Victorian, Edwardian and George 5th U.K.

--- School uniforms in the U.K. ---



An example of an British preparatory school
A preparatory school is a private school to prepare the students for UK's elite public schools. Here we have a line of 17 photos showing the boys of a preparatory school from 1913 to 1929. The school was located in Surrey, England.

Ein Beispiel einer britischen "Preparatory School"
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Preparatory school

British preparatory or prep schools developed as unique educational institutions, distinct in important ways from private schools in other European countries. Early prep schools were Spartan, strictly disciplined boys' boarding schools, established to prepare young Britons for the country's elite public schools. Modern prep schools have changed dramatically from those early beginnings and are evolving as they adjust to major economic and demographic changes in the United Kingdom. Harsh discipline and austere classrooms have been replaced with positive disciplinarian methods and modern, increasingly elaborate, educational and recreational facilities which give some schools the appearance of year-round summer camps. The schools report an impressive record of superior academic performance, due to a variety of factors.

"Preparatory School"
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The school
The school portraits here come from a preparatory school that was located in Surrey. It cared for boys from about 8-13 years of age. It looks to have been a rather small school. Apparently the school has been a successful one as the number of boys seems to be gradually increasing over time. Most of these schools were boarding schools and this one probably was as well. The uniform the boys wear seems relatively unchanged over the time frame here.
They would have come from affluent families.
Most Preparatory schools by the 20th century had uniforms, but differed as to the details of their uniforms and how strictly it was enforced. This school seems to have had a fairly strict uniform regime, although we notice some variation in each portrait.

Die Schule
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Headwear
The school had a traditional peaked cap. It looks to be a brightly colored cap, probably red. All of the boys would have had these caps, although they are not wearing them in all the photographs. The schools usually insisted the boys wear the caps when outside of school. And they would have been expected to tip their hats to both school staff and parents. Note that some of the caps have badges in their caps. These are boys who have earned their colors in school games (sports). This was a very important part of the program at both prep schools and public schools.

Kopfbedeckung
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Neckwear
Neck ties were an important part of the uniform. They often matched the color of the caps and blazers. As this school has suits rather than blazers, only the caps and ties match. Often boys who earned their games colors or who were appointed prefects got special ties, but at this school the boys all wear the same plain colored tie.

Krawatte
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Collar
Besides the peaked caps, one of the most distinctive aspect of the uniform was the detachable Eton collar. Note that some boys in the photograph are wearing soft collars. The fact that in most of the photographs the boys have Eton collars indicated that it was required by the school. The Eton collar was very common in England before World war I. After the War it gradually became less common. Some conservative schools continued to require them even during the 1930s.

Kragen
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Suit
The boys wear light-weight suits, probably a light-gray shade. After World War I, colorful blazers matching the caps became increasingly popular at prep schools. This school retained the same suit throughout the time period covered.

Anzug
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Trousers
The boys wear both short and long pants. The British would say trousers rather than pants. A few boys wear knickers. There seems to be a shift over time. In the early portraits the school probably left it up to the parents to decide on which type of pants the boys wore. By the end of the period the school seems to be setting the rule. Here school rules varies. The different options were age, form, or height. At some schools only the prefects could wear long trousers.

Hose
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Socks/Stockings
The boys wearing short pants mostly wear knee socks, probably called turn-over-top socks. We are not sure about the boys wearing long pants. A few boys in the early photograph wear long stockings. This was not very common after World war I which can be seen in the photographs. The school does not seem to very strict about hosiery. Some of the boys are wearing school socks, meaning knee socks with bands in the school color at the top. This would be same color as used for the cap, ties, and blazer if the school had one. Many of the boys are wearing school socks, but many are wearing just plaun grey knee socks without the colored band.

Socken/Strümpfe
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Footwear
The boys' footwear is a little more difficult to sort out. They are wearing white shoes of varying description in the early photographs. They do not look to be sneakers. Some look like football boots, but it would be unusual to wear them for a formal school portrait. High-top shoes were common in the early photographs, but after the War in the 1920s we mostly see low-cut oxfords. Curiously we do not see many boys wearing sandals which became very common at prep schools after the War. Many schools required them. It may be that the boys put on shoes for the formal school portrait.

Schuhe
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1913
Most of the boys here wear detachable Eton collars. We assume this was a school rule. What we do not know is if they were just worn for formal occasions or for everyday classes. Note a few boys are not wearing their Eton collars. We suspect that was just part of the problem of keeping so many boys in Eton collars. Most of the boys wear short pants, but some of the boys wear long pants and one boy wears knickers. Notice a few of the boys have long stockings rather than knee socks. One curious aspect of the photograph is the white shoes the boys wear. The high-top ones look like football boots. That seems rather out of place in a formal portrait.

1913
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1914
Note one boy here in the front row wears a badge on his cap. This usually meant that the boy had won his sports colors. This boy, however, looks too young to have done that. Note that while the boys all wear light-colored suits that there is no one single style or shade. Many of the boys here are wearing Eton collars, but quite a few are not. We are not sure why. While most of the boys wear short pants, a few wear long pants. This suggests it was a matter for the parents to decide rather than a school rule. The boys wear sports shoes. We suspect this reflects the fact that the photographer came in the afternoon when the boys were doing sports.

1914
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1915
Only a few of the boys wear Eton collars in this portrait. We are not sure why. Perhaps they have just come from the sports field because they are wearing sports shoes. Note that some of he boys are wearing school socks. That means knee socks or turn-over-top socks with colored bands at the top in the school colors. Notice one boy still wears old-fashioned long stockings.

1915
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1916
Unlike some of the other portraits, the boys are very smartly turned out in this portrait. They are all smartly turned out in their Eton collars. Notice one boy has an especially wide collar. One boy wears knickers rather than short pants. The boys are all wearing regular shoes rather than the sports shoes they are wearing in the earlier portraits.

1916
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1917
Note in 1917 the sudden appearance of the ladies. Boys' preparatory schools tended to have mostly male stff, especially before World War I. The ladies in 1917 no doubt was an impact of the War. The British began conscription in 1917.

1917
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1918
Here the older boys, probably the school prefects, are in front. They mostly wear long pants. Note the appearance of the little boy. He is probably the Headmaster's son.

1918
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1919
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1919
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1920
Even though World War I ended in 1918, ladies appear to have become a permanent feature at the school. Some of the boy's wear school socks. One boys wears knee socks with a pattern at the top. This was a popular style at the time, but not proper school socks.

1920
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1921
We still see some of the boys wearing high-top shoes, but they are clearly going out of style.

1921
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1922
Here almost all of the boys are wearing low-cut oxford shoes. One boy at the left wears sandals, but as far as we can tell, he is the only one. Sandals became widely worn at British prep schools in the inter-war era. This does not seem to have been the case at this school. It is possible, however, that they were worn for everyday classes, but the boys put on proper shoes for the formal school portraits.

1922
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1923
Notice that the Headmaster's son is gone. This may mean that he has been sent off to another prep school. Or he could now be kitted out in the school uniform and thus no longer is distinguishable from the other boys.

1923
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1924
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1924
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1925
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1925
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1926
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1926
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1927
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1927
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1928
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1928
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1929
Here in the last available portrait, the boys are still wearing Eton collars. Many prep schools in the 1920s did away with the Eton collars which were once almost universally worn at English schools. Some schools retained them even into the 30s. One notable observation at this school is how little the school uniform changed, especially in the 1920s. The disappearance of high-top shoes is virtually the only major change.

1929
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