** schools Scotland

Scottish Schools

Figure 1.--Scottish boys do not commonly wear the kilt, bit it is part of the uniform at many private schools, usually reserved for special occasions.

Scotland as part of the United Kingdom has basically followed prevailing English British school uniform styles. Most Scottish school portraits are indistinguishable from Schools in England. England of course was a much more populace country and thus English fashions dominated British fashion. Standard school uniform styles in England and Scotland are esentially the same. It would not be possible in most cases to identify British and Scottish school boys. There have been, however, some differences. In addition, as a more traditional part of the country, changes often occur more slowly in Scotland than in England. The major difference is of course the kilt. But the kilt was nitbthat wudeky worn at schools to be if much use in identifying Scottisg=h schools. We are not sure to what extent the kilt was worn in the 19th century at eithr state or private schools. We do see it to some extent in the Highlands, but most of the Scottish school photographs we have found are from the 20th century and do not show any of the bots wearing kilts. We do know that in the 20th century that most Scottish private schools adopted the kilt as their dress uniform. Other than the kilt rgerewas littke differece between England and Scotland.


Scottish schools have primarily folowed the lead of English schools, both state schools and private schools. While are chronological information is limited, we have begun to acquire some information on Scottish school wear and uniforms over time. While the trends are quite similar to English trends, there are some destinctive aspects of Scottish school uniform--the most obvious being the kilt. Unfortunately we do not at this time have good information on kilts in the 19th century. The kilt, however is not the only difference. The more traditional outlook of Scotland has also resulted in some differences. While the kilt and assocaited garments is the only destinctive garment, the time line of uniform trends is slightly different in Scotland compared to England.

School System

The modern school sytem in Scotland is quite similar to that in England. There are some differences, in part due to the separate historical tradition. The Act of Union wih England (1707) did not create a unitary British state, although it did combine parliaments. Local government was left largely untouched. And in Scotland at the tme there was a developing public education system which was not the case in England. A Scotish reader reports, "Up here in Scotland, Primary School education lasts 7 years -- so we have Primary 7 boys up to age 12. In England the modern primary schools only have children up to age 11." There is also substantial curriculum differences, especially at the secondary level. English education focuses on greater depth in a smaller number of subjects while Scottish schools tend to pursue a broader number of subjects with somewhat less depth, more like the American system.

School Types

The types of schools in Scotland are quite similar to those in England Most schools were founded after the Act of Union (1707) when Scotland joined with England and became part of the United Kingdom. The schools systems, however, were not unified. England at the time did not even have a public school system, but Scotland had begun to build one. There are now state primary and secondary chools. Also in the state schools are schools with religious affiliation. There are some differences. The religious make up of Scotland is different than England which has some impact. The private schools in paticular are different. There are fewer public schools (private secondary schools) in Scotland. Rather there are a number of academies which are are full-term private schools. Such schools in England are often called colleges.

School Uniforms

Unlike many countries, school uniforms are common in Scotland. This has varied over time. Initially in was like England with just the public (eliete private) schools wearing uniforms. Many in Scotland were called academies. And the preparatory schools as they became estanlished also began requiring uniforms. Then as Scotland began expanding its secondary system after World War II, they followed the comvention in England of requiring uniforms. Some primary schools also began requiring uniforms, but this optionl and most primaries continued to have the children wear their own clothes. The uniforms tended to be basically the same as the uniform styles worn in England. There were only a few difference. Kilts were worn in Scotland. In some cases they were otional dress. At least one prep school had the kilt as the standard unform. More commonly, at last by the mid-20th century, the kilt became the dress up uniform for church and special occasions. A factor here was tht kilts became expensive and thus were resrrved for best, specially for the younger boys. The only other a major difference is that some schools had colored knee sicks insread of the grey knee socks usually worn in England. Sandals were not as common as in England. Other than this the garments were almost inditnguishable between England and Scotland. The types of uniforms depened somewhat on the type of school. The private schools, especially the boarding schools, were most likely to have different uniform, normally a standard, everyday uniform and a dress up uniform for sunday church services and special occassions. In recent years the uniforms have been simplified, but still tend to be involved than the state schools. The day schools were a little different.

Figure 2.--Scottish boys, like English boys commonly carry the portfolio style of book bags. Notice the red knee socks. Several Scottish schools had brightly colored knee socks instead of the standard grey.

School Levels

The Scottish school system is strutured along the primary and secondary levels common around the world. The state schools have these standard divisdions. This is complicated slightly by the prep schools which more or less bridge the gap between primary and secondary schools. There are also academies, private schools that have both primary and secondary units. School uniforms are common at both primary and secondary schools. Almost all secondary schools have uniforms.A Scottish contributor provides some information on school uniforms in Scotland.


We see Scottish girls wearing he same garments and styles to school as their English counterparts to the south. Scotland was affected by the school uniform styles emerging in England such as jumpers which we believe are called gym slops in Britain. Most sottish girls, however did not wear uniforms in the 19th and early-20th century. Girls in the state schools system did not wear uniforms. Uniforms were worn at private schools and grammar (selective seconary) schools, but these were a relatively small part of the school-age population. The idea of educating girls was a not well established idea in much of the 19th century. In fact the whole ideapf ublic schools was fiercely devted in Britain until the late 19th century. Which is also the time that educting girls also began to take hold. Even so, the number of girls attending public/avademies (elite private bording) schools and grammar schools was much smaller than boys. Thus the school images we see from Scotland do not show school uniforms, but the regulargarments girls wore. Tey this provide a good look at popular fashion. We do not see girls commonly wearing school uniform garments until after Wotld War II in the 1960s.


There are a wide range of activities conducted at school, both inside and outside the classroom. Many of these activities required a specaialized uniform or sports gear. Scottish schools, especially the private schools probably had more elaborate uniforms and specialized schoolwear than any other country. The school regulations varies over time and among the many different types of schools. Many schools had a dress uniform worn on Sunday or special school events. During regular school days a less elaborate uniform was worn. At some schools boys would come to schools in their blazers, but just wear their jumpers while in class. Some class room activities like art or science might require some sort of protective gear. Quite a number of schools sponsored youth group units such as Scouts. Some secondary schools had Cadet units. Many schools had a gym uniform. There was a variety of specialized uniform for various team sports.


Boys varies as to what they did when they came home from school. Some mothersinsisted that they change out of their school uniforms to make sure they kept there school clothes in good condition. Some boys were anxious to do so as they didn't like their uniforms. Other boys couldn't be bothered to do so. Especially if they went to a private school, there was not a lot of time for play after school so they saw it as a bit of a waist to go to all the bother of changing clothes. Boarding schools also varied greatly as to what they did after class. Some schools allowed the children to change in to regular clothes. Atother schools the children wore the uniform all day long.

Inividual Schools

Clothing trends at Scottish schools can be followed by a look at different types of individual schools at various locations throughout the country. HBC at this time has images from only a few schools but hopes to expand this section. Except for the kilt, schoolwear styles are quite similar to England--perhaps a bit more conservative.

Aitken & Niven

Scottish children going to secondary schools or private schools commonly purchased their school uniforms in local shops or in major department stores. Often chain stores had the more simple items for state primary schools. There were also larger stores in the big cities that specialized in schoolwear. One of the more important stores specializing in schoolwear for Scottish schools is Aitken & Niven in Edinburgh. Aitken & Niven was established in 1905 as "gentlemen's tailors of distinction". The first few years proved successful for the store and it continued to trade during the World War I by expanding into Ladies Tailoring and Military Service uniforms. The advent of World War II introduced fabric rationing, and a threat to Aitken & Niven's business. A & N in 1943 introduced its School Wear Department. The company celebrated its 100 th anniversary in 2005. The company now has a web site offering the uniforms for many Scottish schools. They have also set up "Uniform2, a marketplace for pre-owned schoolwear for the budget minded. In addition to school uniforms, Aitken & Niven offers a wide election of sportswear.


Scotland like England has an active cadet program where secondary school clildren receive some basic military instruction. The program began before World War I, but I have few details on the history of the program. The dress uniform at most groups is the kilt, but for training, pants are generally worn.

Individual School Boys

A few accounts are available from or about individuals about theor school experiences in Scotland.

Brief accounts

A colection of short accounts that are not detailed enough for a complete separate page.

Cyril (1920s)

We have little information about this boy except that his name was Cyril. The portrait was taken at an Edinburgh photographic studio. It was undated, but looks to have been taken about 1920, perhaps a little later. Except for the hat which might have been worn on a sunny day to watch a cricket match, Cyril is wearing what looks to be a preparatory school uniform, although there is no school badge on his suit coat. The image raises some intriguing questions. Interestingly, he does not look like a Scottish boy. HBC does not know how common it was for non-British boys to attend schools in Scotland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom during the 1920s.

Elgin boy (1960s)

I came across your web site and found it rather interesting. I'd like to add some of my own personal memories and comments. I went to school in Elgin, Scotland, during the 1960s. Nearby was Gordonstoun, the Public School attended by Prince Charles. Apart from this claim to fame it was well known throughout Scotland for its uniform--boys of all ages wore short trousers. Because of this, many of us local boys were also kept in shorts longer than might have been expected. What was good for Prince Charles was good enough for us.

Boarding school (1960s)

A HBC reader provides memories about his Scottish boarding school

Primary and secondary schools (1980s-90s)

When I started primary school, my uniform comprised light blue long-sleeved shirt, striped school tie, grey shorts (mid-thigh length; these were by no means compulsory - long trousers were common even in the first few years, and certainly by the time I had reached primary seven, I was the only boy in my class to wear shorts), knee-length grey socks, grey v-neck jersey with the school colours around the collar, black blazer (again, worn by increasingly few pupils) and black school shoes (which had a Velcro fastening at first, until I learned to tie laces). During my time at primary school, the one major battle I had not won regarding uniform was the wearing of shirt and tie as opposed to a polo shirt. I had convinced myself that the switch to a new school would be the perfect time to at last change to a truly casual uniform. You could buy both sweatshirts and polo shirts from my new school with the logo, and most people wore these. Unfortunately, my mother was having none of it. While she did buy me one polo shirt, it was for wear only during P.E. lessons - at all other times I would wear the same sort of uniform I had worn at the end of the previous year, namely: grey or black sweatshirt emblazoned with the school logo, white long-sleeved shirt, striped school tie, black trousers, grey socks and black leather shoes.

Reader Comments

An English reader writes, "This is an interesting section. I went to school in England, but know next to nothing about Scotland. In the south of England we were always under the impression that you needed a strong constitution, a long kilt and a tough hide. It is interesting to read about schools in Scotland. I hope Scotting readers will add to what you have collected so far."

Additional Information

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

Boys' Preparatory Schools: Lovely photographic book on British Preparatory Schools during the 1980s with over 200 color and black and white images.

New Zealand Schools: Apertures Press e-Book on New Zealand schools available

>British Preparatory Schools: Volume I: New Aperures Press e-Book on British preparatory schools available

British Preparatory Schools: Volume II: New Apertures Press e-Bbook on British preparatory schools in progress


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Created: June 5, 1999
Last updated: 5:01 AM 2/12/2018