** English school uniform: post-war era--the 1950s







English School Uniform: Post-war Era--the 1950s


Figure 1.--This primary school in the 1950s had no uniform. Most of the boys wore suit jackets, many with short pants and knee socks. Notice that only about half the boys wear suit jackets.

Major changes began to occur in the 1950s, although in many cases actual changes did not become manifest until the 1960s. Caps still common at the beginning of the decade were being dropped at many state secondary and public schoolos by the end of the decade. Short pants were still worn at most prep schools and by the junior boys at many secondary schools. State elementary boys still did not commonly wear uniforms, but major changes in the educational system established many new schools which began requiring uniforms. School sandals were commonly worn by elementary-age boys as well as girls of all ages. Secondary schools, both secondary moderns and grammar schools did require uniforms. Often the younger boys at these schools had to wear caps, short pants, and kneesocks. Often the schools were quite strict about uniforms, but regulations varied greatly from school to school.

Education Act of 1952

The Education Act of 1952 expanded universal free education to age 15 and set up "Grammar Schools" for the more academically able boys (and girls - the sexes were segregated) and these schools followed the best principles of the excellent public (fee-paying) schools, and adopted their style of uniform too. The less able pupils went to secondary modern schools, and even these adopted similar styles of uniform, although the enforcement was not strict as many parents were simply unable to afford it. Some financial assistance was made available to poor parents.

Uniform Trends

The school uniform styles prevalent before World War II (1939-45) continued to prevail in the 1950s. One notable change was that the wearing of the once ubiquitous school cap declined rapidly in parallel with the fact that adults no longer wore hats either. Short trousers were still insisted on up to age 14 or 15, although this became increasingly unpopular. (The public schools such as Dauntseys, Bryanston, Sedbergh, St Bees and others kept short trousers for boys of all ages until about 1970). Shorts were still normally worn at private preparatory and state primary schools during the 1950s. We note at quite a number of schools not all the boys are wearing unifoems, but rather various suit jackets. I thought perhaps schools were relaxing uinform standards. A British reader writes, "Your reference to the fact that 'perhaps' school blazers were not required during the early 1950s is missing the fact that we were recovering from the war and lots of things were still rationed and in short supply at that time, AS WAS MONEY. One concrete fact to illustrate this is the I flew with the RAF to Ceylon in 1952 and two breakfasts on one day, because of the travel arrangements, I had eggs both times. (Happy surprise!) Eggs were still rationed in Britain at this time. Also, sweets were still rationed while I was in the RAF. These are specific things I remember quite clearly, but I am equally sure that clothing as still affected by the war aftermath. I was in a grammar school from 1943 till 1948 and do not remember any problems with blazers, bit I think it was probably a problem in some cases and would affect the photographic evidence of the times. It is something to bear in mind."

Garments

Major changes began to occur in the 1950s, although in many cases actual changes did not become manifest until the 1960s. Caps still common at the beginning of the decade were being dropped at many state secondary and public schoolos by the end of the decade. Short pants were still worn at most prep schools and by the junior boys at many secondary schools. The school cap through the 1940s was perhaps the most uniquitous item of school unidform worn by British school children. Even primary boys that did not have a school uniform wore them to school. This changed suignificantly in the 1950s. Primary children stopped wearing them with the exception of private prep schools which continued to require them as part of the uniform. Secondary schools reduced the age of the boys required to wear them, but many continued to require them. Primary schools did not require ties and few primary boys wore them, especilly by the late 1950s. Most prep schools required them ecen for the younger boys. Almost all secondary schools, private and public, contibued to require ties. A few private secondary schools with an outdoor image did not require the boys to wear their ties during the school day. We note a lot of secondary schools did not require ties in th 1940s and open-collar shirts were common. After the early 50s almodt all boys wore ties. Primary boys generally wore suit jackets to schools in the early 1950s, but by the end of the decade their dress was becoming increasingly casual. Blazers or suits were required at almost all prepschools. A few had special regular sdchool day outfits wth less formal cord jackets. Virtually all secondary sdchools, state and private, required blazers or suit jackets. Suits were very common at secondary schools in the early 50s, but by the late 50 most boys were wearing blazers rather thn suits. Short pants continued to be common at primary schools, although more and more boys bdegan swearing long pants as the decade progressed. Most schools had no uniform are requirement concerning dress. Prep schools generally had short pants uniforms. Many state secondary schools instituted short pants requirements for the younger boys. Private secondary scools (public schools) varied. Some allowed all boys to wear longs. Others required shorts for the younger boys, although rules varied from school to school. Some set age limits, others did it by form. Others set a height limit. A few schools required short pants for all the boys. Most primary boys wearing shorts wore kneesocks. Some prepschools had seasonal uniforms and during the summer had ankle socks or someyimes sandals without socks. Most secondary schools requiring shorts pants required that theu be worn with kneesocks. Some primary school boys wore sandals, but not as many as in the 1940s. School sandals were more common for the younger boys and were even more commonly worn by girls of all ages. Many prep schools required the boys to wear sandals. Boys in secondary sdchool, however, did not commonly wear sandals.


Figure 2.--Secondary schools in the 1950s, both private and state, generally required boys to wear blazers and ties. Often the younger boys wore short pants and kneesocks.

School Types

Significant changes in school uniforms occirred at both private and secondary schools during the 1950s. Changes in the primary schools were most notable as new schools began requiring uniforms. At the same time, boys at secondary schools by the late 1950s began to complain about strict uniform regulations--especially related to caps and short pants. State elementary boys in the 1950s still did not commonly wear uniforms, but major changes in the educational system established many new schools. As these new schools were opened and began to operate, many decided to institure school uniforms. This was a major change for primary age children. Prep schools continued to be a bastion of chool uniforms, many requiring boys to wear caps, blazers, short pants and kneesocks. Secondary schools, both secondary moderns and grammar schools did require uniforms. The grammar schools tended to place more of an emphasis on uniforms than the secondary moderns. Often the younger boys at these schools had to wear caps, short pants, and kneesocks. Older boys wre in most cases not reqired to wear the caps and could wear long trousers. Often the schools were quite strict about uniforms, but regulations varied greatly from school to school. Private schools continued to have very elaborate uniforms.

Regulations

Schools with uniforms varied as regards the rigor with which the uniform was enforced. We note considerable varition in schools during the early 1950s. We supect that this may be in part due to the still difficult economic conditions following World War II. School uniform compliance seems much more established by the late 1950s. Economic conditions may not be the only factor. Some school administrators may have been less concerned with uniforms. Generally speaking, however, British schools with uniforms seem to have enforced the regulations rather strictly.

Dressing Up

We see many Britih boys in the 1950s wearing theur schook uniform earger than a suit when dressing up. We think that in maby cases that they did not have a proper suit, but their school unifirm substituted for a suit. This uncluded bioth avtual school unifirms and blazers that boys may have worn to school that did not require unifirms. Secondary schools had uniforns, bith privae and srate schiiks, Prinary schools varied. Angkican schools commonly had basic unifirms. State schools did not have uniforms before the War, but by the late-1950s, especially the late-50s some state schools were beginning to adopot uniforms. Mist did nit. But even at the many state schools that did not have unifirns, boyss commonky wore clothes that were like school uniform garments. Biys wire ties with suit jackers or more commonly blazers. As a result, we often see boys wearing their school clothes when dressung up in the 1950s. This meant when giong to church, shoping on saturday, a park outing, or other activity. A factor here was ecinomic. Nritain had been the most prosperous country in Europe. The 1945 General Election brought the Labour Party to power and a an exprriment withnsocialism. The resuklt was Britain fell behind the Continent as the various countries recovered from World War II. The result was that British children continued to have relatiively.limited wardrobes.







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Created: October 5, 2000
Last updated: 12:55 AM 5/6/2020