** English school uniform: post-war era--the 1960s

English School Trends: Post-war Era--The 1960s

Figure 1.--This is a first year class at a grammar school photographed in 1960. The boys in the photograph wear mostly short pants, but at least one boy wears longs. Many secondary schools in the 1960s began dropping the requirement that the younger boys wear short pants.

Trends which began in the 1950s continued in the 1960s. The Butler Act mandated a tiotal =reworking of the secindary school ststem By the end of the decade, most state schools and public schools had done away with school caps, although they continued to be worn at prep schools. Many state secondary schools required a standard uniform of black blazer and grey long trousers. A few state secondary schools still required junior boys to wear caps and short trousers, but by the end of the decade this had become increasingly rare. Many public schools still required shorts for younger boys, but almost all (except in Scotland) dropped requirements for older boys to wear them. While state secondary schools began to relacse uniform regulations, especially by the late 1960s--an increasung number of elementary schools began requiring school uniforms, in most cases short pants. The shorts worn also became shorter and more trim fitting during the 1960s.

Educational Developments: The Comprehensives

A Ministry of Eucation Circular 10/65 mandated a major change in England's education system (1965). The Ministry decided to convert the secondary schools to a Comprehensive System. This mean non-selective schools that educate students of varied academic abilities. There would be no entrance exam. The Circular abolished most of the old grammar schools and secondary moderns. The Eleven Plus Exams were done away with. Local Education Authorities had to convert to the Comprehensive System. The Governmrnt threaten to refuse funding for new secondary schools unless they were comprehensive. The Butler Act not only ended academic seliction, byt it also essentially mzandated coeducation. Asfar as we know, there azre no single gender comprehensives. The Government backtracked some what 5 years later. Mimistr of Eduction Margaret Thatcher issued a bew Circular. It permitted local authorities to make the edcision as to which system they adopted. As a result, there are still some acdemically selectivde grammar schools, although the comprehensives now dominate the secondary system in England and Wales.


A British reader tells us, "In contrast to other clothing, when I started at primary school footwear was fairly standardised and got less so as I moved through the school whereas other clothing became more standardised. It was due I believe to the increasing reliance of parents of one or two chain stores to buy school clothing rather than the various outlets including smaller clothes shops that sold them earlier in the 1950s. For instance when I started some boys had knitted jumpers and even socks, some had the older-style horizontal barred ties and there were all sorts of different styles shorts. Some boys had strap [suspender] shorts I recall. By the late 60s when I was 11 years old, most boys from the infants right up to us in the top class had similar styles of uniform clothing due to mass manufacturing. You could go into BHS or whatever and see the identically-styled items of uniform clothing spread out going from 4 year's old right up to 16 yer sizes. At "Back to School" time - the end of the Summer holidays - nearly the whole of the ground floor of BHS was given over to school uniforms and they must have made a fortune. One comment I would make is that, in contrast to the old-fashioned department stores, in the chain stores, jumpers and shorts/trousers were arranged and labelled by age - "10/11 years" and so on - whereas in the department stores and smaller shops they were sold by measurements - "Chest 34"","Waist 28"" and so on.Shirts though were always sold by collar size. That always struck me as odd. My Gran would not have been impressed because she always insisted on a good fit and insisted on us being measured for clothes and trying them on too whereas later on Mum was happy to buy from the chain stores but she wanted to see them on first too though.As I say it was normally my elder brother who went with Mum at back to school time and I got the hand-me- downs whereas with Gran it was me (and my cousin) who were taken clothes shopping in Leeds and I know who got the worst deal and it wasn't my brother!"


Changes which began in English schoolwear during the 1950s became increasingly apparent during the 1960s. We see more primary schools adopoting school uniforms. State primarties before World War II did not have uniforms. Uniforms were mostly worn at private schools. After the War in the 1950s, some began adopting iniforms. And by the 60s quite a few but not the majority had uniforms. It was was up to the individual school. Many boys wore school uniform garments, but only some schools had mandatory uniforms. School uniform, however, was changing. Caps were much less seen on English streets. Short pants were still common at state primary schools and were required at most prep schools. We see many primaries with boys wearing short pants. And others with many boys wearing long pants, especially by the end of the decade. At private schools, we see many schools allowing the older boys to wear long pants. Again this varied from school to school. The junior boys at many secondary schools still commonly wore shorts at the beginning of the decade, but by the end of the decade only a few grammar schools maintained this requirement. Many public (private secondary schools) did continue to insist on shorts for junior boys. There seems to be social clas factors involved at the state schools, Working-class boys seem more likely to wear long pants.

Types of Schools

Significant changes in school uniforms occurred at both private and secondary schools during the 1960s. Changes in the primary schools were most notable as new schools began requiring uniforms. Boys at secondary schools in the 1960s complained about strict uniform regulations--especially related to caps and short pants. State elementary boys in the 1960s increasingly wore uniforms. Not all primary schools adopted uniforms, but many did. Many of those schools adopted short pamts uniforms. This was a major change for primary age children. Prep schools continued to be a bastion of school uniforms, many requiring boys to wear caps, blazers, short pants and kneesocks. Some prep schools began allowing the older boys to wear long pants. 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. The younger boys at these schools at the beginning of the decade had to wear caps, short pants, and kneesocks, but by the end of the decade this had become much less common. Often the schools were quite strict about uniforms, but given the increasing objections of the boys, loosened the regulations. Private schools continued to have very elaborate uniforms. Quite a few continued to insist that the junior boys wear shorts.

Additional Information

Related Links: Careful this will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but both sites are highly recommended
Apertures Press New Zealand eBook: A eBook on New Zealand schools avaialable
Apertures Press British eBook: A eBook on British preparatorty schools avaialable
Boys' Preparatory Schools: Lovely photographic essay of British preparatory schools with some over 200 color and black and white photographs depicting the schools during the 1980s
School Uniform Web SiteInformative review of British school uniforms with some excellent photographs


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Created: October 5, 2000
Last updated: 3:28 PM 9/13/2021