English Boys' Clothes: Personal Experiences during the 1950s


Figure 1.--This is Anthony in his first school uniform and cap. Anthony grew up in northeastern England and went to school in the 1950s and early 60s.

Beginning in the 1950s, HBC has much more detailed personal accounts on boyhood recollections from HBC readers. Quite a few English readers have kindly provided interesting accounts describing the clothes that they wore as boys. Many of these accounts concern school uniform, but they all include descriptions of the play and dress up clothes they wore as well as Cubs and Scout uniforms and other topics converning clothing.

John: Baby and Toddler Years

"I discovered the article on rompers last time I visited the HBC website, and thought I would tell you a bit about boys' baby clothes in late 1950s England. I was born, appropriately, on Mothering Sunday in 1955, when most English baby boys wore rompers. In earlier decades, both gebder commonly wore dresses until between 1 and 2 years of age, but this was rarer by the 1950s. While nappies are not specific to boys, I think they are worth mentioning from the point of view of national custom and changing trends.

Northeastern Boyhood

My name is Anthony. I was born in Northeast England in 1946 and I have lived there all my life. I had two wonderful parents who are sadly no longer living. My father worked in engineering until he was made redundant in 1967. Upon his redundancy, he came out of engineering and began work on the busses as a conductor. My mother worked for a firm making dry-cell batteries until I was nine-years-old when she made a career move into insurance for a couple of years after which she took up employment with a cable TV company in a financial capacity. My grandmother on my mother's side also lived with us until her death in 1962. My education was done at three state schools.

London Boy

I am a 50 year old Englishman born and brought up in the home counties (London area). My schooldays were between 1952 and 1964 which was a period during which changes were afoot influencing the way boys dressed. These were slowly happening in the 1950's and accelerated after about 1963 but they did not affect me. I cannot remember what I wore before I went to school at five years old but at school I was certainly wearing grey flannel shorts on my first day and remained in them until I was nearly 14. I did not think of them as shorts. To me they were trousers. Every boy wore them. I only began to think of them as short trousers when I was about ten or so by which time a handful of boys that went to my primary school would wear jeans or long trousers of some description, not usually to school, but when out playing.

Grammar School Boy

I was born in 1939. I don't know whether it was the austerity of the War period and the time after the war when materials were still not available or whether it was simply that boys were still boys and not 'young men'. Today we seem to go out of our way to make boys them seem older--in my view, todays' modern fashions are simply a way to getthem to spend more on clothes and other fashion accessories. The marketrules not parents.

Working-class Boy

My family was thrifty, working class. My mum did not work and so was at home all the time to look after us. As a boy growing up during the early 1950's in southeastern England (Kent) ,I don't remember being clothes conscious. In fact I don't think boys in general gave a great deal of thought to clothes, unlike boys today. All my friends and I were dressed the same. In retrospect rather drably compared to modern terms. We wore grey long socks , long baggy flannel short trousers and my shirts were the blouse type with long sleeves. I don't think I had any with a tail and certainly no T shirts.

David: Starting School and Birthday (1953-55)

A HBC reader has sent us some images of a boy named David. We do not have his last name or know anything about him and his family, exceot what can be deduced from the images. Some of the snapshots are dated which is helpful. The background of the snapshots provides a lot of useful information. The family seems to have kived in an apartment. They trongly suggests that he is English, although we are not entirely sure as there are some analagous clues such as a German-like first day cone. We know, however, that he spoke English because of his birtday cards. Often school uniform items help identify Engklish children, But British boys attending state schools did not commonly have uniforms until the 1960s and some of our snapdhits are David as a Kindergartener. The way he is dressed strongly suggests a state school. Perhaps a reader who knows more aboiut cars and license plates with know more. He wears different out\furs including a sailorsuit. We also se an picture of Dabid all done up with a bow tie and vest for his 6th birthday.

A Secondary Modern Boy

I was born in 1945. My early childhood came in the years of austerity following the World War II. American returned to a booming economy, here in England it was rather bleak. We even had rationing for several years after the war. Schooling for a lad in the North of England and, the son of a mineworker, usually meant the State Junior School. It was a happy enough time, but, towards my final year I was confronted with the prospect of sitting my 11+ examinations. I didn't really understand it at the time, but my dad saw academic success as the way out of the mines and was determined that I would succeed. This will lead as I shall explain to my having to wear short trousers. I had a brother who attended the Grammar. He was a few years older and short trousers were not such an issue. I also had a number of Uncles and Aunts. One Aunt and Uncle happened to co-own a small private prep school.

A Polish Father

I am a British male in my forties. I have a Polish surname because my father came from Poland during WWII. My mother is English. Looking at your site about British boys' clothing brought back memories for me; not all of them happy because of the very traditional atitude of my parents. My parents were (and still are) quite strict, religious and very traditional. My father came from Poland, my mother is English. I was an only child.

Dorset Boy

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.

Blackburn in the 1950s

Blackburn is an industrial town in Lancashire, England. This is where I spent my childhood. It is about my boyhood there that this essay will be about. My family lived in a street of terraced houses. These had originally been built by a factory owner. His cotton mill was at the top of the street. There must have been about 100 houses in all, 50 on either side. They did not have front gardens for the houses opened up onto the street. There were lots of other kids to play with. The children were manly boys. In the entire street there were only about three families who had girls. They formed their own friendship group and played close to home. The boys on the other hand wondered far and wide.

Grammar School and Scouts

I grew up in Sheffield and had working class origins. There was no pushing from my parents, nor, I think, from myself--to go to the grammar school. I had a certain amount of natural ability but wasn't conscious of any particular ambition or pressure. Encouragement, but not pressure. I had one sister, 2 years older than me. I don't think we talked about clothes, except perhaps in the PT sense mentioned below. She went to the Secondary Modern and occasionally had cutting remarks to make about certain boys who were fat and whose tummies hung over their shorts in PT, or others that were stick thin and had prominent ribs. These comments reinforced my relief that I wasn't at that school. I also remember her commenting disdainfully once when we passed a scout troop. I argued the opposite case, possibly just to be different.

Boys' Clothing Shop

I grew up in the 1950s. My father until the 1970s had a menswear shop in East London than handled both boys' amd mens' clothing. For a few years I worked in it. In fact, during my school days I often used to help at weekends when business was the heaviest. Dad had an extensive range of boys' clothing. The Littlewoods mail order catalogue from about 1950 gives a good idea of the boy's clothes offered. I remember very well the range of boys' short trouser suits that he stocked, which he always referred to as "knicker suits". The long trouser suits were "youth suits". He stocked the short trouser suits up to size 9 which in those days was for boys around 13 years of age.

Derek and the Salvation Army Band

I was interested to read the memories of someone who, like me, had been brought up in the Salvation Army Y.P. (Young People's) Band system. My uniform was very similar to your contributor's, except that we did not have epaulettes on our jackets. I was a member from 1953 to 1960, in two different areas of the UK. I remember the red guernsey (motto "Blood and Fire") being a bit scratchy, so I often wore an ordinary shirt underneath, which made it feel a bit tight. I wore short trousers until I was about 12, which was the time I went into long trousers at school, and quite liked the uniform. I had the peaked cap, which we were supposed to wear, but this always seemed over-sized to me, and I wore it as little as possible. Instead of a uniform greatcoat, we wore the same navy-blue gabardine raincoat that we wore for school.

Trevor: England and Germany

I am the eldest of three brothers and we lived in England except for two periods in Germany, (1957-60 and 1963-65), when our father was serving there in the British armed forces. We were a middle class family and we boys wore the clothes typical of the times. I was at primary school in Oxfordshire until I was eleven and, like my male classmates, wore cotton shirt with a tie, grey shorts, pullover and Clark’s shoes year-round. When I was eleven, we moved to West Germany, to a huge NATO base not far from Düsseldorf and I entered my first secondary school. It was all British and there were several hundred kids there. I wore the uniform: long grey trousers, white shirt, school tie, school blazer and school cap. I thought it was very smart. We were a bit segregated from the German population except for trips into the countryside but the school bus conveyed us through the local towns. Some of the English boys wore lederhosen at home but my modesty precluded me from doing likewise as it seemed to me that they were far too brief. As for the clothes we wore at home, photographs show that we wore our school uniform for all but the most casual pastimes. We became friendly with a German family during a 1958 camping holiday in Holland. They pitched their tent next to ours. There was a boy of my age, named Jurgen, and we became good friends, visiting each other’s homes during the following year. I returned to England alone at 13, to start at a boarding school in Dorset, an experience I loathed. It was back into grey shorts for me, which I hated. The next year I moved to a different school where I wa happier. During our second tour in Germany, this time at an RAF base, all three brothers were at boarding school in England so we visited our parents only in the holidays. It was clear that the German boys of my age still wore shorts. We took a trip to the Neherlands during one of those visits.

Jim: Emigrating to Canada and America (1950s-60s)

We moved to Canada when I was 11 years old (my birthday was on the boat coming over), and my brothers were 5 year old twins, and a 2 year old. We were still dressed as English boys, namely all of us except the baby had short pants. I remember standing on the deck in wind and rain and our legs literally turning blue. I also remember that they did roughly the same back in Blighty. I really wonder how a nation who was at the forefront of technology at the time, and which had an empire upon which the sun never set could be so, well, stupid at choosing clothing for their children.








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Created: March 9, 1999
Last updated: 6:54 PM 10/22/2010