Terelyne Worsted 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.--Terylene grey schools shorts began to appear in the 1950s and by the 1960s had begun to replace the standard gret flannels.


Polyester fabrics

Synthetic fibers were invented in 1884 from cellulose by a Frenchman named Hilarie de Chardonnet. Rayon, the generic term for regenerated cellulose fibers (derived from trees, woody plants, and cotton). Production in quantity did not begin, however, until the invention of the vicose process patented in England during 1892. The first product was marketed as artifical silk. The first chemically created fiber was nylon which was invented in 1938 by Dupont. It did not become available for commercial use until after the end of World War II in 1945. A host of other new fibers followed soon nylon.

Most synthetic fibers used for clothing are polyester, which means a fiber composed of polymers (molecular structures) manufactured from petro-chemicals. These polymers are processed into filiments of polyester, often textured to resemble some material we are familiar with and made into yarn. Finally the yarn is manufactured into polyester fabric. The main trade names in America are Dacron, Fortrel, Trevira, and Zefran. In Britain one of the main trade names was Terylene. The fabric can be either 100 percent polyester or blended with natural or other man-made fibers to produce percentage-blended cloth. Fiber content labels on clothing reveal by law the nature and percentage of these blends.

The primary reason for using polyester fabric for clothing is low cost. Polyester costs only about 75 percent of the cost of manufacturing natural fibers. It accounts for a very sizeable proportion of world cloth manufacture. It has, however, an image problem with the much joked about polyester leisure suit.

Figure 2.--The new shorter Continental style of short pants was common in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Polyester and polyester belends have several other advantages beyond cost in the manufacture of children's clothes. Polyester is much easier to maintain that flannel and other woolen garments. They can be machine washed and dried, often without ironing. Garments that require dry cleaning, especially for children, can entail considerable cost. This is especially true for boys' clothes which will invariably require constant washing.

I am not sure of the blend use for Terylene shorts. Some may have been 100 percent Terylene, but the better quality ones were mixed blends including wool and perhaps some cotton. Perhaps our English contributors can provide some information on this.

Worsted materials

In making woolen garments,like flannel, the natural characteristics of the fiber--its curliness and felting power--are developed by the manufacturing processes and produces a soft cloth with a nap and with the fibers so matted together that the weave is but lightly visible. In worsted manufacture the aim is to produce a smooth, wiry yarn, more like that of the other textile fibers. To this end the fibers are straightened out, twisted hard, and the shorter projecting ones which would form a nap combed out. This produces a cloth in which the weave is evident and a great variety of design in weaving is possible. In making woolen yarn the wool is simply carded and loosely spun.


Terylene shorts continued many of the sylistic characteristics of flannel shorts with a few differences. Almost all Terylene shorts were grey. A few schools had blue shorts--but only a handful in England. They were mostly made without back pockets. The major difference was that most of the Terylene shorts were made with zippers frather than the traditional buttons. The other major difference was at the time Terylene became increasingly popular, the shorter Continental style of short pants was becoming popular in England. Thus the Terylene shorts were mostlty made in the shorter Continental style.

Adoption at Schools

Synthetic fibers like Terylene began to become available after World War II. Most schools at the time had uniforms with grey flannel short pants. The conservative nature of the schools, especially the private schools, caused the schools to continue insisting on flannel shorts during the 1940s and 50s.

Gradually schools began to turn to Terylene worsted shorts in the 1960s. The easy care characteristics of sythetic fibers finally one the day. Mums and matron could easily put Terylene shorts through the washing machine. No ironing was required. Quite a savings in time and money over flannel which had to be dry cleaned. One feature which may have even won over conservative school masters was the sharp crease Terylene shorts held, much different than the baggy look of flannels. All in all not only were the Terylene shorts less expensive and easier to care for, but they gave the boys a much smarter look. This was an important consideration to English headmasters and school masters who gave considerable importance to the school uniform.

Christopher Wagner


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