FC Navigation Console

Scottish Boyhood Clothes in the 1970s-80s

I grew up in Scotland during the 1970s-80s. My parents were (and still are) what could best be described as "traditionalists". Both were Scottish and traditinalists not just in terms of fashion/clothing but on a whole range of issues. From as early back as I can remember I had bare knees. In my early years this was not a problem, however, as I got older it did become one.

My Early Years

As a toddler and preschooler in the early to mid 1970's I primarily was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. For some reason my shorts were either grey flannel or brown cord material. My socks were usually ankle ones unless it was winter. I had a heavy long coat which I wore over my shorts in winter time but sadly that was the only protection my chapped knees ever received.

Primary School

I went to Bantaskine Primary School. I was dressed like most children, grey shorts cut above the knee, long grey (or sometimes white socks). My blazer was black with blue braid, but I never wore a cap, they had gone out of style.

I usually wore brown leather tie up shoes to school. I never wore sandals, at least as best I can remember. Some other boys at primary did wear brown sandals, personally i never liked them, I never remember any of the other boys discussing them.

By primary seven (this would be about 1979) most other children my age (about 11 years old) were wearing long trousers to school. Not all mind you but most. It was at winter time and I felt particularly alone, as my few shorts wearing allies deserted me for the shelter and warmth that longs and conformity provided. My friends said little about it as they were used to me in my shorts at home and school, and as I was quite small for my age few others raised an eyebrow.

I don't remember thinking much about clothes as a younger boy are discussing them with friends. I don't think chidren, especially boys, were as interested in clothes then as they are now. However, by the time I was 13 shorts were the subject of a few conversations with my friends. They often, initially told me how stupid I looked wearing shorts "at my age", alternatively they explained I appeared to others as "a cissy" and "old fashioned". I told them that my parents were pretty unmoving on the subject and that there was nothing I could do about it.

During winter time they would jibe "Dont you feel cold". Or "brr you must be freezing" dressed like that. At other times they would refer to my knee socks saying "Only little girls wear white socks, you must be a girl". I remember one friend saying, "Roll those socks down for Gods sake, you look such a cissy with knee length white socks on". This from my friends, I often wondered to myself, "Sheesh what must my enemies be saying about me".

Actually I preferred knee socks, I thought privately that they looked smarter than ankle socks. Strangely enough I personally preferred the white socks, but of course to my friends and family I was fighting to wear grey ankle ones. I guess I knew even then that just because I might like something if it goes against the fashion of the day you were a brave man to stand against the majoritys view. Also long socks afforded better protection from the elements than their shorter cousins.

If my parents had got their own way I felt they would have had me in shorts up until I left secondary (possibly beyond, well maybe not but thats how I felt as a boy at the time).


I was in the cubs, and yup I wore my school shorts along with the rest of the standard cub uniform.


As I am Scottish, I have to say something about kilts. Apart from weddings, and church, I never cared much for kilts, neither did many of the boys in my form at Dollar Academy. To some shorts were bad enough without having to wear a "skirt" as well. Of course when I did wear one it was the Mackintosh tartan.

The wearing of kilts generally in Scottish schools is as far away from reality as tartan-shortbread, bagpipes and Edinburgh rock. Some private schools such as Gordonstone I believe made much of the kilt, but generally few Scottish boys ever wore a kilt. In fact to see someone in a Scottish town wearing a kilt is about as likely as seeing a Nazi in full stormtrooper uniform strolling down a Berlin strasse. In a sentence then the kilt is ceremonial and is more for tourist/outsider consumption than something real to an average Scot. I'm not sure what Scottland was like in the 19th century, but that was the situation in my day.

Home Life

My parents insisted, until I was 14 I can honestly say I did not have even one single pair of long trousers. I only wore shorts with a variety of jackets, some tweedy, some blazers, some casual jackets as well. Most of my socks were knee-length, blue, grey and red. For church I would wear a dark jacket and grey or even black shorts with white knee-length socks and shorts cut well above the knee. Some of my jackets had hems lower than the bottom of my shorts. God only knows what some must have thought seeing me from behind, they probably thought I didn't have any trousers on at all.

Figure 1.--I liked my private school in Scotland, despite the traditional school uniform. As a day boy I often had the mickey taken of me waiting for the bus in the morning dressed in my school uniform.

Secondary School

My parents had always intended for me to have a private education. However the economics always stood in the way. My father became self employed and for a while he had the cash to in part realise his dreams for me. However when his business wnt belly-up in the early 80's so did my private education. Hence the reason I attended a state primary school and never attended a preparatory school, but I did wind up going to a privare secondary school, but only for 1 year.

Private school

I was lucky initially when I attended secondary school, as I attended Dollar Academy, a private school where shorts were the norm and at last I did not feel the odd one out. I attended as a day boy I couldn't have stood staying away from home overnight. Because of our uniform , there were often comments from kids going to the local comprehensive when they saw us in our shorts going to and from the bus-stop. Often they would mock, calling us "cissies" or "snobs" even "mummy's boys". Some would say even nastier things, but I'm not going to mention that here. At Dollar at least the universality of short wearing amongst the younger boys meant some safety in numbers.

At Dollar we wore dark blue blazers and shorts with matching dark blue kneesocks. At Dollar, we all wore shorts, even many of the older boys. A lot of the Scottish schools had different uniforms than the English schools. Grey shorts and kneesocks were once common in England. Blue shorts and colored kneesocks were worn at many Scottish schools. One thing I liked at Dollar was that we didn't normally wear ties during the school day, but rather comfortable open necked shirts. I noticed that when Dollar finally let all but the youngest boys wear longs that they then required everyone tomwear ties.

To be honest I may be sounding too crtical as I rather liked school uniforms and secretly I think enjoyed wearing shorts. Increasingly I had felt different in my primary years and yes I suppose a little special too.

Figure 2.--Once at school I fitted right in as so many of us wore short trousers and kneesocks.

Among us boys school uniform seldom came up as an issue. My comrades at Dollar, like I, had I think accepted its inevitability as we did the setting of the sun or changing of the seasons. If we were teased however, like the bus-stop incidents we would later remark at how confoundedly annoying it was sometimes. Sometimes though we rallied round the uniform as though those from the "outside" were somehow diifferent from us and that we must stand together against a common foe.Our uniform at these times became a flag to rally around.There was an incredible sense of belonging to something that was special I can't describe it.In fact although, as is always, some raised dissenting voices wishing they had longs, most liked their uniform accepting it as normal, and that wearing shorts somehow made a statement about who they were and that they stood for something.

My first year of secondary school at Dollar was bliss. I really liked the school and felt like a big boy graduating from primary to secondary school. My second year of secondary school, however, was very different. My father who was self employed ran into financial trouble and he couldn't afford private school tuition any more. So I had to leave Dollar.

State school

First year

From 1982 I attended Falkirk High school. The uniform was a maroon blazer and white braid which I thought was rather smart. This was where the conflict really began. To my horror, I immediately found that NO OTHER BOYS WORE SHORTS at Falkirk. None that is except yours truly. Yes I was embarrased, and yes I got hell from my peers. My parents felt that I should keep wearing them as they fully intended Fallkirk High to be a stopgap until they could afford to send me back to Dollar, but that never happened.

My first day was a nightmare, maron blazer and tie, grey short pants, cut someway above the knee (it was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain locally ones that would comfortably fit, and knee length white socks. As my parents dropped me off I felt a terrible numbness, feelings of trepidation swept through me. Everywhere I went I was aware of eyes following me, or rather I remember feeling at the time, following my legs.

Girls actually were the worst they laughed behind covereed mouths and made mocking wolf whistles. By the end of the fist week I had experienced abuse and even bullying. The teachers were quite supportive but I could tell that they found it rather amusing too.

Second year

Having said that by the start of second year most of the people who knew me had accepted me and attitudes started to change. Of course the first years I had a right laugh. Now this will sound strange but by now i was almost 13 and going through adolescence. I found it increasingly embarassing to still have to wear shorts. The upside was I got my first girlfriend through my shorts (at least thats what she told me). She said she first noticed me because of my short pants. She said some of the other girls said the same thing.

A disco

I remember one amusing incident, at least looking back now. It wasn't amusing to me at the time. There was a school disco arranged when I was at Falkirk High. The disco was due to start at 7:00 pm and a bus had been arranged to take kids from a pick-up point to the disco. When I got on the bus I was horrified when I found that it wasn' just kids from my class or even my school that the bus childre/adolescents from two other schools as well. All of them were dressed in party gear popular in 1980's: stay-pressed trousers, casual jackets etc.... but me ... no not me. I had black short trousers on, white knee length socks, and black lace-up shoes. I did have an open-neck shirt and light jacket but thats where my contribution to contemporary fashion ended. My seat was between two girls about 15 I was 14. I had already interested in making a good impression with girls. Needless to say I didnt!!!

Since the kids on the bus were from another school so had not become adjusted to the sight of boy my age wearing shorts and knee-length white socks. As my shorts were short when I sat down between them they seemed to travel up my leg even farther. I remember feeling like a little primary boy. The girls tried to be polite but in order to talk to each other they had to do it through me. I felt very embarrased I knew from the corner of my eye they were continually glancing down at my short trousers, glancing a look at each other and then half smirking as if to say "I cant believe what that kid is wearing what a pratt".

Discussions with My Parents

My parents never did fully explain why they had me in shorts for so many years.I suppose the motives are not far removed from the reasons other parents have in the past.
I do feel that there was an element of snobbery, that i in some way reflected their values, also a degree of clinging, to an image of me as still their little boy, I was peter pan to them if you like.

And of course the "aw doesn't he look cute" syndrome that only a mother could have when her son is dressed, well, cutely.

Longs at Last

The last time i wore shorts was 1984 when I was 14, I had started to wear long trousers at winter and had done for about 6 months. I still wore shorts to school when the weather was good and in the summer. I did get rid of the white socks in favour of grey as well, not quite so embarrasing. I was 14 and a half it was August and I had a discussion with my parents if discussion is the right word, where the issue of shorts was discussed. This was their deathknell--after this I became "normal"--but up until I left school my nickname remained "shorty".

)Funnliy enough the "discussion" that led to my first longs did not start over the issue of shorts but rather socks.I told them that at my age, 14 1/2 I could no longer stand knee length socks, especially not the white ones.My parents felt that white socks symbolised morality and "values" for some reason and was therefore a good reflection on the family. My father stated that I shall keep wearing them until I became a man, at which I shouted "dad, open your eyes, I am a man..."

After this my father looked at me for a long moment, scanning me up and down as though for the first time he truly realised that I was no longer a little boy no matter how hard they wanted to dress me up as one. The very next day we went shopping and my father bought me 2 pairs of jeans and 1 pair of long grey school trousers.


Christopher Wagner


Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main Scottish page
[Introduction] [Chronologies] [Style Index] [Biographies] [Bibliographies] [Activities] [Countries] [Contributions] [Frequently Asked Questions]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
[The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s]
[The 1970s] [The 1980s] [The 1990s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
[School uniform] [Short pant suits] [Short pants]
[Socks] [Kneesocks] [White kneesocks]
[Scouts] [Cubs] [Scottish kilts] [Caps] [Jeans]

Last updated: January 23, 1999