English Boys' Clothes Chronology: The 1970s


Figure 1.--This cover to the 1976 LP record cover 'Showaddywaddy' shows schoolboys displaying boisterous, unruly type behavior. Actually the boys are more dressed for school than a weekend movie when by the 70s casual style were more common. one reader writes, "Whilst I assume a lack of continuity of the illustrator, the fashion of the young men in the background is the that of the early 60s (the 'ducktails') whilst the boys hair, the 'moptop' , is that from the 70s."While te boys do not wear long hair, the preent of a West Indian boy in the group clearly inficated 1970s when groups were no longer always rawn as all right.

There was a major change in the attitude towards boys' clothing in Britain during the 1970s. The effect of the late 1960s revolution in youth thinking allied to a change in the perception of young people by the adults of the time led to a less prescriptive dress sense. Boys began asking for all kinds of new fashions. Parents began to give increasing importance to what boys wanted. Income levels were rising, and families had coinsiderable discressionable income. Contributors mention all sorts of ludicrous styles, such as purple loon pants. Tank tops were also the "in" thing together with "woodies" which were fairly normal looking shoes except for the multi-ply wooden soles. The 1970s were a particularly weird time for fashion and perhaps we should be grateful for the punk revolution in the late 1970s which, if nothing else, took stupidity in clothing to the ultimate limits. One of the major trends during the period was the persisent trend toward casual, less formal dress. One of the most noticeable changes was the shify from short to long pants, even for younger boys. While boys increasingly wore long pants for formal wear, school, and Scouts, various styles of shorts for casual wear grew in popularity. Other trends include the decling popularity of kneesocks and school sandals. Older boys were attracted by skinhead styles.

Music and Fashion

Showaddywaddy were a rock and roll REVIVAL band that came out in the mid-70's. An album cover is seen here (figure 1). After skins, hairies etc. started to change they then went looking for new styles and there were a number of fashion revivals based around bands. There was also a mod revival based around bands like "Madness" who covered old Ska records). The point is that these records were increasingly marketed to a younger and younger audience as well as to their parents after a bit of nostalgia. Younger boys then wanted to copy the revived fashions - parkas (which mods used to wear in the 60's) were very popular with boys from 10 up, and bright green flourescent socks (like Teds used to wear) were too. The record cover here is meant to appeal to Dad's who had been teenagers in the 50's (the newspaper headline about Suez dates it as 1956) and their young sons (who are shown "jiving" in the foreground). A woman I worked with used to tell me how her son - who was about 10 - kept trying to teach her husband - who had been a Teddy Boy - about rock and roll music! That picture also reminds me of discos that used to be held on the estate where I lived for the over-12s and younger kids (who wouldn't be allowed in) would hang around outside dancing until their parents rounded them up. I also think the clothes are more or less accurate for the time as many younger kids still did not have that many fashionable clothes and often wore the same stuff in and out of school (TV shows like "And Mother Makes Three" still tended to portray a middle-class version of England in the 70s). I think it was the fact that younger and younger kids were encroaching on the teenage fashion and music scene that led to the rise of the punks - older teenagers, wanting their own seperate identity, knowing that even the most liberal parents and schools wouldn't allow those styles for the younger children.

Major Change in Attitude

There was a major change in the attitude towards boys' clothing in Britain during the 1970s. The effect of the late 1960s revolution in youth thinking allied to a change in the perception of young people by the adults of the time led to a less prescriptive dress sense. Parents began to give increasing importance to what boys wanted. The 1970s was a major dividing point between post-war and late-20th Century boys' fashions. Boys now were acquainred with jeans and wanted to wear them even though their parents weren't still sold on the idea. The Scouts had switched to long pants in 1969, although the Cubs still insisted on short pants. State secondary continued to require uniforms, but even junior boys, with a few exceptions, now wore long pants. A few Public schools still required shorts and most preparatory schools continued to require shorts. Many primary schools adopted simple unidorms, usually simple grey jumpers, shorts, and knee socks. English boys increasingly got long pants suits at younger ages. The age at which boys should wear shorts was widely discussed in the media. For many British boys at the beginning of the decade, getting his first pair of long pants continued to be an important landmark. The increasing popularity of jeans and other long trousers meant that by the end of the decade boys wore long pants at quite early ages and it was less of an event. While fewer British boys wore short pants suits, many schools still required shorts for elementary age children. Almost all boys in state secondary schools wore longs. A few private schools continued to require shorts for older boys, but this had virtually disappeared by the end of the decade.

Economic Trends

Income levels were rising in Britain. Here Britain lagged behind other European countries, especially France and Germany. Even so income levels were rising. This increase in income considerably increaed family discressonary income. British boys were acquiring much larger wardrobes than was the case before World Wr II or even the post-War era.

Fashion Trends

One of the major trends during the period was the persisent trend toward casual, less formal dress. One of the most noticeable changes was the shify from short to long pants, even for younger boys. While boys increasingly wore long pants for formal wear, school, and Scouts, various styles of shorts for casual wear grew in popularity. Other trends include the decling popularity of kneesocks and school sandals.

Garments

Boys began asking for all kinds of new fashions. Contributors mention all sorts of ludicrous styles, such as purple loon pants. Tank tops were also the "in" thing together with "woodies" which were fairly normal looking shoes except for the multi-ply wooden soles. The 1970s were a particularly weird time for fashion and perhaps we should be grateful for the punk revolution in the late 1970s which, if nothing else, took stupidity in clothing to the ultimate limits.

Shirts

Informal "T" shirts and sweat shirts increased in popularity. Logos with sports tems and rock stars ppeared. Tank tops were also the "in" thing with many.

Pants

British boys during the 1970s generally wore short pants up to the age of 12 or 13 years. At about the age of 11, many boys became self-conscious about being kept in shorts. The situation was made even more difficult by the fact that at this time girls and women were also dressing in short shorts, or "hot pants" as they were called. This trend was unheard of in the 1950s, and even in the 1960s in Britain. Until the early 70s, shorts had always been exclusively for boys. Many British boys began giving their parents endless trouble before we got our first pair of jeans. The style of short pants which were still worn by any boys for school and cubs changed in the late 1960s and early 1970s to a more Continental look. The long, baggy flannel shorts worn through the 1950s disappeared. Boys by the 1970s wore much shorter cut short pants, most commonly made of Tereyln blends. Terelyn was a British trade mark for polyester. Other styles of short pants were worn in the 1970s. Jean shorts were a popular style of casual short pants. Mothers for a dressier look liked to buy velour shorts for their younger boys, usually in dark blues anf browns. They had an almost velvet look. These were simple shorts with elastic waists and no pockets. They were not very popular with boys, even the youger ones, but many mothers liked them. One English reader writes, "Many British boys in the 1970's did not commonly wear out of school--unless their mothers insisted."

Footwear

Ihe in footwear during the 1970s were sneakers or running shoes as they were commonly called. Sandals declined in popularity, but were still worn by some younger boys, especially for school. Some private schools required them. Trendy boys might wear "woodies" which were fairly normal looking shoes except for the multi-ply wooden soles.

Hair Styles

Longer hair became incrasingly common in the 1970s. Moptops were popular in the early 70s and much longer styles by the late 70s.

Play Clothes

The 1970s was the decade of bright colors, synthetic fabrics, and denim. Probably the most characteristic item of 1970s boys' clothing in Enngland was short play shorts. Shorts for play were made from lightweight, synthetic fabric, and they were available in a wide range of bright colours, a far cry from the drab grey and black shorts of the 1950s and 60s. 1970s shorts reached only to the top of a boy's leg, unlike the much longer shorts of earlier decades. They usually had an elasticated waistband, similar to sports shorts. A belt was not required and indeed these shorts had no loops for a belt. They were often worn with a bright striped tee-shirt and ankle socks for casual wear, and with a shirt and tie for more formal occasions. Knee socks were rarely worn, except by some boys up to the about age 7 years for formal wear. The fashion for short shorts was not confined to casual wear, however. The short pants worn by Boy Scouts and public schoolboys inevitably followed the same trend, becoming considerably shorter, and square-cut. For summer wear, cotton shorts were available in a wide range of bright colours. For the older boy, somewhat longer shorts were available which had a "turn-up" on each leg. The shorts were so short that when jackets or blazers were worn, they might completely cover short shorts. A breakthrough came, I recall, when manufacturers began to make denim shorts for boys. These were available for boys aged about 10-13, and were by far the most popular choice among the boys themselves. However, they were more expensive than the light polyester shorts. Denim shorts had loops for a belt - a big plus in any boy's opinion--and four pockets. They were an excellent compromise between our parents wanting to keep us in short pants and our desire to feel "grown up" and "trendy" in denim. However, denim was always considered by parents to be inappropriate for formal occasions. Denim shorts were suitable for play, but we could never wear them to Church or school. For Church in particular, we were returned to what we called our ordinary short pants in cotton or polyester.

Skinheads

Fashions often provoke strong feelings. One of the most evocative fashion trends was the skinhead look of the late-1960s, 70s, and into the 80s. Skinhead fashions were hated by many and loved by others. It began in England and spread to Europe and to a lesser extent America. Thee was a very strong social-class component. Boys, especially working class boys, but some girls also adopted the skinhead look. The movement consisted primarily of youths who came from the poorer classes, often but not always poorly educated, and were mostly city boys. The shirts were commonly button downs (originally a preppy style) with big collars. Popular brand were Ben Sherman, Brutus, or similar styles. The style was closely cropped hair, tight long-sleeved shirts (often patterned or checked), worn with very tight blue jeans and extremely thin "braces" (the British word for suspenders). The popular jeans were Leviís Especially big E, or Wrangler. Sta-press, smart trousers were also worn. The kids often rolled up the bottom of their jeans if they were too long, and they liked to wear heavy high-top shoes/boots called "bover boots" which were kept quite well polished. Doc ,arins were especially popular. The boys slso were brogues, loafers, or of course Doc boots. Skinhead fashions were primarily for older teens, but a HBC reader, Bill, explains that he and other younger boys were also affected. A reader tells us, "I saw quite a few teenage boys dressed like this in London when I was on sabbatical leave in London in 1985-86." The kids were reacting, it seems, against the dandified dress of their upper class contemporaries and they went in for a kind of anti-dandyism which was reflected in the care with which they dressed--to look like a tough "aristocracy of the streets". The skinheads were associated with teenage violence, but most of them didn't carry weapons. Originally, they had nothing to do with right-wing extremism although their style of dress was sometimes imitated a bit later in central Europe by neo-Nazi thugs.

Clothing Catalogs

Clothing cataslogs and periodal advertisements offer a lot of information about clothing styles during the decade. We have not archived a lot of English 1970s catalogs yet, but have begun to collect information. English boys are increasingly wearing long pants in the 1970s. The short pants that are worn for dress wear are shorter cut continentl styles. Shorts are, however, increasingly being worn for casual summer wear and sports. Interestingly, when English boys stopped wearing "culottes anglaises", what they wore were described as "continental-style shorts". At the same time as the Brits were looking to the continent for fashion ideas, the French started dressing their boys in longer culottes anglaises. It's curious how the British and Fench admired each other's styles, yet they couldn't manage to both dress the same way at the same time.

Decimilzation

The British decimilized their currency in 1970. This is thus helpful in dating clothing advertisements. Any English ad with the price in old money - like 20'6 here is pre 1970 as after thet Britsain went decimal. A British reader recalls, "I got my first secondary school clothes for grammar school in 1970 and they were priced in both old and new money as people were getting used to the changeover."

Personal Experiences

HBC readers have also provided several accounts of their personal experiences during the 1970s, describing their clothes and school uniforms. These reports include accounts from several areas of England. We have also included a report from a Scottish reader. Most of our contributors note that boys fashions and the attitudes of boys toward their clothing had changed substantially since the 1960s, but some had traditionally orinented parents. There are accounts both of their school uniforms as well as clothes they wore at home.








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Created: February 4, 2003
Last updated: 11:12 PM 12/4/2011