Eton School Uniform


Figure 1.--This 1930s picture shows both types of Eton school uniform (tailcoat and jacket).

The traditional Eton school uniform and collar influenced English school uniforms for more than a century. Given the prestige of Eton college, many English adopted the style of the Eton school uniform with minor modifications. Gradualy English schools adopted more standard single breasted suits, but retained the Eton collar for dress occasions into the 1920s and even the 1939s at conservative schools. The style does continue to be worn at Eton College.

Eton College

Eton College is one of the best known schools in the world. Americans think of colleges as small universities. Colleges in most of the rest of the world are secondary schools, as is Eton College, albeit a prestigious one. Eton College was founded in 1440, nearly 58 after the founding of Winchester school, by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, under the patronage of Henry VI--the Scholar King, and with the title of "the College of the Blessed Mary of Eaton beside Windsor." The buildings were completed between 1491 and 1523. The original buildings consist of two quadrangles containing the chappel, the upper and lower schools, appartments for officials, the library, and offices. The school has produced a long list of distinguished former pupils, including Sir Robert Walpole, Robert Hartley, william Pitt the Elder, Horace Walpole, the Duke of Wellington, Thomas Gray, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Ewart Gladstone.

School Organization

Eton College is organized into a lower school for the younger boys who enter at about 13-years old. Most boys enter after finishing private preparatory schools, although a small number of boys enter from the state system. The older move on to the upper school. The school in 1950 had over 1,000 students of which only about 70 lived on the foundations and had scholarships. The rest of the boys, called Opedians lived in "houses" under the supervision of masters. Currently ... The curriculum which in the mid-19th Century was almost entirely classical now covers the modern subjects.

English Shool Uniform

School uniforms originated in England with the hospital schools founded in the 16th Century. The boys at these schools were charity students and their clothes were provided by the schools, which decided on identical costumes. Some of the first outfits were monks cassocks which eventually evolved to long tunic tunic outfits. The public (fee paying private) schools of the day allowed their boys, all from affluent families, to dress as they wanted. Only in the 19th Century did the public schools implement uniforms. Conditions at the public schools in the 18th and 19th Cenuries were caotic. Senior boys ruled the school and it could be quite dangerous for the younger boys. Academic standards were poor. Badly needed reforms in the mid-19th century were to change this, fashioning the highly effective public schools of modern Britain. One of these reforms was a standard uniform for the boys. This was a major step as until the mid-19th Century, school uniforms were thought of as a costume for poor children at charity schools. Once introduced ans accepted, the public schools and developing preparatory schools embraced school uniforms with a pashion. A new boy at thse schools would have an amazingly complex school kit, with specialized outfits for the many popular sports. Soon uniforms were worn with pride to marks a boy as pupil in a prestigeous private school like Eton College. A widely held tradition is that the school adopoted black jackets in 1820 in morning for George III. The King, who exhibited mebtal disorders in the later years of his reign, showed great interest in the school and supported it. As Windsor Castle, a royal residence, is located near to the College, the King reportedly would often sit on the College wall and chat with the boy about their experiences. This report, about wearing black for morning, however, may be apocryphal. Some scholars have noted drawings of Eton boys wearing black as early as 1815, well before the King's death. The idea of a school uniform came full circle, from a fashion for poor charity children to a mark of the British elite. As a result, grammar (academically selective secondary) schools and other state schools began copying the prstigious public schools and introduced uniform requirements of their own. In America school uniforms were considered characteristic of elite public school schools. This was less true in Britain because the state schools, first the grammar schools (academically selective secondary schools), but eventually most other state schools were emuating the public schools.

School Uniforms

Eton College is of course the school most noted for wearing Eton suits as a school uniform. Several other public schools, however, also had Eton suit uniforms.

Eton College Uniform

While Eton College did not conceive of the idea of school uniform in England, the uniform it introduced in large measure initiated the modern traditions of school uniforms in Britain. Eton College was one of the many British schools which introduced school uniforms in the mid-19th Century. The sober suit influenced the uniform adopted by other schools as well as the clothes of British boys of all classes. The resulting Eton suit, as it is now known, became an emensely popular fashion for school age boys both in Britain and America. It is apparently the only public school uniform that went on to become widely worn by boys--many of whom may never had heard of Eton College. The Eton suit and collar was widely worn by boys in the late 19th and early 20th Century. It is unclear to the author why it was the Eton suit, and not the uniforms at other public schools, that became such a standard of boyhood fashion. Perhaps it was the prestige of Eton College. Even other public schools adopted uniforms incorporating the destinctive Eton collar as well as other features of the Eton suit. Actually Eton School had two different uniforms. The uniform we now think of with the stiff white collar and short jacket was the junior uniform. Senior boys wore long jackets with tails. Boys when they reached 5 ft 4 in were allowed to wear the senior uniform. But this meant that shorter boys might have to wear the junior uniform even at 16 or 17. Finally in 19?? the school abolished the junior uniform and all boys now wear tails.

Harrow College Uniform

We have not obtained much information on Harrow yet. A Harrow school uniform can be seen on the social class page. Some Harrovians wore light-coloured waistcoat, which were permitted to wear with their Eton suits on special occasions. Eton boys were restricted to buttonholes. The Eton suit continued as the dress for juniors at Harrow into the 1960s. A photograph shows boys attending a memorial service for Old Harrovian Winston Churchill in 1965.

Modern Eton Uniform

Eton continues to have a strict dress code. One of the most interesting aspects Eton is the school uniform. It is now made to measure and laid out in a new boy's room when he arrives at school. While many schools do well just to persuade their pupils not to turn up wearing tennis shoes, at Eton the uniform requirements continues to be strictly enforced--tailcoats, stiff collars and the famous Eton tie. One new boy at Eton reports, "The uniform is quite weird at first, but then you quickly learn that there is a special way of walking. You can't really run at all, you have to learn to scuff your shoes along the floor to get up any speed."

Formal Eton Suits

English boys in the early decades of the 19th Century began wearing short jackets which came to be known as Eton suits as the fashion was worn at Eton school. Eton school was so influential that suits based on the short jackets and stiff collars became the standard dress suit for English boys until after Word War I (1914-18).

Individual Eton Boys

We have collected some information about individual boys at Eton. Some are famous old boys. Others are simply boys of whom we have found portraits, but have not detailed information.

Percy Shelley (1800s): One of Eton's many notble old boys is the poet Percey Shelley. We knowe that Shelley hated the school. He refused to fag and was terribly abused by the other boys. They called him "Mad Shelley".

W.C. Bryce (about 1905)

G.V. Naylor-Leyland (about 1907)

G.V. Stokes (1900s)







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Created: January 4, 2000
Last updated: 3:32 AM 4/5/2006