The "generations of schoolboys" uniform
from the 1920s to the 1950s
This uniform, but with variously colored caps and blazers, were
widely worn by boys at private preparatory schools. It consisted of
parts such as: cap, regulation blazer, tie, vee-neck pullover, shirt,
grey flanell shorts, knitted knee socks, often school sandals. Most
boys attended the state schools and did not wear uniforms. Their clothing,
however was somewhat similar. Most boys had school caps, but withhout
private school badges. Suit jackets were also common, but boys at state
schools did not have the distinctively colored blazers. Short pants,
knee socks, and sandals were worn by boys both at the private prep schools
and the state primary schools.
Die typische Knaben-Schuluniform der
1920er - 1950
Parts of the Uniform
Parts of the uniform were: cap, regulation blazer, tie, vee-neck pullover,
shirt, grey flanell shorts, s-buckle-belt, knitted knee socks, often
Teile der Uniform
Style: A great variety of colors, including circles and school crests
decorated these caps which flooded British streets with boys going
to and coming home from school. The colorful caps mostly had black
General: Virtually all British schoolboys wore these peaked caps through
1940s and the 1950s. Both state and private schools required them.
They at first in the late 19th century appear to have been used as
a kind of sports or games cap. Eventually they became a standard uniform
item and were even worn at state schools without uniforms.
General: The English school blazer added great variety to the sometimes
dowdy school uniform. State secondary schools like the private schools
had highly varied and colorful blazers through the 1950s.
Originally the blazer was developed as smart summer wear for affluent
Britons but was soon adopted by the country's elite Public Schools.
The developing preparatory schools also adopted the blazer. They were
viewed as somewhat informal wear. More formal atire would be an Eton
suit and hard collar. Blazers were worn with soft collars and the
Assessing English schools can be quite complicated because of the
many different types of schools. Most schools, except for primary
schools, adopted blazers as part of the school uniform. There were
even some primary schools, especially Anglican primary schools that
had blazers. There were, however, many variations among schools and
over time concerning blazers.
Style: It was not just a colorful suit jacket. The blazer had several
destinctive construction characteristics that diferentiated it from
a suit jacket. There were variations of course, but they were not
very common. Blazers were made with lapels. The lapels were important
because a variety of pins issued by the school were pinned on here.
These could be house pins or position pins like prefect, librarian,
and many others.
The school crest was worn on the left chest pocket. Often it was the
initials of the school, but some schools had logos or elaborate crests.
There tended to be two side pockets. These were also commonly patch
pockets and usually unlike suits did not have flaps.
Blazers generally had three buttons, although there have been some
with two buttons. Some schools enforced rules about how the blazer
should be worn concerning the buttons.
Another important characteristic was the absence of a back vent. Suit
jackets had these vents, but blazers did not. With the front buttons
buttoned this could make for a tight fit.
Colour: The many different colors of the blazer included bright colors,
although colors like black, dark blue/navy, and grey were also worn.
The colorful blazers were often worn with caps in the same color.
Trim: Many schools had color piping around the edges of the blazer
and on the lapels. The piping was of contrasting colors. Blue blazers,
for example, had yellow or white piping. Brown blazers might have
red or a white striped piping. Some times piping would be used to
reflect status at the school.
General: In many cases the school tie was not introduced before the
1920s. Thereafter it became common. In most state secondary and many
state primary schools, as well as in practically all independent schools,
a school tie became a part of uniform, even if it was not always compulsory.
Colours: There were both solid color and striped ties, usually in
school colours. The striped ties were both horizontal and diagonal.
The diagonal striped ties were adopted from the ties worn by sports
clubs. The horizontal stripes began to decline in popularity after
World war II, especially after the 1950s.
Some of the earliest school ties, of the narrow square-ended type,
were knitted; others were made from woollen or cotton cloth. The tapering
type were of woollen or cotton cloth. Later with the introduction
of artificial fibres, these might be used, either in a wool and artificial
fibre mix or on their own.
Length: The lengths of school ties have varied, usually according
to the ages of the pupils for whom they were intended, with those
of state primary or independent preparatory schools being shorter
than those of secondary schools.
Width: The widths of the tapering versions have also varied, again
with those for younger boys tending to be smaller than those for older
boys. Rarely general fashion had influence on schoolwear. At least
some influence was visisible as the widths of the ties increased or
More: The pupils of independent boarding schools were typically housed
in different buildings - 'houses'. These would play each other in
competitive games and perhaps compete in other ways too. The system
was applied to independent and state day schools for the purpose of
sport and other competitions. It is not usual for boys' houses to
be indicated in school uniform although it is sometimes done. One
way was to have different house ties, usually of a standard basic
colour but with stripes in different house colours - most commonly
blue, green, red, and yellow.
'Colours' is the name given, in British schools, to an award for contributions
to school sport. A boy who had gained such distinction could show
the fact in his school uniform in various ways, but most common was
the wearing of a distinctive 'colours' tie. Often the ties were awarded
in front of the whole school, with boys who had won them going onto
the stage to receive them from the Headmaster to applause from the
rest of the school. Also prefects would wear a special tie.
General: England can be a chilly place, especially on a drizzy day,
and there are normally a lot of them. Virtually every English schoolboy
wore sweaters to school, except during the warm summer months. Here
there were no school rules. Unlike other school uniform garments, the
children could decide whether to wear their jumpers and when.
Style: The most popular style has been the "V" neck sweater because
so many schools insisted the children wear ties. We have noticed cardigans
and crew-neck sweaters being worn, but by the 1950s, the grey "V" neck
sweater was the standard style.
Colour: Uniform sweaters were mostly grey. While grey was the most common,
there were several other colors used as well. White was used for cricket.
Trim: There were jumpers with a variety of color detailing or trim.
Countless combinations were possible. Jumpers might have color detailing
at the collar, wrist cuffs, or waist band. The color detailing was most
common at the collar, mostly "V" collar jumpers. The detailing would
be in the school colors. The detailing often matched the ties and kneesock
cuffs. And the color was commonly coordinated with caps and blazers
or sometimes scarves for winter wear.
Prep schools most commonly had jumpers with trim in the school colors.
Many Anglican schools also had these sweaters. They were less common
at state primary schools, but not unknown. A factor here was the cost.
Plain grey jumpers were less expensive.
More: School sweaters were done with flat weaves. Out of school hand-knitted
jumpers sometimes had an elaborate "cable stitch" pattern yet you would
never see such a pattern on a school uniform jumper. The one exception
was the white sweaters done for cricket. These sweaters did sometimes
have the cable knit weave.
Pullover mit V-Ausschnitt
General: The standard school boy shirt after Eton collars disappeared
during the 1930s were grey with always standard pointed collars. Gray
shirts were considered paractical for schoolwear because they did
not show the dirt as much as a white shirt. For dress occasions a
white shirt was usually substituted. Most shirts buttoned all down
the front. A Rugby style which buttoned only part of the way was popular
in the 1950s.
Material: The material in the 1950s was mainly of a wool mixture (Viyella),
making for a warm, rather heavy shirt.
with S-shaped buckle
General:The so-called 'snake-belt' was at one time an extremely common
item of the English (and indeed of British) school uniform, although
it tended to be also worn on many other occasionsas part of regular
Construction: It consisted of an elasticated strip, fastened at the
front with an S-shaped metal hook-buckle fashioned as a snake; it
was, obviously, this feature of the belt which gave it its popular
A metal slide, together with a loop in the belt, enabled it to be
adjusted to an individual boy's waist far more sensitively than could
be done with the usual tang and series of holes and also, of course,
allowed its length to be increased as a boy grew. The slide and loop
arrangement also ensured that there was no long end left dangling.
Boys' short and long trousers were provided with loops through which
the belt could be threaded.
Colour: Their availability in a wide range of single or twinned colours
meant that they could be readily obtained in school colours to match
those of blazer, school cap, tie, and badge. Occasionally, they might
be compulsory but more often they were optional.
Width: At first, snake-belts had been made quite wide - 1.75 inches
(44 mm) - and occasionally they incorporated two snake-buckles, one
above the other. This width was not really suitable for boys, especially
smaller ones; the belts also had insufficient elasticity and tended
to become loose. In the 1930s the width was reduced to 1.25 inches
(32 mm) whilst the introduction of artificial fibres gave a lighter
webbing with greater elasticity and durability.
Gürtel mit S-förmiger Schnalle
General: Short trousers began to appear after the turn of the 20th
century. Short trousers for school wear were very common inter the
inter-war era and continued into the 1950s. They became very common
for primary-age children as well as at preparatory schools. And the
younger boys at grammar schools (selective secondaty schools) and
public schools (private secondary schools) often wore short pants
(at least in the first two years). Senior boys wore long grey or black
Short pants were worn both in the summer and winter term, with no
seasonal change. Apparently the English until the 1960s did not think
it unusual to send boys off to school in short pants in the middle
of the winter. A few private schools kept even older boys in shorts.
Material: Flannel was especially common in the early 20th century.
Flannel became a material commonly associated with schoolwear.
Construction: School shorts were usually made without back pockets.
General: Boys wearing shorts generally wore grey knee socks, or turn-over-top
socks as the British might say. Some school pemitted ankle socks (or
sandals and no socks) during the summer.
Colour and trim: Many schools had socks with the school colors in
stripes or a solid bar at the top. This was usually the kneesocks,
but a few schools even had ankle socks with colored trim. Many boys
wore plain grey knee socks as they were less expensive. Some Scottish
schools had colored knee socks. British boys of any age never wore
white socks with shorts, except for sports.
Primary-boys after World War I often wore closed-toe brown "t" strap
sandals. These sandals became so common at primary school that they
became referred to as school scandals. Various types of sandals were
worn, but by far the most common remainded the close-toe "T" strap style.
Clark's school sandals were a standard. Some private schools required
Another possibility were lace-up low-cut Oxfords.
Especially common in gym class was the plimsol.