*** school sandals

School Sandals

sandals playwear
Figure 1.--British boys, even older boys, wore sandals through the 1960s, much as American boys wore tennis shoes/snaeakers. Sandals at the time were not just associated with schoolwear here they are playwear. Note that his friend wears plimsols, canvas shoes.

Sandals apprared in the modern world s baeefoot sandals in nAmeruca. They were designed as csual footwear during hot summer weather. American biys never wire then to chool, but girls did. They were more widely worn at chool in Erope, especually England. Thy bcme stbdardschool wear for both boys and girls. British boys from the 1920s through the 1960s commonly wore sandals for play, especially during the summer. They were more commonly worn than tennis shoes (or "trainers" or "slippers" as our British friends might call them) which were mostly worn for gym at school. The sandals were also referred to as school sandals because they were commonly worn for school by primary age children and boys just beginning secondary schools. Most were 't'-strap styles with one strap. We also see ouble traps. They were usully vrious broin shades, but we also note blue sandals. The most common brand was Clark's school sandals. School sandls wer commonly wirn with kbee scks, but e also see ankle socks and they were also irn with out any hosiery.


British school sandals were closed toe sandals looking more like shoes than what we generally think of sandals. They were commonly referred to as sand shoes in England. The most common type of school sandal was what Americans would refer to as strap shoes with a "T" bar strap. Another less common type was double bar sandals. A new style appeared in the 1960s. The width of the center stap was increased. Eventually became so wide that the school sandal came to look much like a shoe. This style became much more popular with the boys than the narrow strap style which the girls continued to wear. This link takes you to the style of English school sandals, but the discussion here does not vary from the oberall school sandal discussion as this was an essentially English style.


We are not positive just who first designed and marketed these sandals. We do not notice the "T"-strap style being worn in the 19th century, although we do notice strap shoes. An example is the Onarga School in America during 1882. We believe they were first marketed as a comfortable summer cassual shoe and only later adopted for school wear. The first that I have definitively noted "T"-shrap strap shoes was in the early-20th century. In Ameica they were called 'barefoot sandals', but they were usually done wih double vars. We are not sure what they were called in Britan. We note school sandals in Britain very prominently in the 1920s after World War I (1914-18). I think they became known as school sandals because many British families of modest means did not have the money to provide several different pairs of shoes. Thus they simply started wearing their sandals to school. That is, however, only a theory at this time. Originally sandals were appealing because they were less expensive than ordinary shoes. We also see them being worn in other European countries, but not as commonly as in England. The basic style with narrow straps were commonly worn through the 1950s. The style of strap shoes began to change in the 1960s with the center strap becoming wider for boys. Different companies did this a little diffrently. Girls continued to wear the style with the narrow strap. The school sandal is still widely worn by boys in England, but mostlty the style with the wide center strap.


School sandals were commonly worn to school by elementary-age children through the 1960s. I British contributor remembers Clarks shoes during the 1970s. They made a boys sandal called the 'Wayfinder'. The British contributor recalls, I owned a pair of these and was very happy to have them, because, in the heel they had a compass and the soles were embossed with animal footprints (easy to retrace your footsteps in the snow). The wearing of school sandals began to decline during the 1970s and especially the 1980s as the children generally preferred to wear the tennis shoes that, along with jeans had become so popular. School sandals are still worn to school, but now mostly by little boys. They are rarely worn now by boys after school. British boys now, like American boys, mostly wear tennis shoes after school.

suits and school sandals
Figure 2.--Many British boys seem to prefer the school sandal style with an expanded center strap, making it look more like a shoe. Sandals were worn with both suits and the everyday school uniform. This varied from school to school.

Preparatory Schools

Many private schools, called preparatory schools in England, often required the boys to wear them for every day school wear. Preparatory schools are generally for children from 8-13 years of age. Virtually no prep schools allowed boys to wear tennis shoes. For dress occasions, the boys would usually wear lace-up oxfords. Originally school sandals were worn by boys from a wide range of social classes. England has a much more rigid social structure than America and dress styles often has destinct social conotations. Thus the popularity of this style with a wide social strata is interesting. This began to change in the 1960s, however, and it was the prep schools which required children to wear sandals. As a result, the style began to be seen as an upper class style.

Personal Experiences

One British boy describes his memories of wearing school sandals:

The sandals were mum's idea but were very common in the 1950's. All my clothes were mum's idea. In those days boys had no say in what they put on and in any case there was not much choice. Clarks shoes is a very old family firm in England and were, and still are, famous for good quality children's shoes. Their name was synonymous with traditional school shoes. Another famous name in England is Startright. The sandals were brown leather with a single strap across the foot passing through one in the middle to form a "T". The strap buckled on the outside of the foot. The foot was enclosed except for the gaps between the straps and the small holes made covering the foot to allow air to circulate. The backs were enclosed and the soles made of a light coloured composite material called crepe (If that is how it was spelt). These sandals were worn by most children in the summer. The boys' ones were always brown as I remember. Girls had the same but theirs were usually of other colours. Many boys wore sandals like this for as long as they stayed in shorts and they were approved of at my grammar school in the summer term only. The woodwork master though used to forbid them as they were considered dangerous in case one dropped a chisel on your foot. I preferred anyway to wear black lace up shoes to school. I used to think long socks with sandals looked odd.

prep school sanbdals
Figure 3.--Sandals were a distinguishing part of the school uniforms worn by many British boys. Prep schools do not allow the boys to wear tennis shoes to class.

Current Situation

School sandals are still worn by British boys, but not as commonly as before. British boys now usually wear tennis shoes like their American counterparts. The sandals that are commonly worn to school are different than those worn earlier. The center strap has been expanded to cover most of the front, giving it more of a shoe than a sandal look. The sandals with a narrow center strap are now mostly worn by girls as is the case in the United States.

Figure 4.--Many of the boys at this French prinmary school in 1947 wore English style school sandals. They are dressed up for a prize giving ceremony.

National Trends

The school sandal was most popular in England, but was worn in many other countries as well. American boys with few exceptions did not wear school sandals. Most boys considered them a girl's shoe style. Some very young boys wore them, but they were not commonly worn at American primary schools. We note a few exceptions, such as a Chicago school wear the children wore sandals for dance classes in the 1930s. We have also noticed a few boys wearing them at exclusive private schools. Fir the most part, however, American boys did not wear them to school. HBC has no informnation on Belgium at this time and beliece that they mostly followed FRench trends. School sandals were more popular in England than any county. I think sandals actually were initially an English style, although I can not yet substantiate this with any certainty. I first note them in the 1920s, but have no real details on when they originated. The traditional style with a narrow center strap were commonly worn by English boys from the 1920s through the 1960s. At first they were not school wear, but casual footwear. The conventions for wearing sandals changed significantly over time. By the 1960s only small boys were wearing closed-toe sandals outside of school. Styles also negabn to change with boys increasingly wearing a new style with a wide center strap. The style with the narrow center strap, however, continued to be worn by girls. Sandals in France had more of an association of warm weather holiday wear, rather than schoolwear as in England. They were common at schools, however, in the warmer weather. They were widely wiorn by the 1920s and did not begin declining in poularity until the 1950s. The mostvpopular style was the English style school sandal. German boys wore school sandals in the 1920s, but they declined in popularity during the 1930s, except for the very youngest boys. Apparentlty the NAZIs did not consider them very manly. Sandals emerged after World War II (1939-45), but primarily closed toe styles. Most Hungarian boys by the 196-s appear to have worn lace-up shoes, but a few boys wore sandals to school, closed-toe sandals that looked rather like English school sandals. HBC is unsure just how common they were and if sandals were more common in earlier years. Irish school boys like their English counterparts wore school sandals. They were the same style as worn in England. I do not think they were as popular in Ireland as in England. Sandals were commonly worn by Italian boys. I am not sure, however, how common they were for school wear. Boys at New Zealand schools also wore sandals like English boys. Locally made sandals, however, have a rougher look than the classic brands like English Clark's school sandals. Sandals were worn in Scotland, but they were never as popular as in England.

Sand Shoes

While this style of shoe is now most often referred to as a school sandal, it was originally known as a sand shoe. It was for many years commonly worn by English boys as a casual shoe style. It came to be widely worn throughout the year in England. Note that the sandshoe was once popular as a popular schoot style for warmer summer water.


Sandals were mostly worn with hosiery. The first bare foot sandals we see (1900s decade) were worn wihout hosiery, but thes were not school sandals. We first note them being worn at school was in Europe, especially England after Word War I in the 1920s by both boys and girls. We see them im America, but only for girls at school. Again they were worn with hosiery. Few boys wore white socks like the girls, although some younger boys did. Mostly grey knee socks were worn in England. Sandal hosiery in other countris was more varied. British schoolwear was commonmly worn in Empire countries as well. School sandals were an exception, probably because going bareefot was so common in warm weather conditions. (Most of the Empire was in tropical ab=nmd semi-tropicl areas.) They became standard schoolwear in England. We see children wearing sandals throughout the rest of the 20th century, but they delined in popularity by the end of the century, mostly for boys. While boys commonly wore sandals without hosiery during the summer, they almost always wore hosiery for school. An exception was a few prep boarding schools where during the summer term boys wore sandals without any hosiery.


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Created: July 8, 1998
Last updated: 2:08 PM 9/3/2022