School Uniform Garments: The School Tie

Figure 1.--Some Scottish schools did not require ties. This was normally for the junior boys still in short pants.

The school tie evolved in England where schools in the 1920s began requiring neck ties in the school colors. The school tie came to be the very symbol of a school. Although the school tie came to be a central part of the school uniform, it is fairly recent in origin. Even after graduating, old boys of a school would wear their school as adults to identify their school. The tie while it came to be widely worn was especially identified with the England's elite public (private schools).

Origins of the Tie

The history of neckties dates back a mere hundred years or so, for they came into existence as the direct result of a war. The tie apparntly originated in Croatia. As you may know, Croatia was once a part of the Roman Empire. Eventually a Christian kingdom was absorbed by the Ottoman Turks and then liberate in a sence by the Austrians.


Neckties as we now know them are a relatively recent fashion accesory. The primary modern male neckwear can be be traced to the 17th-century cravat. As with so much of male fashion, the style is military in origin. The modern neck tie has only been commonly worn by boys since the 1920s. British schools boys until World War I (1914-18) commonly wore stiff Eton collars often without ties. We have noted toes being worn a early as the 1890s. Earlier boys wore stocks or other forms of neckwear, There are many images of 1890s boys wearing neckties. They tend to be dark, often black solid colors. They are widerr than modern ties and they often or worn knotted over the collar, rarely under ot. By the 1910s these ties were narrower with more modern looking knots. Some were being worn under collars--usually Eton collars. Presumably some stripped school ties appeared at this time, however, we do not yet have evidence of this. After the War, schools began replaced the Eton collars with soft collars worn with modern school neckties. Ties began to be worn extensively in the 1920s and by the 1930s were the dominate neckwear for the British school boy. Boys routeinly wore suits or blazers to school and to a variety of events and activities that now would call for casual clothes. School fashions have become more casual. Ties are still commonly worn at British schools. Many schools, however, have begun to simplify the uniform. Many elementary schools no longer require them. They still are required at most secondary schools.

First School

An HBC reader has asked if know of which school was the first to have school ties and when. Unfortunately we do not know which school was the first to adopt a standard school necktie. We know that many schools had them in the 1920s. We suspect that the first ones were adopted in the 1910s, but in fact we do not know which school did and when. We would be interested in any information our readers could provide on this.

Girls' Uniforms

The neck tie is a male garment. British girl's schools attempted to emulate the boys' schools, especially the public (private) schools. Many girls' school adopted the tie as part of the school uniform and most secondary schools continue to require that the girls wear ties. Some schools have adopted a cross-tie for girls. I'm not sure where or when it first appeared. I began noticing the crosstie at American parochial schools in the 1950s, but it may have originated earlier. This stylle has proven quite popular at American parochial schools and has been adopted by many American public (state) schools in the 1990s. American girls do not commonly wear neckties. The necktie is still commonly worn by English girls.

Country Practices

The use of the neck tie as part of a school uniform varied greatly from country to country. While styles were quite similar, the conventions for wearing neckties varied from country to country. They were more commonly worn in Britain than any other country, because of the generally more formal styles there. Several former colonies basically copied English styles wgich were influential in manuy other countries as well. Most other countries like America, France, and Germany have taken a more informal approach to school uniforms.


HBC has noted three different designs for school ties. The styles we have noted have included diagonal and horizontal stripes and solid colors. The school tie generally was a diagonally striped tie in the school colors. A few English schools had horizontal stripes, but these were not nearly as popular as the diagonal stripes. There were also solid color ties which wereworn at some schools. Many schools had different ties to designate prefects or boys who had earned their "colors" in games (sports). Thus a school with diagonal stripped ties might have solid colored ties fior boys whio had won gthdir colors. Often destinctive designs were adopted for school old boys.


The colors chosen for the ties include every conceivable combination, reflecting the various school colors. The colors were also repeated on sweater trim and on the tops of the kneesocks. Often a single colored tie is used for the junior boys at a school. Many schools award special ties to distinguish the senior boys who serve as prefects or win their school colors. Other schools used different color ties to identify the different houses.

Junior boys

School colors

Some schools award ties for becoming a member of a school team. Some schools also award caps and others stripes (this means that running colours are given by means of a stripe on the side of the running shorts). Another way of identifying achievment is to award different clothing to team members (eg the normal running vest might be plain but if you run for the school it has a colour sewn into it. This can commonly be for sports but can even be for other things as important as playing in the chess team. At one school the pupils thought the headmaster was awarding ties for everything just to increase tie sales and school profits!!



In the past, school caps were used to show the boys house, either by the cap colours or the badge. However, as caps have become less prevalent, school ties have been used to identify houses with the use of different colours or stripes (eg Norwich school).

Figure 2.--Boys at many English preparatory schools wear their ties all day, even for some outdoor activities. Often junior boys, like the boys in this photograph, wear solid color ties, but the prefects and boys who win their "school colors" get to wear distinctive ties.


British schoolboys are especially noted for wearing ties to school. Both state and private schools required them. Dressing in comfortable clothes was not considered appropriate for school. 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. We note many boys wearing sports collars without ties. This arrangement seems to have been acceptable at many schools until well after World war II. Ties in England became increasingly common in the 1960s, even at primary schools. Scottish schools seem to have been more flexible about ties. 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. This varied from school to school, many of which had a variety of rules about ties. Some schools did not require them or made them optional. Some schools required them with long trousers, but not with short trousers. These rules have changed over time.

Old Boy Ties

When boys leave the school they are entitled to join the old boys association and they usually have ties and a cravat with their own distinctive colours.

Old School Ties

The term "old school tie" has come to mean the upper-middle-class solidarity and system of mutual assistance attributed to alumni of British public schools. While best known in England, the same basic trend can be noted in former British colonies like Australia and New Zealand as well as the United States where ties were often worn at the prestigious private schools. We suspect that this tendency is prevalent in may other countries. In fact the term term is also used to mean the narrow clannish attitudes characteristic of the members of a clique in general.


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Created: 5:57 AM 7/30/2007
Last updated: 5:57 AM 7/30/2007