** English boy clothes -- footwear

English Boys' Footwear

Figure 1.-- Sandals became very popular for schoolwear in England after World war I, They were not very common before the War. The most popular style was the single "T" strap. These became known as school sandals. We also see the double strap sandals.

We have only limited information on English footwear at thus time. Some footwear is the same styles as worn by boys in many other countries. We note boys at the turn-of-the-20th century wore heavy boot-like shoes. Poor boys might wear wooden shoes or clogs, but they seem less common than is the case of many boys on the Continent. The oxford shoe is a standard boys' style, but notably named for Oxford, England. One of the most destinctive English footwear style is the school sandal. They became very popular after World war I. Another destinctive English style is Wellington boots. Canvas shoes were mostly worn for school gym classes and called plimsols. Sneakers became popular in the 1970s and were called trainers.


We have just begun to work on Engkish footwear. We do not yet have a good fix on shoe styles in the 18th century. Men and boys are commonly depicted as wearing low-cut buckle shoes. We know more about the 19th century. we still see mostly low=cut shoes in the early-19th century. We notice pumps, strap shoes and shoes that look like modern oxfords. These shoe types seem common through the mid-19th century, although our information is still limited. A good look at shoes types is available in a painted portrait of the Boyd family in 1848. After mid-century we still see pumps and strap shies, but high-top shoes become increasingly popular. We note an 1890s catalog offering lace up boots, calf shoes Perhaps meaning high tops), patent leather shoes, and canvas shoes although we are not sure about the soles. High-top shoes were connon in the late-19th century. We continue to see low-cut shoes, however, more commonly than in America. High-tops continue to be popular in the early-20th century. After World War I (1914-18) we see boys wearing mostly low-cut oxfords. Many boys began wearing different types of closed-toe sandals, especially during the summer. Open-toe sandals were much less common. Low-cut shoes also begin to become more common. We also see sneakers, although at first worn mostly for school gym or summer casual play. Low income boys might wear them to school. Trainers become popular in the late-20th centutry as sandals began to decline in popularity. (1970s).


We notice English+ boys wearing all kinds of different footwear. We have detailed information beginning with the mid-19th century as a result of the advent of photography. Working-class boys commonly went barefoot in the 19th century, especially during the summer. This contiubued into the early-20th century. The most common footwear were shoes and boots, especially Wellington boots. Many footwear types were similar for younger boys and girls. Sandals appeared in the early-20th century and were popular for most of the century. Closed toe sandals were so common at school that they began to be called 'school sandals'. Strp mshoes and vsandals weecommonly worn by younger bbos because they did not havev laces to tie. Sandals were much more popular in England than America. We also see canavas/rubbr soled sneakers called plimsols. They were worn for school gym and summer wear. They were also worn by low-income boys instead of leather shoes. They also became popular along with sandals for summerwear. Sneakers called trainers began to become much more popular and fashionable and to some extent began replacing sandals, at least among boys, especially teenagers (1970s).


English children do not normally go barefoot, even during the summer. It was generally seen as a sign of poverty, especially in the 19th and early 20th Century. This was especially true for city children. We notice poor children going barefoot even in inclemate weather. There are relatively few photographic images from the 19th century, primarily because outdoor photography was not common. The photographic process was involved and until the late 19th century, cameras were bulky and difficult to transport. This was confounded by the fact that few people thought poor barefoot children were a notable subject. This changed with the development of more compact cameras at the turn of the 20th century. In addition, several photographers with progressive attitudes began to use photography to document living conditions of the poor. We note quite a few images of barefoot children in the early 20th century. It was presumably even more common in the 19th century, but outdoor snapshots of poor children were presumably less common. More affluent children might play in the back garden barefoot on a warm sunny day, but even this was not common. We note far fewer children going barefoot after World War I (1914-18), we assume because of increasing income levels. This is somewhat suprising because of the Depression and hard times. At the same time we note many children wearing light-weight shoes, especially sandals and during the summer commonly without socks. Even during the difficult World War II years (1939-45), English children did not commoinly go barefoot, although sandals were very common.


Boots are footwearthat differ from shoes principlly in height. Thst height is not precisely defined. Some boots extend inlu up to cover the ankles, but so do high-top shoes. Footwear that rise to the calves are uniformily seen as boots. Boots are commonly seen as rugged outdoor wear or protective rainwear. We see some in the late-19th and early-20th century being worn as fashionable footwear by girls. A good example is the boots with countless laces worn by a Worcester girl at the turn-of-the 20th century. Thge best knownEnglish boot are the rubberized Wellington boot.

Clogs and wooden shoes

Poor boys might wear wooden shoes or clogs, but they seem less common than is the case of many boys on the Continent. A reader writes, "Wooden shoes called clogs were the general footwear of most people in Lancashire and certainly part of a boys dress wear early in the 20th century. They were hard wearing/ I think they had a wooden base and certainly leather sides. There was an iron rim on the soles. This was good for making sparks when the stone pavement was kicked. A reader writes, "I have got a book showing lots of photographs of early 20th Century Manchester. Many children are bear footed and others show children wearing clogs. Clogs were still worn by small children in the 1950's but pattent leather shoes had become fashionable by then. I never wore them but my gran argued their virtue for children and growing feet."

High-top shoes

High-top shoes are shoes that eent above the ankel. Low cut shoes are shoes that are cut below the ankel. We are not sure when English boys began wearing high-top shoes. We do not know about the 1850s. We begin to notice them in the 1860s, but that may be because wiyh the CDV we have many more images available. High-tops were not universally worn in England as was virtually the case in America. And we notice both lace-up and button shoes. We notice the Watson boys wearing high tops in 1863. There are an incredible number of eyelets and posts. We also notice button shoes. High-top sjhoes seem very common in the late-19th century. A good example is John Montague Stopford, a fashionable London boy in 1871. Another example is an unidentified English boy about 1870. They were, however, not universal as was the genreral sitition in America. We also see many boys wearing low-cut oxfords. We still note boys at the turn-of-the-20th century wearing high-top shoes. A good exampe is Crespal Gordon Stoddart sbout 1900. The 19th century type of 19th century shoe seems to have gone out of style after World War I when we see boys increasing wearing low-cut shoes and sandals. We do see boys ewearin gavy shoe-like high-tops. Another matter concerning high-tops is the closure method. In America beginning in the 1860s we mostly see button high-tops. In England, however we see a lot of lace up shoes, both low cuts and high-tops, including button sdhods. We are still working on the chronology of high-tops and the closure methods. We notice variation in family images. Age seems have been a factor. A good example is an unidentified Frome family in the 1860s. Generally the high-tops went well above yhe nkle, a few were not as hih only a little svove the ankel.

Low-cut shoes

Footwear styles in England were different than in America. As HBC is an American site and the American phoyohrohic record is the largest in the world, we go used to seeing high=top shoes as standard in the second half of the 19th and early-20th century. This was not the case in England. We see high-top shoes, but we also see many children wearing low-cut shoes as well. It was a major difference between England ans America. A good example is an unidentifid Plymouth boy in the 1870s. The oxford shoe is a standard low-cut style, but notably named for Oxford, England. We are not sure why this shoe is called Oxford-style.


Today the term sandal has the context of a casual shoe to be worn for play or holidays in warm weather. This was not always the case. Initially it was used to describe an open work shoe made with strips of leather rather than a solid piece. Strap shoes may be most associated with English boys becise of A.A. Milne's Christopher Robin (and in recent years Disney). We do not have a detailed chronology of English sandals yet. We are beginning to understand the chronology betterin America becausewe have a good bit of evidence from clothing catalogs. We do not yet have this information from England. We do know that that after World War I in te 1920s that British boys who hd been wearing heavy boot-like shoes were commoly wearing sandals. English boys wearing sandals had various approaches. Many boys during the summer would wear them without socks. A few schools adopted the sockless aproach, but most required knee or ankle socks. Many schools required sandals for everyday school wear, both in summer and winter. Outside of school sandals were most commonly wore in the summer, especially in France. British boys wore the for play mostly during the summer and might refer to them as sand shoes. Many boys would wear them to school year round and, as a result, they became known as school sandals. There are two basic kinds of sandals: closed and open-toe sandals. The most common type was closed toe sandals. They came in both single and double bar styles. The single bar sandal with a center strap became popular for schoolwear. There were also open-toe sandals which became popular after World War II, although more for adults than children. We also note I think in the 1960s that sandals began go be made to look more like shoes with a very wide center strap. This style was especially popular with boys. Sandals were made in different colors. Our assessment is somewhat limited here because many available photographs are black and white. The most common color was various shades of brown, similar to shoes. Closed-toe sandals in America were referred to as "T" strap shoes. They were not very popular with boys who in the 1920s began to wear sneakers for play. They were worn to some extent by little boys in the 1920s, mostly with dressy clothes. This was most common with affluent families. Most boys wanted to wear sneakers for play and thus sclosed-toe andals never caught on for leisure wear as they did in England. Some little boys did wear them, but again mostly affluent families. I notice fashion magazines referred to Itlalian sandals when describing boys closed-toe sandals. I think this simply refers to quality footwear made by Italian companies which appealed to affluent mothers. The design looked much like the classic British school sandal. The style in America is mostly worn by girls.

Sneakers (plimsols/trainers)

Canvas shoes were called plimsols in Britain. We are not sure when they first appeared. We begin to see them after World War I in the 1920s. They were mostly worn for school gym classes. W also see them being worn during the summer, often without siocks. For these activities they were worn by many boys from various social classes. Boys wearin them to school, however, were generally working-class boys from poor families. They were very inexpemsive and sold in street markets. They were a sgn of poverty indicating that the parent could not afford more substantial leather shoes. [Brockway] Sneakers became popular and fashionable in the 1970s and became called trainers.

Strap shoes

Strap shoes may be most associated with English boys becise of A.A. Milne's Christopher Robin (and in recent years Disney). English boys wore strap shoes in the early 19th century, often with skeleton suits. We note both ankle strap shoes and instep strap shoes. Except for very young children, often in dresses, they appear to have declined in popularity . They appear again in the early 20th century, first as dressy shoes with Fauntleroy suits and other formal outfits. There were especially common for weathly children. A good example is Adrian Gerald Foley in 1926. By the 1920s they began to be worn as play shoes, especially during the summer. Some boys wore rather dressy casual outfits. An example is a boy and his sister in 1916. By the 1930s, however, only girls and younger boys were wearing them. Older boys more commonlu wore sandshoes with the "T" bar center piece that became known as school sandals. The last boys we see wearing strap shoes except at formal weddings were Princees Harry and William in the 1980s.

Wellington boots

No country is more associated with wellies than England. Virtually every British boy has worn Wellington boots or "wellies" at some time in his life. The heavy and frquent rainfall in Britain, make wellies very ptactical footwear. They were not specifically made for children, but were worn by adults as well for outdoor activities. Most of the wellies we have seen are black, but white and colored wellies were also worn. Up until the 1980's, British wellington boots were predominantly all black. However, since then, green wellington boots have become far more popular in Britain. Today, most British people, both adults and children, have green wellington boots which have beige soles. Green wellingtons were apparently made popular by members of the Royal Family in the early 1980's.



Social Class


A variety of closures were used on English foowear. Clasps were common as sansals and strap shoes were so common for both boys and girls in England. The most common closure was laces. Younger children often wore sandals and strap shoes because mastering tieing laces was a challenge. But most boys had lace up shoes. Button shoes were common in the second half of the 19th century for both children and adults. A good example is an unidentified Lincoln boy in the 1860s. They were mot virtyally uiversal as in america, buyt they were widely worn.

Individual Experiences

ABritish reader writes, "A few years ago I home tutored a nine year old boy. He was an imaginative individual. A joy to teach and be with in many situations. There were situations that could become very trying ordeals. One was buying him new shoes. This was a very difficult thing to do. Mum had tried to buy him new sandles but had had to leave the store because of he became hysterical and terrified when asked to put on new shoes. He wouldn't and screamed the place down. I was given the job of taking him for the new pairs of shoes. I experienced the same behaviour. What was the matter with the boy. I got new shoes too to show him nothing bad would happen. It was when he asked me if my feet were scared of going somewhere new that I realised what was going on. I said my feet were not scared of fitting into new shoes because I looked inside first and told my feet they were going somewhere nice. I got him to do the same. He looked inside the sandles. Felt inside. Then he said, 'Feet this is a new shoe but its ok. You will like being there.' Then he tried them on. walked about. He then said, 'Yes, my feet like these sandles.' He then spent a happy half hour trying on shoes. He said which his feet liked and which footwear they didn't like. The sales people had recognised him from his previous visit. They were very happy that he was now a happy little boy. His mum was pleased too. They were releaved to know what the problem was and how it had been solved. Mum was also happy that I jhad brought change back. I got the job again for thifty shopping and making it fun for her boy. The photograph on the web page brought this incident to mind."


Brockway, Fenner. Hungary England.


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Created: 1:14 AM 1/7/2005
Last updated: 2:29 PM 7/31/2017