Boys' Uniforms: Sports and Athletics

Figure 1.--The British schoolboysare participating in a cricket match. Notice the colored peaked caps and white outfits.

Quite a number of specific uniforms and necessary equipment has been developed for various sports. For many sports the basic uniform was all that was needed besies the ball to play the sport. Other sports, especially American football require elaborate equipment. We have collected information on quite a few specific sports. We notice some differences among countries. Some of these sports are country specific, but many are played in countries all around the world. There are of course chronological changes over time.


We have not yet developed any information on the sport of archery. The bow and arrow had been a critical weapon of war for centuries. The English longbow had been England's kep weapon in wars with France. So much sow that the Crown required men to practice archery and dispaired that developing sports were distracting men from developing archery skills. We notice Victorins enjoying archery as a diversion. We do not know if this was a continuation of historic trends, but a diversion reserected after being discarded. Muskets began replacing longbows and crossbows in the 15th century and had not been an important weapon in Europe since the 16th century. I'm less sure about hunting. We do not yet have a archery page, but there is a German archery page. We notice that archery in some countries such as Japan, archery is not just the sport itself, but also elements of traditional culture.


The term "athletics" is often used for track and field in Britain. See "track and field" below.


Badminton is named after the seat of the Dukes Beaufort in the south of Gloucestershire. HBC had thought it was a French court game. We do not at this tinme fully understand the historical background. There are many similarities with tennis, but it is played with a shuttlecock rather than a ball and this does not require such a formal court. It was at the turn of the 20th century a popular game that both genders could play socially. It is now prinmarily a gym class activity in most countries with very little competive play.


Baseball is primarily an American came, but it is played in a few other countries as well, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, Mexico, and the Spanish speaking Caribbean islands. There are actually two sports, baseball (hardball) and softball. Baseball is by far the dominate sport. There are also two related games, rounders (English) and srtickball (American). The standard baseball uniform is a cap, jersey, knicker panrs, and long socks. The knickers were at one time knee-length, but now often come to just above the ankles. There are some country differences. New Zeland boys, for example, sommonly wear shorts.


Basketball is perhaps the quinesential American sport. Baseball is often referred to as the "national game". Baseball has, however, clearly descenced from cricket and rounders--two English games. Basketball has, however, no antecedents. It was purely the creation of a coach who needed an indoor sport that could be paklyed during the brutal mid-western winters. It was thought up purely for that purpose and was not based on any earlier sport. A specialized version developed for girls in England called netball-where no dribling was allowed. American girls rejected netball and insisting on playing basketball like the boys. Although once played mostly in America, the sport with the popularity of Michael Jordon and the status as an Olympic sport have helped to make in an increasingly popular international sport.


Boxing became a sport in the 19th after the Marquis of Queensberry developed rules for fighting. Boxing used to be a sport promoted at schools in America, England, and other countries, although I do not have a complete list. The sport was persued by many children beginning in primary school. European schools had more limited athletic programs, but boxing was popular in many Europen countries, often persued at athletic clubs. It was also a popular activity at YMCAs in American and Europe. It was gradually phased out as being too brutal. Here both the image of boxing and possivle neurological damage were factors. Medical evidence demonstated that it was a dangeous sport. I do not have a definitive chfonology on when boxing was phased out of schools. I do not recall it in my American school in the 1950s. A British reader rports that boxing had disappeared from English schools by the early 70s.


British colonial rule brought cricket to countries around the world. No sport is more associated with England than cricket. The proper uniform for cricket is a long sleeved white shirt and long white trousers--initially flannels. Everything had to be white. Crickt boots were also always white. Immaculate cricket whites may seem an unpractical sport uniform, but British uniforms were not always notable for practicality. The only exception to the white motif during the match (game) was the cap. After the match (game), boys would put on their colored school blazers. Boys who wore their colors could wear the colored school cap. Generally long white flannels were used for cricket. Some boys wore white shorts instead of the long pants. The boys wearing shorts are usually the younger prep school boys where the uniform use to be mostly short pants.

Football (American)

American football is played in only a small number of countries. It is only seriously played in America. W are not sure what early footbasll uniforms wee like. We notice one Indiana high school in 1905 which looks more like a basketball team. The basic uniform today is simple, a helmet, jersey, and knicker-length pants. The full uniform is much more complicated, however, because of all the protective equipment. An HBC readers reports an interesting trend of late in American high school football (and, to a lesser extent, in college football) where the pants are now being worn shorter, just an inch or two below the knees in many cases, with low ankle socks leaving the lower legs bare. This seems to be a trend away from the older look (still prevalent in the NFL) of football pants midway between the knee and ankle, with long over-the-calf socks completely covering the legs. We note Sears offering stripped sweaters as a kind of football jersey in its 1902 catalog.

Football (Gaelic)

A European reader has mentioned Gaelic football. At this time, however, HBC has no information on this sport.

Figure 2.--Boys for Australian football or footy wear a destinctive uniform, no no cap, a sleevless jersey, short shorts, long sport socks, and boots.

Football (Australian)

HBC at this time knows very little about Australian football. It is rarely seen in America. Australian football seems similar im many ways to Rugby. The uniform the boys wear is quite destinctive. There is no cap, a sleevless jersey, short shorts, long sport socks, and boots.

Football (Soccer)

No cap is worn for football. (We use the term football, because it is the term used all over the world, except America.) The basic uniform items were the jersey or shirt, short pants, socks, and cleted shoes often called boots. The jerseys commonly have a number on the back and come in a varirtty of colors. They normally have crew necks, but HBC has seen "V" necks as well. The shorts come in various lengths, reflecting the fashions of the day. Soccer shorts became enormously popular in the 1980s. This was especially true in California, but extended throughout the United States. Both knee and ankle socks have been worn.


We do not yet have details on golf history. We do note a 17th century Dutch painting with a boy and a golf club.


HBC at this time is not familiar enough with gymnastics to describe gymnastics as a sport or the uniforms worn by the participants. the outfits in general. We do have some infornation as to the origins of the term "gymnasium" which dates back to classical Creece. Gymnastics was an important part of the pysical eduxation programs that developed in the 19th century. It is why the facilities in schools abd clubs for physical education became known as 'gyms' and the classes as 'gym'. I recall that PE classes in American secondary schools included various gym activities like tumbling, parallel bars and other events. Interest in gymnatics w revived after the Cold war and became part of the Cold War. The Soviet Union wanted to demonstrate its superority with the Wst. Soviet officials decided that the Olympics woukd be an excellent opportunity to demonstrate this. Thus theu poured enormous resources in developing talent in all the various Olymouc events abd there were quite a few gymastic events. The Eeaster European attelites (esopecially Eat Germay and Romania) followed the Soviet lead. Television coverage of the Olympics also kindeled interest in Western countries, especially te stunning performance of Nadia Comăneciin the 1980 Olympic Games. We hope to eventually add some basic information on the sport.

Hockey (Field)

We have only limited information on field hockey at this time. It appears to be another sport which has developed in England. Field hockey in the United States is esentially a girls sports with the uniform mostly consisting of pleated skirts. Some high school boys's have challenged the legality of excluding boys. An exception here are some exclusive private schools which are based on English private schools. The sport in Europe is widely played by girls, but boys also play it. It is widely played by boys , for example, in the Netherlands. It is also played by boys at at many private English schools. The boys mostly wear short pants uniforms when playing hockey. We note some team photographs, but are unsure as to what country is involved.

Hockey (Ice)

Ice hockey is played in a relatively small mumber of northern hemishere countries, but in several of the countries where it is played it has become a phenomenal passion. We do not have a lot of information on hockey yet. We notice American city boys with hockey sticks playing on rollar skates in the 1900s, presumably this was a form of ice hockey that city kids could play when an ice covered pond was not readily available. Modern uniforms are heavily padded. We are less sure about early uniforms. Ice hockey appears to have the same origins as field hockey, only played on frozen ponds in the winter. Like many modern sports, hockey appears to have evolved in the English public school, from which it was apparently brought to Canada and other countries. Ice hockey appears to have been a Canadian innovation. Some sports historians believe that it was first played at King's-Edgehill School in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Others contend that hockey was born at Halifax-Dartmouth. [Jones] We are less sure how it spread to Scandinavia and Russia. A Canadian reader tells us that the uniform evolved from the short pants and long stockings that boys once wore, even during the winter. We are not sure as to when the current uniform became an accepted convention.


Hurling is a game most associated with Irekland. It is similar to field hockey. I am not sure to what extent it is played outsude of Ireland. I believe that it is played in some American colleges. The field is 80 yards by 140 yards. Each team has 15 players. A wooden stick with a club-like base (the hurley) is used to hit a cork-centered ball. Hopefully our Irish readers sill tell us more about it.

Jai Alai

Jai Alai is a game similar to handball, played on a three-walled court by teams of 2, 4, or 6 players. Unlike handball, it is played with an elongated wicker basket called a cesta. The cesta is strapped to the wrist and use to catch and throw a small hard ball. The ball is thrown at the front court. The came is played un Spain and seems especially popular in the Basque countey. We have also noted it being played in Cuba, but we are not sure what its satus is since the Revolution. It is played by the Cubans in Miami.


A Dutch reader tells us, "I can't resist mentioning the game of korfball that originated in the Netherlands just 100 years ago. I have never seen a game and I didn't even know it existed until a recent television documentary on the occasion of the game's centenary." One source reports that there are 36 national korfball federations, includng America and Britain. Another source tellus, "the sport is played in over 40 countries.. but even I am not up to date ... because sometime several countries are added in just one week, and sometimes none for months ... and sometimes we loose some."

Martial Arts

The martial arts are an extremely popular activity for children. It is primarily a boy's activity, but girls also partivcipate. It is has been popular in America since the 1960s. I'm less sure about Europe. We have noted children doing martial arts in Russia, but are unsure just how popular it is. We note boys martial arts in Japan and Korea, but are unsure about other Asian countries. There are several disciplins of martial arts, including judo, karate, and tai-kwan-do. As far as we know, the different disciplines are wear the same costume--a kinf of white pajama outfit.


HBC has noted widely varying accounts concerning the origins of paddle tennis or ping-pong. One source suggests that the origins date back to 12th century, but they may well be referring to the origins of tennis itself. A better documented event was Frank Peer Beale's efforts in 1898 to help children learn to play tennis. He brought the game to New York in the early 1920s. In 1959 Murray Geller revised the rules, where it evolved into the modern game of Paddle Tennis that is played today.


Rugby is another form of football. It is named after the English public (exclusive private) school) where some of the modern rules were developed. American football has evolved from Rugby. In many ways it is an anomaly. It became along with cricket, the principal sports (games) played at public schools and of interest to upperclass English. This appears a contradiction in that the sport requires enormous physical strength, extensive physical contact, and played in the English autumn is an often muddy, filthy slog. The public schools in turn rejected football (soccer), an elegant game requiring more finess and with less physical contact. Football proceeded to become the game of choice of the working class and virtually the entire rest of the world, except America.


We have not yet done much work on winter sports like skating. We do have a page on Austrian skating.



Swimming became a popular activity years before it became a competitive sport. It was first called bathing and the water was seen to have health benefits--especially seawater. This began in Britain during the 18th century. There was often not actual swimming involved. Women and girls in particular were more likely to paddle and wade. We do not have much information on competitive swimming, but believe that it began with the refounding of the Olympics (1896), but are not sure when swimming events were first added to the program. As a result of this long history, swimming cistumes and suits have varied widely. As a result of changing qurstions of modesty, the suits have varies frim covdring almost the entire body (incliding the head) to covering only the bare minimum. Quite a range of fabrics have been used, including fabrics entirely unsuitable like wool.


Tennis usually is applied to the sort of lawn tennis, but there is also court or royal tennis--a much different game. Tennis is usually played outdoors with a racket and ball by two (singles) or four players (doubles) on a court of turf or hard surface such as clay or now commonly paved surface. The modern game of lawn tennis was invented in England during 1873 by Major Walter C. Wingfield, a British Army Officer, for use at garden parties. Major Winfoeld claimed that he modeled the game, which he called "spharistike," after an aincient Greek game. Authorities now believe that he simply adapted to outdoor play the principles of the widely popular came of court tennis.

Figure 3.--The standard wrestling gear is a single This boy appears to have been especially patriotic.

Track and field

"track and field" or "track" is the major individual sports pursued at American schools. The term "athletics" is more common in Britain. Track encompasses a wide range of sports involving runing, jumping, and throwing events. The most popular events are running events invoving speed and or endurance. Some events such as the 100 meters are pure speed. Others like the 26-mile marathon are endurance events. There are many other events at distances between these two events. Besides the running events are hurdles involving running and jumping and other events like the high jump which are primarily jumping events. Throwing events involve the javelin, shotput, and discus. Moost of these events are based on Olympic events. Especially for the speed running events, light weight costumes are very important.


Boys wore destinctive garments for werstling called singlets. The wrestling singlet is similar to ones used for gymnastics, or any sport that requires an outfit that is totally free of any article of clothing that might be grabbed by an opponant to their advantage, or snagged by the wearer. Most boys especially interested to wrestling don't give it a second thought, but some boys didn't liked the idea of wearing one. Some would wear some sort of loose fitting outer clothes, called "warmup gear" to wear till they are actually ready to compete. The color of the singlet of course reflects the boy's team or school.


Jones, Martin. Hockey's Home: Halifax - Dartmouth - The Origin of Canada's Game (Nimbus Publishing).


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Created: April 5, 2001
Last updated: 9:31 PM 1/14/2010