** English school uniform: post-war era

Figure 1.--Most, but not all of the boys at this grammar school wore short pants. HBC is not sure what the rule was. A grammar school in England was an academically selective secondary school. These are probably the first year boys photographed about 1955.

English School Uniform: Post-war Era (1945-70)

School uniforms after the war continued to follow the styles set in the 1920s. This continued through the 1940s and 50s. As part of the social reforms following World War II (1939-45), there wwas a significant expansion of state secondary education. Significant changes in uniforms, however, did not take place until the 1960s. Caps had become very unpopular with boys and were largely dropped in the 1960s, except at traditional preparatory schools. Many secondary schools also began droping requirements that the junior boys wear short trousers. A major reorganization of elementary schools also followed the War. Many new primary schools adopted school uniform requirements in the 1960s. The uniforms were much simpler than worn at preparatory schools, but often included short trousers. A new shorter, more trim fitting style of shorts based on Continental styles style appeared during the 1960s. School sandals were common at both state schools and preparatory schools.

The Late 1940s

Few new trends appeared in the 1940s. World War II (1939-45) of course had a major impact. Rationing and the focus on the War precluded much attention to fashion. For the most part school uniform trends continued unchanged from the 1930s. Some English observers report that rationing regulations caused manufacturers to produce mostly short pants for boys, but I do not have details on this. Shorts continued to be ong and baggy. Most primary school boys wore sut jackets and short pants to school, but few scools required uniforms. Primary boys often wore school sandals and usually kneesocks. Britain inituiated a new state secondary system in the 1940s. The younger boys going to these schools often wore short pants. I do not knopw if this was a requirement are simply what the boys wore.

The 1950s

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 requirong 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.

Figure 2.--This unidentified detail from a school portrait looks to show the junior boys in a grammar school. At this school the boys wore grey suits. I'm not sure what the rule about short trousers was at this school. Note that the boys wear plain grey knee socks and not knee socks with color bands at the top.

The 1960s

Trends which began in the 1950s continued in the 1960s. 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.

Personal accounts

Some personal accounts are available describing the uniforms worn as schoolboys:

England--The 1950s

England--Primary and grammar school: 1950s-60s

England--Primary and grammar school: 1950s-60s

England--Primary and grammar school: 1970s

England--Literary notes

Additional Information

Related Links: Careful this will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but both sites are highly recommended

Apertures Press International Project: Pictures at schools in different countries and a book on British schools
Apertures Press New Zealand book: New book on New Zealand 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: November 11, 1999
Last updated: 12:33 AM 11/7/2014