Flannel School Shorts: England

Note: This is just a rought cut to begin this page. I'm hoping our British contributors will offer some insights to add to this page.

Figure 1..--British boys of all ages wore flannel shorts in the 1920-50s. The look was often baggy with no crease.


The term flannel is derived from the Welsh word gwlanen meaning woolen article. Flannel is a loosely woven and dully finished weave. The looselu spun yarngive flannel a napped surface. Silk, linnen and more comonly cotton is often incorporated into the wool. The cloth is woven into a variety of textures and weights.

Flannel is primarily used for clothing. In the 19ty Century is was commonly used for underclothes because air collects in the short nap and retards conduction of heat away from the body.

Flannel should not be confused with flannelette or cotton flannel. It closely resembles flannel, but is made entirely from cotton. The surface is always napped. It is made in different qualities, the tecture ranging from course to fine. Flannelette is used for both inner and outer clothing.

Flannel shot to popularity with the comfortably cut trousers of the 1920s for men. Soft and easy-going, yet elegantly tailored, grey flannels were originally intended exclusively for summer wear, and normally paired with a blazer. In just two decades, flannel progressed from summer trousers to a popularity frabic for men's suits throughout the year. Popular film star in the 1930s, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. insisted at the time that he was at his best in flannels and they remain the most versitle trousers availale.

School Wear

Flannel trousers for men rose to popularity in the 1920s. This was the same time that short pants were becoming standard at many English schools and it was thus picked up on at many schools. The most common color for flannel pants was grey, which is probably why grey was adopted as the common color for school shorts.

Flannel shorts were commonly worn at schools through the 1950s. Synthetic fibers, especially Terylene became available after World Wat II. Schools, especially the private schools being conservative institutions, many continued to insist on grey flannel shorts--usually with buttons rather than zippers.

Figure 2.--Flannel was the most common material for English school shorts until the commercial appearance of synthetic fibers after World War II. This school was one of the few to still have flannel shorts in the 1980s.

Shorts made with Tertlene worsted made increasing inroads on the traditinal flannel shorts during the 1960s and 70s. By the 1980s only a few schools still had flannel shorts.

Christopher Wagner


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Created: December 4, 1998
Last updated: October 30, 1999