English School Uniform: The Blazer


Figure 1.--The English boy at a cathedral choir school wears a grey flannel blazer with purple piping. Notice the kneesocks with the purple colored turnovers. The image here is reversed.

Blazers are commonly associated with British school wear. The blazer, however, was more common in the 20th than 19th century. In the late-19th century it was primarly associated with games and worn at private schools. Many boys, however, wore suits and suit jackes rather than blazers. Some schools had both suits and bllazers. The blazer was developed in England 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. They were viewed as somewhat informal wear. More formal atire would be an Eton suit and hard collar. Blazers were worn with soft collars and the school tie. Private schools commonly insisted on blazers, but quite a number had suits rather than blazers. Some schools had both suits and blazers. Blazers were worn for every day and suits for special occassions. School blazers added great variety to the sometimes dowdy school uniform. State secondary schools like the private schools had highly varied and colorful blazers through the 1950s. Most have, however, for reasons of economy shifted to a plain blaack blazer with the school crest. Private schools, both primary and secondary, continue to have uniforms with coloful blazers--although less varied than in the 1950s and 60s. The school crest is worn on the left chest pocket. Often it is the initials of the school, but some schools have logos or elaborate crests. Assesing English schools can be quite complicated because of the many different types of schools. Most schools, except for primary schools, adopted blazers as part of the school uniform. There were even some primary schools, especially Anglican primary schools that had blazers. There were, however, many variations among schools and over time concerning blazers.

Appearance

School blazers added great variety to the sometimes dowdy school uniform. State secondary schools like the private schools had highly varied and colorful blazers through the 1950s. Most have, however, for reasons of economy shifted to a plain blaack blazer with the school crest. Private schools, both primary and secondary, continue to have uniforms with coloful blazers--although less varied than in the 1950s and 60s. Most school blazers are a standard style. They are always single breasted. They have patch pockets, especially the chest pocket. Some blazers have patch pockets with flaps, but this is not the traditional style. Most British schools had blazers rather than suits. Several schools, however, choose the option of a suit. In almost all cases the suit was a stadard grey one. The younger boys would have short pants, the older boys long pants with an identical jacket. A few schools instead of the standad grey suit had various patterned suits. The blazers worn by English boys over time have been various colors. The colors in part have been affected by the type of school. State secondary schools generally have plain black blazers, often with rhe school crest. Preparatory schools have worn a much greater range of colors. I believe the wearing of brightly colored blazers as a school uniform looks to have begun in the 1920s. The practice began to decline in the 1940s, but many private schools still required bright-colored blazers. Virtually every color was worn, although some colors like blue were more common than others. Most blazers were solid colors, but there were two primary alternatives, stipes and piping. There were many variations in the striping. There was also braided and ribbon piping. The costs of these alternatives have caused schools in recent years to drop them and adopt simpler, less expensive blazers. Some schools decided on striped blazers. These were particularly popular in the 1950s. The appearance added a little dash to the basic school blazer, but they tended to be more expansive than plain solid blazers. The striped blazer declined in popularity during the 1970s as many schools attempted to simplify the uniform and reduce costs. Many private schools closed in the 1970s, especially smaller schools. Many schools that continued operating turned to options like coeducation and keeping costs at a minimum to attract as wide a economic specturm of society as possible. Many schools had color piping around the edges of the blazer and on the lapels. The piping was of contrasting colors. Blue blazers, for example, had yellow and white piping. Brown lazers might have red or a white striped piping. Some times piping would be used to reflect status at the school. Some schools had tweed jackets instead of blazers. Unlike the blazers, the tweed jackets were worn without the school logo. This option was particularly popular in Scotland as the jackets could be worn with kilts for dress occasions. Many Scottish schools had both blazers for everyday wear with short and long pants and tweed jackets to be worn with kilts for the formal occasions.

Construction

The English school blazer was not just a colorful suit jacket. The blazer had several destinctive construction characteristics that diferentiated it from a suit jacket. There were variations of course, but they were not very common. Blazers were made with lapels. The lapels were important because a variety of pins issued by the school were pinned on here. These could be house pins or position pins like prefect, librarian, and many others. Blazers generally had three buttons, alythough we have seen some with two buttons. Some schools enforced rules about how the blazer should be worn concerning the buttons. A patch pocket was popular and provided a convenient place to sew on the school badge or creast. There tended to be two side pockets. These were also commonly patch pockets and usually unlike suits did not have flaps. Another important characteristic is the absence of a back vent. Suit jackets had these vents, but blazers did not. With the front buttons buttoned this could make for a tight fit.


Figure 2.--Girls also wear blazers. These green blazers have destinctive yellow piping. Note the boy's cap with the destinctive cross hanging in the background.

Badges

The school badge or crest was an important part of the blazer. There are only so many colors used for blazers. Thus the badge was a way of making a destinctive blazer for each different school. The badge was normally worn on the left chest area of the blazer. Here some blazers had patch pockets. Others did not. Some schools did not have badges, but most schools did. There were many types of school badges worn on the blazers. Most were embroidered patches that were sewn on the blazers. The badges varied widey from school to school. Sometimes they were just the initials of the school. Here there were simple letters. Others involved a more elaborate presentation of the letter. Many schools had logos or elaborate crests. Private schools both preparatory and public were the most commonly the schools most likely to have blazer badges and had the most elaborate badges. State schools especially comprehensives schools were somewhat less likely to have badges.

Chronolgy

Schools with uniforms commonly required that the children wear their blazers uring the school day. Special permissiion was required for boys to take off therir vlazers, even on a hot summer day. Only during the late 1950s did schools begin to relack the rules about blazers. By the 1960s boys ar many schools could take off their blazers. Gradually while boys would wear their blazers to and from school, during the day they would mostly wear their jumpers. This varied, however, from school to school. Blazers are still widely worn at British schools. Styles and practices, however, have changed somewhat. Colors are no longer as diverse. Some styles such as stripes and blazers with contrasting borders are less common, primarily a matter of cost. A much wider spectrum of the English population now chooses private education and schools have attemopted to simplify the uniform. The clothing list required of boys until the 1960s could be quite daunting for a small boy--and very expensive. Multi-colored blazers and those with edging work are more expensive and tnus have gradually disappeared. Even so there are still a wide variety of brightly colored blazers worn by British school children. Often the girls schools now have the most brightly colored blazers. Presumably the girls take a little better care of their blazers than do the boys. Blazers begame less common in the 1990s. Boys and girls at many comprehensives now rarely wear them, comong to school now mostly wearing jumpers and a coat on a cold day. This varies, however, from school to school. Most private schools still have blazers. The blazer is worn less today than in earlier years. Some schools do not now even have blazers. Most do but they are mostly worn while coming and gong to school and for school functions. While at school, British boys mostly wear their jumpers (sweaters) or just a shirt during the school day. They rarely put on their blazers.


Figure 3.--Some schools had suits for uniforms rather than blazers. They boys wear short pants suits in 1937. We do not know what type of school this was, but it looks like a private school.

School Types

Assesing English schools can be quite complicated because of the many different types of schools. Most schools, except for primary schools, adopted blazers as part of the school uniform. There were even some primary schools, especially Anglican primary schools that had blazers. There were, however, many variations among schools and over time concerning blazers. The standard at many British state secondary schools was and continues to be a plain black blazer. Many private schools, especially the preparatory schools had much more colorful blazers.

Conventions

Conventions for wearing blazers varied from school to school. Most schools required the boys to wear theie blazers when coming and going to school and on school trips. Normally at school the boys did ot wear their blazers during the day. Here this varied somewhat depending on the school. Boys rarely wore their blazers at boarding schools during the day. At day schools wearing blazers was more common, especially at state secondary schools. Schools also had a variety of events such as fetes or sorts day. Here uniform requirements were more relaxed with some boys wearing their blazers and others just their shirts or jumpers.

Color Shades

English school blazers came in a wide range of colors and trim. These coloful blazers were mostly worn at private schools, especially preparatory schools. They were also worn at public (private secondary) and grammar schools. They became very common in the 20th century. The many different colors include bright colors, although colors like black, dark blue/navy, and grey were also worn. These colorful blazers were often worn with caps in the same color. We are not entirely why colorful blazers became so ppular. We suspect it in part derives from the fact that blazers were first used at schools as a games (sports) outfit. nother factor is that they were first worn at private schools. And these schools may have wanted their students to stand out as a kind of walking advertisements for the school. Unfortunately early 20th century blazers were photogrphed in black and white so it is usually impossible to tell the colors. We have noted blazers done in various shades of blue, brown, green, grey, maroon, pink, purple, red, and yellow, as well as black and white. Black became very common in the 1970s and was adopted as te standard blazer at many comprehensive schools. Not only were blazers done in many different shades, but were differentiated by contrasting trim as well as the school crest or badge worn on the vlazer breast pocket.

Rules and Destinctions

Schools had all sorts of rules about wearing the blazer as well a destintive features that were added to the blazer to show the wearers' status and achievements. They specifics varied from school to school, but many schools had these kind of rules. A HBC reader provides us details about the rules at his school in the 1940s concerning the blazer, caps, and other aspects of the uniform. He writes, "At the public school I attended as a day boy after the war, there was a heirarchical convention with regard to blazers. 1. They could only be worn in school in the Summer Term 2. They could be worn by sports team members at any time of year when visiting other schools for matches. On the field of course the team would wear appropriate sports kit. 3. Junior boys wore plain royal blue blazers. When awarded 'House Colours' i.e. had represented his House Team, the blazer could be adorned with maroon piping. 4. When awarded 'School Colours' i.e. played for the 1st team in Cricket or Soccer, a special cap could be added. Caps however were not worn with blazers, so this identifying badge of honour could only be displayed on non-blazer occasions. 5 On the cricket field boys awarded their 1st colours could wear a special 'colours' cap. 6 Other curious conventions included, that 'whites' could only be worn by players in 1st team cricket matches. In other school matches, the 2nd XI and lower teams played in grey longs and white shirts. 7. I believe that when we played Harrow the teams wore 'Greys'. as Harrow only wore whites when they played Eton at Lord's." Here our reader is primarily addressing sports. There were other detinctions whih might be reflected with the blazer or tie, such as being chosem a prefect or other honor.







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Created: November 25, 1998
Last updated: 12:06 PM 10/24/2017