*** schools eduucation : national trends

School Uniform: National Styles

Japanese school boys
Figure 1.--The Japanese boys wear a very traditionally styled uniform. Many secondary school boys still wear the military style caps. The overcoats during the winter are optional.

American school children have generally not worn uniforms. Uniforms are used by some schools. Exclusive private schools generally adopted British uniform styles, even short pants for elementary children in some cases. Cathlolic schools generally required a basic uniform of white shirt, tie, and slacks. Military boarding schools of course had uniforms. With these exceptions, however, few American schoolboys have worn uniforms. American educators and parents have begun to rethink this and in the 1990s many American schools, often inner-city schools have begun to introduce uniforms at elementary and middle schools. Even President Clinton has addressed the issue. Many are convinced that uniforms help to promote discipline and may help to reduce violence. Several foreign countries had distinctive uniform styles. Many of the Continental countries, for example, had schoolboys wear protective smocks over their regular clothes rather than a uniform like the British. Some still do. Many Western European countries, however, have moved away from school uniforms:


HBC has not yet done much work on African school uniforms. Generally speaking they have followed European styles. HBC does not know of any country where there are school uniforms based on indigenous tribal fashions. Some North African countries have adopted French or Italian smocks. In Sub-Saharan Africa, French and British school uniform styles have been important. The poverty of many African countries has meant many families can not afford school uniform. Uniforms are most prevalent in the more prosperous urban areas. Some secondary-age boys in recent years have objected to wearing short pants uniforms.


Two of the major countries of North America (Canada and the United States) have both been profoundly influenced by England. Although English fashions were important in both countries, the idea of school uniform was nasically the 19th century English concept as appropriate for affluenet children attending exclusuve public schools. Public school children have not traditionally worn uniforms. They were, however, adopted in the parochial (Catholic schools) and Americans in particular begun rethinking the idea of school uniforms in the 1980s. Quite a number of schools have begun to adopt voluntary uniforms.


Latin America and the Caribbean was colonized by England, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. Thus there are a great mixture of educational approaches and systems. Many countries have adopted school uniforms. Englisg styles are important in their former colonies, but some countries like Chile and Peru have adopted English styled uniforms. Other countries have used basic khaki clothes. Several countries, especially Argentina and Uruguay, have adopted school smocks as worn in Spain and Italy--an important immigrant group.


HBC has not yet done much work on Asian school uniforms. As in Africa, uniform styles have been very strongly influenced by European styles. The Japanese and Koreans have adopted a variety of different European styles from English sailor suits to Prussian cadet uniforms. British fashions have been very important in former colonies like India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. The Chinese adopted some unique styles, but today uniforms are little worn and thge clothes children wear generally have western styles. The Islamic revival has affected school fashions in countries like Afhganisan, Iran, and Pakistan. The poverty of many Asia countries has meant many families could not afford school uniform, but economic conditions imprved markedly in many countries during the late-20th century.

French choristers
Figure 2.--The boys from this French school visited London in 1984. Note the string ties they wear rather than a necktie.


Most of our modern school uniform styles originated in Europe. England is the single most important coutry and it was here that the first modern school uniform appeared--originally for poor children at charity schools. Later the English introduced The school cap tie and blazer originated there. Other important styles like corduroy and grey flnnel trousers are English. The English school uniform in the 19th century took on an auora of privlidge. France is also an important country, introducing the smock as required school wear, as a republican experiment of reducing income differences between children. Many other countries adopted smocls. The sailor suit became one of the most common school outfits in many European countries, but was not generaly worn as a uniform.

Middle-east and North Africa

Middle-Eastern culture staddles western Asia and North Africa. Our country page is basocally arranged on a geographic basis. The cultureal similarities between the Islamic countries of the Middle-East and North Africa make separating them as a distinct region a logical step. These countries include two great river valley civilizations, became Christian and then were converted to Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries. Since then they have to very degrees tolerted other religions. Most were colonized by the British, French, or Italians in the 19th century and obtained their indepemdence at different times in the 20th century. The cultural, political, and religious experiences have of course affected their educational systems.


Oceania covers a wide area of the southwestern Pacific. Early immigrants in two countries (Australia and New Zealand) brought Eueopeans and English-styled schoolwear including uniforms with them, but in recent years have adopted styles more in keeping with the regional climate. Even so there is still a clear English influence. New Zealand in particular has many schools with traditional British-styled uniforms. In recent years, schools in both Australia and New Zealand have adopted styles more in keeping with their climate. The rest of Oceania is more varied. Indonesia and the Phillipines are large countries with substantial diverse populations. Schools in both countries have uniforms, but there is no national style. Oceania also includes many small new island states, each with their own individual approaches. We have little information on schools on many of those islands, but we are beginning to build some information.

Unidentified Images

we have come acrooss some impages that we have been unable to identify. Usually we can at least make our the continent involved. In a few instances, however, even this is not possible. Hopefully our readers will be able to help us identify these images.


The subject of school uniform is a complicated one and it will be some time before it can be addressed in detail. I will probably eventually work on a site specifically on this subject, but first want to add more historical information to this web site. There are, however, some interesting links available elsewhere on the web.

Careful, clicking on these will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but several are highly recommended

  • Apertures Press New Zealand eBook: New eBook on New Zealand schools available
  • Apertures Press New Zealand eBook: New eBook on British preparatory schools available
  • School Uniform Web Site: Informative review of British school uniforms with some excellent photographs
  • British Preparatory Schools: A photographic book depicting life at British preparatory schools during the 1980s. Most of the schools are English or Scottish, but schools in Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ulster are also included. The pictures show the uniforms worn at many different schools.
  • Information: Information about school uniforms in America


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    Created: June 20, 1998
    Last updated: 7:57 PM 9/14/2011