The History of School Uniform

The History of School Uniform

In 1222 Archbishop of Canterbury mandated that students wear a robe-like outfit called the "cappa clausa", making this written statement the first reference to school uniforms for pupils.

By the 16th century charity schools, sometimes called blue coat schools, were built by various parishes, from the voluntary contributions of the local community, to teach poor children to read and write. These children were given second-hand clothing, and in 1552 the Christ’s Hospital issued obligatory uniform to its scholars.

It was designed to emphasise the low status of the children and demonstrate that they were in education. Originally russet in colour, to match a clerical cassock, it was changed to blue a year later.

However, school uniforms, in most schools, were slow to be adopted and were rare before the 19th century. In the 1820s the elite public schools formalised their dress code standardising on what upper class children would have already been wearing. Eton introduced the Eton suit for boys under 5ft 4ins, comprising a short dark ‘bum freezer’ jacket, grey trousers, large starched white collar and top hat. Other public schools had their own interpretations. Town grammar schools followed the trend and many adopted a sober uniform of short jacket and trousers, white Eton collar, bow tie or knotted tie and a round cap as would be worn by cricketers.

After the First World War, the old-fashioned knickerbockers gave way to shorts for younger boys, and shoes and socks quickly replaced black stockings. Elementary schools had no formal uniform, younger boys continued to wear comfortable knitted sweaters and flannel shorts. Older boys would wear a uniform of grey flannel shorts, shirt, tie, blazer and cap. Older boys progressed from shorts to long flannel trousers. Most schools set an age or height criteria for the transition to the wearing of ‘longs’. Schools developed distinguishing coloured stripes for blazers, sweaters, ties and caps, and their own unique blazer and cap badge. The 1920s school boy's uniform remained little changed until well into the second half of the twentieth century, after the Butler reforms when secondary education was made free to all, and the school leaving age was raised to 15.

Elementary-school girls under 14, wore dresses that followed the fashionable lines of the times, the loose calf-length smock frocks of the 1890s and early 1900s, protected beneath a white or coloured pinafore. Shifting fashions meant that in the 1920 and beyond dresses adopted a shorter shift style. By the First World War older schoolgirls typically wore a plain tailored calf-length skirt and often a masculine-style shirt and tie. Many middle class families were sending their daughters to boarding schools and uniform was a basic requirement of attending the school.

Nowadays, there is a debate around the wearing of school uniform. On the one hand, children all wear the same clothing, so there no competition with high street fashion brands, affordability or social competition. Research by the schoolwear brand Trutex concluded that it stopped bullying. The wearing of a school’s uniform does allow the local community to identify, monitor and guide children from that school. At Simply School Uniform we believe that the wearing of school uniform is neatly summed up by the head teacher of the Norfolk Academy Marshlands High School who wrote about his school’s uniform policy:

“(the school’s uniform) …further strengthens the school ethos, values and expectations, including good school behaviour. Strengthens the students’ sense of belonging to their school and pride in being part of the school community. Improves equality and reduces inconsistencies. Reduces the need to challenge students over inappropriate dress. And, reduces conflict and promotes positive relationships, allowing students and teachers to concentrate on teaching and learning.


Simply School Uniform