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School Garments: Country Trends

school cap

Figure 1.--We have no information about this school, but it looks to be taken in an Eastern European Communist country, perhaps Romania, during the 1950s. We think it is a Communist country because of the presumably red scarves the children are wearing. It is a little dificult to make out just what the children are wearing. THe girls look to be earing a kind of bib-pinfore over their smocks. We have not seen that before. There alsoseem to be required headbands. At least two boys are akso wearing smocks. The other boys seem to be wearing white shirts and dark jackets.

Some school garments are destinctive to specific countries. In fact many school portrits can be classified bu country based on the garments the children are wearing. Some countries have been very influential in establishing certain garments and styles a school styles. Here British private schools became particularly important in developing what we now see as school uniforms or school-style garments. Public schools were a phenomenon that developed in America and Westrn Europe (especially Germany) and children did not wear uniforms. Styles in these schools varied, but at least in cities were at first more formal than is common today. Styles in Britain and France were especially important because of all the colonies in Asia and Africa. Japan was the first Asian country to developba public school system. Children at first wore their traditional schools, but Western style uniforms were mandated for boys and girls. Only in the 20th century, however, do we see the European countrues beginning to build public schools in their colonies. Thus we see school children wearing western garments in quite a number of countries where traditional dress was still common. Rarely have these countries chosen traditiinal styles for their schools. We see some examples for girls in India. We have several country garment pages which can be viewed here.


Belgian schoolboys over the years have worn a wide variety of styles and garments. Boys in the late 19th century generally wore kneepants. Sailor suits were very common. Many boys wore smocks. Fauntleroy suits were popular with mothers, but probably not commonly worn to school. Short pants began to be worn in the 1900s with the advent of the Scout movement. School uniforms were not common in Belgium and as a result svhoolwear is generally a reflection of ordinary boys' clothes. Some private Catholic schools did require uniforms. Boys have worn many different types of clothes to school. Most boys into the 1960s wore short pants, but knickers were also worn until the 1950s. Sailor suits were still popular, although not as much as at the turn of the century. Many types of hosiery were worn. Boys wore both ankle and kneesocks. White socks were popular. Some boys wore long over the knee stockings. Shorts were very commonly worn by the 1920s. Older boys might wear knickers. Smocks were commonly worn by school children through the 1940s.


No country has inluenced the school uniforms worn by children around the world more than England. The tradition of school uniforms in England is a little complicated. School uniforms in England are oftn assocaiated with privlidged children at the country's elite private schools. Uniforms at school, however, were first worn by poor children at charity schools. Only later were they adopted by priavate schools, in typical British fashion, referred to as public schools. Children at the country's developing state school system during the late 19th and 20th century did not wear uniforms. Britain was late to provide a free public education to children. Some European countries, especially the Germans had a much more extensive public school system. Britain had a great variety of state and charity schools for those who could not afford a private education. Uniforms were first intriduced for children at charity schools to identifybthem and for purposes economy. Uniforms for the affluent children at private schools were introduced much later. Children at statte elementary schools until the 1960s did not commonly wear uniforms. Both privatevand state secondary schools did require uniforms. Uniforms served to build the esprit de corps of the school. Uniforms also prevented rich parents making poorer parents feel humble. Despite thism Left-wing politicians (Labour) in the 1960s and 1970s objected to uniforms which led to the individualistic fashion shows of today which make poorer parents subject to the new uniform dictates of "Nike", "Puma", "Adidas" and rendered blazers very expensive as suppliers shrank. The tradition of school uniforms developed at Britain's elite private schools, in typical British fashion referred to as public schools. Children at the country's developing state school system generally did not wear uniforms during the late 19th and 20th century. Britain was late to provide a free public education to children. Some European countries, especially the Germans had a much more extensive public school system. Britain had a great variety of state and charity schools for those who could not afford a private education. Children at these schools wore a variety of clothes. Some of the common elements of traditional British school uniforms include:


French school boys once dressed very destinctibely. The two school garments most associated with France are the beret and smock. The omage of a French schoolboy dressed in a berte and smock is an enduring one in French iconography. School children also sometimes wore a cloak-like cape garment. Most French boys wore kneepants or sgort pants to school, often under protective smocks. These garments are no longer commonly worn by French school boys who now wear the pan-European styles that have emerged in the 1980s, the sweatshirts, "t" shirts, track suits and jeans that are now worn throughout Europe. It is no longer possible to identify French school children by the clothes they wear to school.


German boys have worn a wide range of garments to school over time. This of course varied chrnologically. German boys did not normally wear school uniforms, except for boys attnding military schools. Thus there are no school uniform garments in the same sence as in England. Thus the garments worn to school are a good reflection of popular contemporary dress patterns. While there were no uniforms, there were certain garments that were commonly worn by boys for school. Perhaps the most popular garment was the sailor suit. Sailor and army-styled caps were also popular. We see many boys wearing suits of various styles to school, but this became less common during the inter-War era and was gradually went out of style asfter the War. Lederhosen were commonly worn in in Bavaria, but less so in other parts of Germany.


The schoolwear and school uniform garments worn in Ireland are the same as those wore in England. The authors know of no specifically Irish garment worn by school boys. This of course reflects the fact that until the 1920s, Ireland was part of Britain and the Irish school system was founded and set up by British authorities. Private schools also followed British patterns. We see the same style of caps, blazers, ties, and other Britih school uniform garments. It is impossible to identify Irish boys by the school uniforms they wear, even destinguishing them from the British. And the tendency to wear these school uniform items followed the same basic trend as in Britain. The private schools were the first to wear unifoerms with the state schools following after World war II. The one destinctive Irish trend was the flannel dresses boys wore in the 19th and early 20th century. This was different than the kilt style in Scotland as these flannel dresses were in no way considered to be a national costume.


The school garment most associated with Italy of course is the school smock. Italian school smocks have varied over time. The classic style was a dark blue or black smock worn with a wide white collar and big floppy red bow. Originally smocks buttoned at the back. Many schools no longer require smocks, but a number of Itlalin schools still do. Boys generally prefer front buttoning smocks and this style has become more common. Colors have changed too. Some schools have different colors for boys and girls. Common colors include different shades of blue, white, and pink. While some schools have required students to wear smocks, there seems to have been a wide toleration as to just what the children wore under their smocks. The smock was most common in primary schools. We notice a variety of different styles in secondary schools.


Japanese school uniforms vary depending on age, type of school, and gender. They basically wear uniform garments adopted from western countries, although in some cases styles that are well over 100 years old. Many public elementary schools do not wear uniforms, but just their ordinary clothes. Most other school children do wear uniforms. Some of the garments are quite similar to schoolwear in Western countries. Japan is a very traditional country and some schools have distinctive uniform items, esoecailly caps, or styles that were formerly worn by European school children. Details on some of the principal garments worn by Japanese school children are available here.


The school uniforms worn by Russian boys have changed over time, but until the disolution of the Soviet Union in 1992, mostly consisted of military-styled garments. This may have been influenced by the Prussins/Germans. This included both the Tzarist and Soviet periods. Boys wore both peaked military caps and campaign caps. I'm not sure if they had a dress cap or wore the same cap year round. I'm less sure about the caps or hats worn by the girls. A jacket or military blouse buttoned to the collar. Some boys wore white shirts. One style was to wear the collar outside the jacket. Russian boys normally wear long pants to school, but we see some primary boys during the mid-20th cntury wearing short pants, at least during the summer. A lot of the portraits we have collected appear to be from secondary schools. we uspect that many families did not hve the money for a portrait. Until the Soviet period, many working-class families could not afford to send their children to school. And with the Soviet period poverty contunued, although the ecucation system was expnded.


Scottish school uniforms are quite similar to English school uniforms. Essentially school uniform styles in the United Kingdom were set in much more populace England. The principal difference is of course the kilt. The only other major difference is that boys at private schools common wore colored rather than just grey kneesocks. Blue shorts were also more common in Scotland. HBC has relatively limited information on Scottish school caps. We believe that the tradition peaked school cap like the ones worn in England were standard wear for Scottish school boys. Scottish schools required blazers much as English schools. HBC knows of no important difference between Scottish and English school blazers. Many Scottish schools by the 1980s also had dress uniforms consisting of tweed jackets which were worn with kilts for dress occasions. Scottish schools have ties much like English schools. Some private Scottish schools let boys wear open collared shirts with their blazers, but never with the formal uniform of tweed jacket and kilt. The boys wearing open collared shirts generally wore them with short trousers. Most schools required boys wearing long trousers to wear a tie. Short trousers were widely worn at Scottish private schools. Not only did prep schools have short pants uniforms, but many secondary schools also required the older boys to wear short pants as well. Many Scottish schools appear to have been more traditional than English schools in this matter. Many Scottish schools used the kilt as part of the uniform. Usually it was not worn every day. More commonly the boys wore a blazer or sweater and short pants during the day. The kilt, however, is not a very practical garment for boys. Several of the elite Scottish private schools, both public and preparatory schools, had uniforms with colored knee socks (blue, red, burgandy, purple, green, and black). Red was a particularly popular color. This is in sharp contrast to English schools which usually had grey knee socks. Scottish boys have have used bookbags much like English boys. The continental over-the-shoulder type of book bag used by European boys does not seem to have been common in Scotland.

United States

American boys have worn a wide range of garments to schools. These garments have varied over time and there have also been regional differenes. The type of school was also of some importance. American boys for the most part did not wear uniforms. There are a few exceptions such as military and preparatory schools and a few private schools. American boys simply wore their regular clothes, often somewhat more formal than play clothes. This however changed over time. We see garments like sailor suits and kneepants suits in the early 20th century. Many boys wore corduroy knickers to school. Most boys wore long pants to school in the 1950s, but shorts were also worn by some areas. This varied regionally and chronolgically. Pimary boys by the mis 20th century were wearing more casual clothes such as "T"-shirts and jeans. To our knowledge American boys did not wear smocks, but they were worn at some schools for art classes. Cold weather garments were important during the Winter, especially in the northern states. Most boys had raincoats for inclemet weather.


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Created: 11:14 AM 2/28/2017
Last updated: 4:58 AM 2/14/2020