England: 1950s-60s Boys' Clothing

I grew up in England during the 1950 and 60s. I was born in 1952 and raised in Dorset, a county in southwesten England.

I wore short pants all the time as a younger boy. I dont think you could call the shorts I wore as a boy play shorts or dress shorts. Short trousers then were just that, normal trousers which ended above the knee. I remember that they were better made then the shorts available today. They were lined much like a suit jacket is. As far back as I can remember, we (my mates and I) allways wore kneesocks. The only colour I remember wearing was gray. These were turn over top knee socks, which unless you used an elastic garter with them were allways falling down.

We werent affluent enough to afford a proper suit for me as a small boy. So as a boy I never had a suit.

There were three levels of progression through school back then:
Infants: Which was for children Five to seven years of age. The infants and juniors was a combined catholic school run by nuns.
Juniors: For 8-11 year olds.
Secondary school: Which is were you went if you didn't pass the 11+ exam and go to grammer school (academicaly selecive seondary school). I attended the same secondary school from 11 to 16 years of age. Secondary, or to give it its full title Secondary modern school, was also a catholic school, both were partly subsidised by the church, but thankfully the secondary school was run by normal teaching staff.

I never wore a school cap as a boy. They had begun to go out of style, at least for state schools. They werent compulsory at my schools, so I didn't wear one.

Nearly all the boy's I knew then wore short trousers allways, not just for school, but all the time and all year round. I can remember wearing wellington boots (wellies) in the winter, the top of which used to rub against your bare leg becouse ones socks had usualy fallen down, and leave a sore spot there. As a younger boy I did'nt mind wearing short trousers, all theother boys wored then as well.

I don't rember wearing sandals as a boy, but in the 1950s and 60s a lot of boys still wore them.

As a older boy, however, I didn't like to wear them when the majority of my contemporys were in long trousers. Actually going into long trousers was a sign of leaving childhood behind. I think its hard now to understand how important it was for a boy back then to graduate into long trousers. Once you had, you generally never wore shorts again, except for sports--not even in the hottest of summers. Until I think the late-1970s almost no male wore shorts in public ever in this country. Shorts were for young boys only. Even the Boy Scouts switched to long trousers. That's why having reached that milestone it was embarissing to have to go back to wearing them.

I had one memorable experience in that regard. At the age of 11 back in 1963 I finally left short trousers behind when I started secondary school. It was a big moment in my life, back then it was only boy's who ever wore short trousers and to graduate into long one's was a visual sign of leaving childhood behind.

In my class there were only about two or three boys still in short's that first year of secondary school. I well remember that they disliked being in the minority, one theatening to beat up anyone who laughed because he still had to wear them. But no one really teased them about wearing them. The previous school term we had all worn them and the rest of us were just glad we didn't have to any more--and were now in "adult" clothes.

About 6 months into the year I got into a fight with another boy, nothing serious, but it did result in rolling about in a muddy patch on the ground, my trousers really got in a mess. It was mid week and they were the only pair I had, with six kids to bring up my parents couldn't afford spare school clothes for us.

Wash day was the weekend for my mother worked full time then. So when I got home covered in mud she told me that she wouldnt be able to wash them untill then, and that I would have to go back into shorts untill the following week. I can remember pleading with her that I couldnt go back to wearing short trousers, but she just told me not to be silly and that it was my own fault anyway.

So the next day shorts it was, it felt like a return to childhood, I had grown in the six months and my short trousers now felt quite tight and a lot shorter than they had been. This was the early 1960s and the shorts I had worn all my life till then had been of the type that almost reached the knee, now they were a couple of inches above, but felt shorter to me. I didn't really get teased, just a few remarks from my peers on wearing them again. But to this day I can remember the embarrasment those few days caused me, to have achieved what was then one of the milestones in a boy's life and then to have it taken away, if only for a couple of days was very humiliating.
John, August 7, 1998

Christopher Wagner


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Created: April 25, 1998
Last updated: April 25, 1998