School Uniform: French Military School

Figure 1.--This painting by Achille de Gas shows a French naval cadet about 1856. We assume the school is (Le) Lycee Naval School, Brest.

France founded L'Ecole Militaire in Paris during 175I. Napoleon as a boy attended a military school and subsequently a national military school for older teenagers just before he received his commission. As he was a Corsican, he was teased by the other boys. Even so his talent for leadership emerged even at this early age. I have also seen images of French boys in military uniforms, but have no details at this time on the schools.


France founded L'Ecole Militaire in Paris during 175I. This reflected the increasing need for an officer corps with the technical skills required by modern war. We are less sure when military schools for children were founded. The chronology of military schools in France is somewhat complicated by the fact that children at many schools wore military uniforms, but were not really military schools. We note quite a number of schools run by Catholic orders that had military-styled uniforms.

18th century

Military schools were founded in France in the 18th Century. Before the Revolution. France founded L'Ecole Militaire in Paris during 175I. I believe most officers were the younger sons of the nobility. Many purchased their commissions. Lafayette, for example, purchased a captainís commission in the Noailles Dragoons. Napoleon as a boy attended a military school. Napoleon attended the military school at Brienne-le Chateau (April 1779-October 1784). He excelled at mathematics, history, and geography. As he was a Corsican and did not speak Frenh when he arrived, he was teased by the other boys. Even so his talent for leadership emerged even at this early age. He then studied at L'Ecole Militaire in Paris, at the timev essentially a finishing school for future officers. He passed 2nd lieutenantís exam on September 1, 1785. I have also seen images of French boys in military uniforms, but have no details at this time on the schools.

19th century

The image here shows a French naval cadet in 1856. We have, however, no information about the French naval academy, (Le) Lycee Naval School, Brest. We begin to see French school children in the late 19th century wearing military-style uniforms. We do not, however, just what kinds of schools these were. Part of the reason for the appearance of these uniforms was France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). French officials and educators concluded that more discipline was needed in French education. Hopefully our French readers will provide some insights into these military styled uniforms. We are not sure if they were woirn at state or private schools.

20th century

We continue to see some French school children wearing military styled uniforms in the early 20th century. We see his at many schools. One example is the Lycee St. Malo. This clearly is not a military school, but many of the students wear a military-styled uniform. We even see some of these uniforms as late as the early 1950s. We see an example here (figure 2). Unfortunalely, HBC has virtually no information on the photograph. We would, however, date it to the 1910s. It is intersting that while the school appears to have a proscribed uniforms, it does not seem to be rigorosly enforced, notice the ine boy wearing the sailor suit. Also notice the different types of pants. HBC assumes that because of the military-style uniform that this is indeed a military school, but of course that is only an assumption.

Figure 2.--This French school in the early 1900s required a military-like uniform with knee pants. Note the one boy in a sailor suit. Also note that the school did not require kneepants, several boys wear long trousers.


Military schools were some of the few French schools to require uniforms. We see many French boys, however, wearing military-styled uniforms but do not appear to be attending military schools.


I'm not sure who ran these schools. Presumably schools for younger boys would have been private schools. As they are French schools, the church, especially before the Revolution presumably had a role.

Individual Schools

HBC has little informatiion at this time on indiviual scools.

Brienne-le Chateau

This boys military school was attended by Napoleon in the 18th century. It was designed to train the sons of the nobility for the military. HBC is unsure at this time when it was founded.

L'Ecole Militaire

L'Ecole Militaire was founded in Paris during 175I.

(Le) Lycee Naval School, Brest

HBC notes that Le Lycee Naval School operates today at Brest, a major French port and naval basse. HBC is unsure at this time when it was founded. The school has strong connections with the French Navy. Reports in 2001 indicate that the boys wear traditional uniforms, we are not sure, however, if this is the normal school or just worn for special occasions.


HBC has received an inquiry about the inmage here: "After viewing your web-site, I was wondering if you have any more information about the photograph listed as figure one on your page School Uniform: France. The boys are dressed in a military style jacket, some with long trousers, some with short, and one in a sailor suit. I am asking because the costume is virtually identical to that in a painting in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts by Armand Guillaumin. The painting has only been identified as l'ecolier and despite knowing its translation, the military style of the uniform through me off. Guillaumin had two sons, the eldest, went in to the military and fought at the Battle of Marne, hence the immediate connection to military uniforms. In the painting, the boy wears blue trousers however, and through some initial research, I found that French soldiers wore red trousers. Not much is known about Guillaumin's younger son. The boys were born in 1891 and 1896 respectively, so any further clarification as to the date and or school in your photo would be immensely helpful. I am also grateful for the information in your site- I have since bookmarked it and plan to return." Aimee Marcereau, Assistant Curator, Department of European Paintings, The Detroit Institute of Arts

Careful, clicking on these will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but several are highly recommended

  • Apertures Press International Project: Pictures at schools in different countries and a book on British schools
  • Apertures Press New Zealand book: New book on New Zealand schools available
  • School Uniform Web Site: Informative review of British school uniforms with some excellent photographs
  • British Preparatory Schools: A photographic book depicting life at British preparatory schools during the 1980s. Most of the schools are English or Scottish, but schools in Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ulster are also included. The pictures show the uniforms worn at many different schools.
  • Information: Information about school uniforms in America


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    Created: November 27, 1998
    Last updated: 2:39 PM 11/18/2004