School Uniform: English School Cap--School Types

Figure 4.--The school cap, one so common in England, is now rarely seen--except for games (sports). A few preparatory schools still continue to reaquire them.

School caps were once worn by almost all English school boys. The cap became almost a symbol for the English school boy. Practices varied somewhat, depending on the type of school as well as individual schools.

Primary Schools

I do not think that elementary schools generally had uniforms so they presumably did not wear school caps. Primary schools were created as part of the 1944 Education Act which divided the younger and older children at the old elementary schools. It took many years to make this change. Even after the change, many of the new primary schools did not have uniforms. Many state schools children were of very modest means. Requiring a school cap would have been a largely unecessary expense. Other primary schools adopted uniforms, but did not insist that the boys wear them. One HBC contributor who attended primary school in the 1950s reports that, "At my own boys' primary school there was a blue cap and blazer with the school crest but this uniform was not compulsory. Indeed, looking at a picture of the top class which I still have, I can see just one boy wearing the official blazer." By the time that uniforms became more common at primary schools, beginning in the 1960s, the school cap was generaly being phased out at most schools, except the more traditional preparatory schools. There are a few state schools, however, like the oratory school that still do require caps.

Grammar schools

School caps were required wear at many grammar schools. Regulations varied widely from school to school. The cap as a common pat of the uniform began to change after World War II. Many schools continued to require them for the younger boys through the 1950s. Most grammar schools dropped the caps as part of the uniform altogether in the 1960s. One HBC contributor tells us of his experience with his grammar school's cap:

When I first arrived, all boys had to wear caps apart from sixth-formers. By the time I reached the fifth form they too were exempt. At some point probably not that long after I had left, caps were abolished altogether. But in my time, up to form four they were absolutely compulsory for going to and from school, and also whenever one was wearing one's uniform in the outside world. Of course, the thing was not to get caught. But if one was walking in the town and a master came into view, and one didn't have the thing on one's head to be able to raise it to him, there was trouble later.

Caps were the only item of uniform that was at all controversial. All boys cordially loathed wearing them, and there were even petitions got up, pleading that they be abolished. For one thing, hats of any sort were scarcely any longer worn by males of any age by the 1960s. For another thing, haircuts were longer than in earlier times, and this made wearing a cap even more uncomfortable than it was already. But most of all, they just didn't seem to serve any useful purpose, at least in the climate of the north of England which is not exactly famous for its constant blazing hot sun. And of course what with taking them on and off as one went outdoors and indoors, and having to doff them to greet one's elders and betters, they were a tremendous nuisance and were constantly being lost.

Secondary Modern Schools

Most secondary modern schools, like the grammar schools, had uniforms. School caps were generally required as part of that uniform. Some schools required all but the 6th formers to wear them. In other schools it was just the younger boys. Caps were commonly worn through the early 1950s, but began to be become less common in the late 1950s. This was particularly true at the schools which did not place great emphasis on the uniform. Some schools were quite strict about the uniform and continued requiring caps until conversion to comprehensives in the late 1960s or 1970s.

Comprehensive Schools

Caps were not generally worn at comprehensive schools. By the time they were created, in the late 1960s and 70s the school cap was fast disappearing from the uniform requirement at state schools. As most comprehensives were created from existing secondary modern and grammar schools which did have uniforms. a few comprehensives may have inherited a uniform with caps. In the few cases this may have occurred it did not last long.

Preparatory Schools

Virtually every preparatory school boy through the 1960s wore a school cap and a few still do even in the 1990s. I'm not sure precisely when the caps were introduved. Some prep schools date to the mid-19th century, but they did not become common until the late 19th Century. Whenever they were introduced, by the 1900s the peaked cap was part of virtually every prep school uniform. Most towns of any size had a local prep school and the boys were instantly recognizable in their destinctive caps. One HBC contributor reports, "In the 1950s when I was a school boy, there were several prep schools in the town catering to dayboys. They all insisted upon the traditional uniform of cap, blazer, shorts and stockings. The boys in those uniforms really stood out. My favourite was Church House School, whose pupils wore a chocolate brown cap and blazer with gold ribboning. We used to call them the 'Brown and Yellow boys'." Caps continued to be commonly worn at prep schools into the 1970s by which time the cap had been discarded at virtually all other English schools. Even at the prep schools, however, caps begin disappearing in the 1970s. Many schools had dropped them by the 1980s, however, quite a number of schools continued to require them and still do in the 1990s, especially for the younger boys.

Public Schools

Schools caps were worn at most public schools. Af first they appeared as part of a games uniform. Subsequently schools adopted them as part of the standard school uniform. The peaked cap was for the most part used as a uniform for the junior boys. Some boys wore boaters, but the peaked hat was by far the most common. Gradually it came to be worn mostly by the younger boys and now is no longer worn as part of the basic uniform at any public school. Caps are, however, still widely worn for cricket. Thgey were given to boys winning their school colors.

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Created: December 11, 2002
Last updated: November 28, 2003