English Boyhood Clothes in the 1970s

There was a massive change in the attitude towards boys' clothing inBritain during the 1970s as I was growing up. 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.

Styles of the 1970s

I remember at the age of about 10 really wanting a pair of ludicrous--or so I think now--purple loon pants which my mother eventually bought for me after much whining on my behalf. Tank tops were also the "in" thing together with "woodies" which were fairly normal looking shoes except for the multi-ply wooden soles. As I said, it was 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.

Primary School

My primary school did not require a uniform. Although it was suggested at one point that we would have a uniform at school, there wasn't any formal requirement. During the summer months most of the boys wore shorts to school usually with ankle socks and sandals. In the winter only a few boys--myself included--wore shorts to school with grey knee length socks. I must have looked really strange wearing a huge parkaraincoat walking to school in all weathers. At the time I wasn't too selfconscious, that is as I recall until around about 11 years old.

As I said, I was growing up as boy in South Wales during the 1970s and my parents were relatively traditional in their outlook towards clothing and as a result I spent much of my time wearing short trousers up to the age of about 13 when they were relegated to the summer wardrobe. However, what with children my own age becoming more and more fashion conscious I began to feel awkward wearing shorts to school when many of my peers were already wearing jeans.

My Shorts

Most of the shorts I wore were very short in comparison to the modern Bermuda style cut. My mother was very influenced by European trends, in part because my German Aunt had always said that the baggy grey shorts that British boys wore in the 1950s and 60s were revolting. I guess the length of the shorts didn't make much of a difference as mine were always very short. I remember a pair of summer shorts I had which were very short and had some sort of integral underpants. They were ideal for beach wear as they could be used for swimming but also doubled as fairly formal shorts for around town and school. When I was 13/14 I think I wore these shorts for most of the summeras they were really comfortable and it was during one of Britains extremely hot summers.


I also wore those "T"-strap style of sandals. I probably had my last pair when I was about 12. After that time I thought they were a little bit young for me.

There were different styles of sandals, but I think most people were relatively traditional and went for the oxblood/brown "T"-bar style sandals from Clarks (UK shoe manufacturer). Jesus boots (or Nazareth knockabouts as we call 'em) were not an option for kids at the time. I can't remember seeing anyone wear sandals which were black although there were different colours such as red or blue which I would not have been seen dead wearing even when I was 9 or 10.

Sandals were worn to school during the summer months up until the time I left Junior school at 11. I don't recall wearing them to school after that time very often although I had a pair or two of sandals up until the age of 13/14 for play purposes (and my mum would always buy a fresh pair for our two week holiday each year). They were much better for holidays because they did at least keep your feet cooler than traditional lace-up shoes. I think most of my friends wore sandals the same as I did. It wasn't too contentious to be seen wearing them in my area although one friend did wear them to school when we were about 15 and took some stick off us (Brit speak for teasing) all. He never wore them again!

Summer Shorts

As younger boys we mostly wore shorts during the summer. As we got older a few of us continued wearing summer shorts. Many of my friends, however, became increasingly fashion conscious and I found myself and a friend from school being the only ones in proper shorts all through the summer. Most of the others had startedwearing jean flares or soccer/rugby shorts during the summer. I think thelast time I wore proper shorts during the summer was at around the age of15/16 when on holiday with my parents.

When I was eleven and beginning to think about long trousers, I can remember my mother receiving an package from hercatalogue which contained items of clothing for me to wear. I was horrified to find that these included two pairs of very short beige short trousers (as was the fashion?) and a pair of grey flannel shorts (for scouts) as I had asked her to get me a pair of Wranglers like everyone else my age were wearing (or so it seemed to me).

Beige was at the time a popular color for summer shorts. It was perhaps a carry over from the military and Scout shorts. It seems to be trend that has now died out. When I was young it the 1970s it seemed to be all the rage. There was however no arguing with my mother about the shorts and my desire for a pair of jeans. She dismissed my protests as silly as perhaps all parents do.

Wedding Usher

The only time I wore shorts to church on a formal occasion--other than with scouts--was my sisters wedding when I was 11. I was an usher and my mum got me fitted out in a dark purple suit with short trousers and white knee length socks. I wore this pale purple shirt with a ruffled front and a darkpurple velvet bow tie. Ah... the wedding outfit ! My bete noir of clothing. I think if you could bear a grudge against an inanimate object; if you could arrange for the imprisonment, torture and subsequent execution of a collection of clothing then that outfit would be the one which would be banged up without parole for eternity on death row !

The suit was tailored by a shop in town and yes I went in with my mum to be measured up for the suit. I remember when my mum said to me that I was going to be an usher at my sister's wedding, I was really looking forward to the event as I thought that being an usher would be a very important job at the wedding.

No-one told me that the suit would involve short trousers Even when I was being measured I was under the impression that my suit would be the same as that worn by the other ushers. When we went back in for a fitting I was horrified to find that the suit included matching purple short trousers with white knee length socks. Even though I was wearing shorts most of the time anyway, I still thought that for a responsible grown up job as an usher I would have long trousers! The shorts were very short like my play shorts I wore at the time.

Worst still was when mom told me that white knee socks went with it when we had the fitting. The white knee socks worst than the shorts. I think I thought this at the time because only girls wore white knee socks at my age and I thought they made me look very stupid. When I stood in the full outfit and saw myself in the mirror I can remember getting quite upset and complaining more about the socks than the shorts.

To my relief, there was another boy usher to share my misery. He was from my brother-in-law's family. He was only 9 years old and this made it feel even more babyish that I had to wear the same short trouser suit as him. We wore very shiny black patent leather shoes, I think though I can't remember being too concerned with my shoes at the time. We had a dress rehersal nd had to stand at the door of the church and welcome the guests (imaginary at the time), and we were shown how to hand out the order of service and show the guests to their seats.

Lucikly my mates didn't see me in the outfit, although an ex-girlfriend did see photographs of the wedding and remarked how cute I looked. Several people at the wedding commented. Yes, all the aunties and uncles and people I had never seen before kept on and on about how smart I looked, etc. Both myself and the other boy had to wear the suit for the whole day, including the evening party while other boys were in regular clothes.

There were a few other boys in relatively smart outfits (shirt and tie, shorts, grey knee or ankle socks and jacket) at the wedding but they of course still made fun of the way I was dressed. I remember I hid my legs under the table at the reception and refused to go up for a dance all day only leaving to use the toilet. My complaints wnt unheeded. Mom said what she always said that I was being silly and I'd only spoil my sisters big day and if I didn't shut up I get a slap across the back of the legs. that would have been really embarrassing in front of all those people so I gave up complaining fairly quickly. To say that I hated this particular outfit would bean understatement and after the wedding I refused to wear the suit again,however, much my mother persisted in asking.

Back to School

Mum, however, was not being teased in school for wearing beige shorts with grey knee length stockings. I didn't mindwearing shorts to scouts as all the other boys wore shorts so there was no peer group pressure, but in the junior school I attended there were only a few dozen boys still wearing shorts--myself included. For school some of the boys wore longer shorts in the winter, however I wore the same length--i.e. short shorts--all year long. I can't say that itmade any difference to me although I did get badly sunburnt at the beginning of one summer (1976).

I much preferred wearing ankle socks without a doubt. That was primarily because I didn't have to keep pulling them up. Although in the colder months the added warmth of the knee lengths socks wasappreciated especially for school wear.

Prep School

I comforted myself at 11 with the thought that I would be going to high school the next year and that I would be wearing long trousers thenso my atire would soon not be a problem. However, much to my dismay we moved houseduring the summer and instead of going with all my friends to the comprehensive school I was in the catchment area for a school with a very bad repututation so my parents decided to send me to the nearby private school where--yes, you guessed it--short trousers were part of the uniform until you moved from the prep school to the upper school at 13 years of age. Ah well, at least we were all in the same boat, but my friends from junior school though it was very funny that I was wearing shorts at 13 and I got seriously ribbed for it.

I used to walk to school as it was less than a mile from my house. Luckily on the way into school I could avoid most of the kids from the comprehensive (secondary) school as we started school earlier than they did. It was walking back from school that you'd run the gauntlet occasionally. The worst thing would be if I was late getting back from school to do my paper round and didn't have enough time to get changed out of my uniform. Even though I wore shorts most of the time anyway, the added embarrassment of wearing a school uniform on you paper round was to be avoided.

During the first year at prep school I did wear a cap as did all the other boys but the teachers were not very strict at enforcing the protocol excepton school excursions or special occasions.

Because there were not that many prep school in the area we played most of our matches against the younger grades of the local high schools who naturally made fun of our uniform at every opportunity. I do remember whenwe had a team of rugby players come over from a New Zealand school being amazed that even their sixth formers wore short trousers. We 12 years olds and thought that was really funny.


Even as an older boy, I occasionally wore shorts to church. I attended the local Baptist church and as part of Scouts I would wear shorts on Church parade even whenI was 16 with grey socks and garter tabs. The rest of the time with scouts (from 12 onwards) I wore long trousers which felt a bit weird when I wasstill wearing shorts to school.

A Friend

Recently I was talking with a friend of mine about our childhoods and he related a similar experience with his parents whereby his mother neverthought a boy was smartly dressed unless they were wearing short trousers with knee socks. He had a particluar hatred of the colour beige as is parents seemed to insist on dressing him in this rather non-colour.

Perhaps someone out there can explain where the British fascination with colour beige in clothing styles has come from?

Martin, 1998

Christopher Wagner


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Created: April 2, 1998
Last updated: April 2, 1998