The suits worn were standard suits stylish at the time. American schools did not adopt Eton suits, althouh many schools had the boys wear Eton collars. Private schools in the 20th Century have generally continued to have boys wear suits rather than blazers. Black or navy blue suits were sometimes chosen rather than grey suits. Some schools had more informal tweed jackets.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: September 4, 1998
Last updated: November 12, 1999