Kilts in England: The 1950s

Figure 1.--.

I grew up on a beautiful, isolated island off the coast of southern England. I have many wonderful memories of my idelic boyhood, although some might say my boyhood clothing was a little unusual. They were different times then.

My Family

My father died in 1950, the year that I was born. I had a sister 6 years my senior. My Mother was a biologist and had taught at various schools.

Our Island

In 1953 we moved to a very small island off the coast of southern England where my Mother was doing wildlife work. The island is just 3 miles long with very high cliffs in most parts. There are lots of beautiful birds such as puffins.

My sister atteneded a school on the mainland. My sister was older than me and she went convent schools where they wore a gym slip/tunic or a skirt/kilt uniform. She went there because of my Grandmother who wanted her to get a religious upbringing. She later became a nun.

There were two other children on the island and my Mother taught school on an informal basis as an adjunct to her work. I never had trouble with the girls. We played together and grew up together and we are still friends.

Our Clothes

From a very early age most of the clothes I wore were my sisters old hand-me-downs. I didn't have much say as to what I wore from day to day. Mother would leave out my clothes every day so she was the one who picked them out. I don't recall clothes being a real issue. I dont know why I wore what I wore other than this is what was given to me and I accepted it. There were shorts in there as well. Perhaps it was easier for her. Clothes were not important to her. She dressed very plainly. So she may well have just put out what was handy. We didn't have television so my youthful horizons were rather limited. I don't remember talking about my clothes with either my mother or sister but I do remember people confusing me for a girl which did begin to irritate me as I got older.

The clothes I wore esentially cost her nothing really. That was hekpful as we did not have a lot of money. My grandmother bought much of my sisters stuff. The only expense mother had was when we had to visit the mainland and then she bought clothes for me.

Kilts and tunics

I would often be dressed in a school kilt and sweater or even a tunic and other articles of her clothing. A tunic is a school uniform garment. It slips over your head and has a skirt pleated at the back and a raised front almost like the top of an apron. It has a tie belt around the waist. I dont know what an Amercian would call it I am afraid. Usually worn with a white long sleeve shirt or possibly a blue shirt, and a school tie. Some of them have a school crest on the front of the apron bit I wore school skirts or school kilts depending on what fitted. They were ??? or navy blue. Depending on my age, some were really a tunic but looked like a kilt when I had a pullover on. Sometimes I also wore shorts but skirts more often than not.

My kilts were same as ones worn by girls as they fastened on the wrong side for a boy. They were plated at the back and a plain panel at the front. I only ever had one tartan one which was red and called the "Stuart Tartan". My tunics, I had two as I recall, were like a skirt with a top. There was a badge on the bib (the piece at the front).


When younger I would wear a smock especially when painting. I wore smocks which were like dresses when I was doing messy stuff like painting, working with plastacine, or even helping in the kitchen. They were old ones belonging to my sister. They were different kinds, some coloured and some with smocked patterns on the front.


I wore shorts from about 11. They were grey. I wore white shirts, wth pullovers if it was cold, short pants which I think were navy blue. sometimes wore short white ankle socks, or no socks and sandals usually. The family we stayed with are still friends. As I recall their son wore short pants and a shirt same as me and also a beret because his father made them. I wore one as well especially made for me.

Until I was around 10 I usually wore the kilts and tunics I mentioned above. When I was around 11 it was always shortpants and shirts with long sleeves or just a pullover or jersey. Underneath I wore what what was available.

The girls

The girls that were my neighbours wore dresses in the summer or sometimes shorts, ankle socks and sandals. shoes and I think even ankle socks in the winter. They also wore tights. They wore skirts as well as school type kilts but I dont recall if they were tartan or just plain coloured.

Hair Styles

I had very curly fair hair and my mother let it grow. I did get hair cuts at home. My hair was just longer than normal. Visitors to the island often thought I was a girl.

Foul weather gear

In bad weather we used to wear "Sou' westers". These were fisherman type hats and coats. They were yellow and I think made out of oiled canvas. The hats were big and the rain would roll off them.


In good weather I went barefoot. In the summer we never wore shoes unless we had to go somewhere special which was not often. We wore sandals then and also plimsoles, canvas type shoes.


During the Winter time I sometimes wore a duffle coat. This was a coat with toggle fastners and a hood. Navy officers used to wear them. I wore long socks in winter they would be green or grey or blue and sometimes tights if it was very very cold.


Also slept in a night shirt and never saw pyjamas until I was 15.

Trips to the Mainland

I either wore shorts or kilts when we went to the mainland which was not often. My shorts were rather baggy and usually had an elasticated waist. My mother really never said asnything much about clothes to me. I do remember that when we went off the island she wanted me to dress the way they did it their. Those were my best clothes. We did go to France once on a vacation but I dont really recall a lot about it other than I had a good time.


We had a very isolated life as we were some 2 miles from the pier. There were no cars. We only had radio, no TV and no outside influence.

We really only saw people during the summer months. Visitors were usually big into ornithology and wildlife. Some came as families and there were other children among the visditors.

At first I thought it rather funny that visitors would think me a girl. Sometimes it would take a while for them to realize that all was not what it appeared. I dont really remember having to explain anything when I was younger.

The only time I recall being uncomfortable was when I was climbing in some rocks and another boy who was visiting us, said that I looked and dressed like his sister and he tried to pull my kilt off. My mother told me not to worry and that some kids were like that.

Leaving My Island

I wore my first long trousers when I moved to the mainland. They had button up flies in those days, I was 15. he funny thing is that I never gave the matter a second thought and when I wore my first long trousers they felt really foreign and uncomfortable to say nothing of itchy.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: March 1, 2000
Last updated: March 2, 2000