School Uniforms – From Tudor Times to Today
The school uniform is the quintessential clothing for students in schools nationwide. Depending on the region in which it is, the uniforms will be one style or another. For example, the Russians have specific characteristics, whereas the Japanese uniforms are completely different from each other, responding to certain needs that occur in each of the countries in line with their culture, politics and values.
The origin of these particular garments goes back to the specific schools led by Catholic religious orders. The leaders of these orders made the decision to create unique clothing for all students, thus encouraging humility in them, so they can override the feeling of envy or jealousy.
It could be argued that the very first uniforms were seen in King Henry VIII’s Tudor England, where students would be asked to wear long, blue trench-coat jackets. This ‘code’ was seen to unite the children and give them all a sense of belonging and ‘uniformity’. Christ’s Hospital would be the first school of its kind to implement this uniform across the board.
Surprisingly, the beginnings of the school uniform in public schools began as a measure to restore discipline to the classroom. In the eighteenth century, English schools had become anarchic and dangerous places, which meant that families spend resources to educate their children at home until their entry into a University. The school uniform was one of the measures designed to replace chaos with order, along with other aspects such as a mandatory and expanding curricula.
Thus the distinctions between children, either for variety, colour or quality of their uniforms that may have reflected the economy of their families were avoided. Another objective was to acquire cheaper school uniforms so their clothes could be maintained at a very low cost and last a long time.
Things started to gather at apace after the Elementary Education Act was passed in 1870. This made education available to all children in both England and Wales and the uniform began to spread as a result of this groundbreaking shift in cultural values.
The general characteristics of the uniforms were designed by these religious orders, and based on certain patterns, such as skirts had to go below the knees. Trousers on boys varied by age, short or long, accompanied by a blazer, whilst girls wore tunics and blouse.
The girls, however, had to wear a buttoned jacket. Formerly, the school uniform was accompanied by a headdress that could well be a hat or a cap for both boys and girls. The majority of children at the time lived in their shoes and coat covering their body against the cold. Most uniforms all shared similarities in the textiles used.
From England, it then spread to other countries, and was exported to the British colonies, regardless of the distinguishing characteristics of some areas. It wasn’t long before the classic suit and tie look was seen in the early twentieth century. Also used among schools in
these early days of uniform, was the use of skirts to the ankle for girls, ties and suspenders for boys and long clothing for all sports. Imagine the heat!
Little changed in the style of uniform and standards right up until the 1950’s when new nationwide reforms meant schools followed one another’s uniform code. Seasonal uniforms were also introduced to add comfort for the students.
The uniforms started to change a lot during the second half of the twentieth century, especially in the 1980s. Besides becoming simpler, they became more alike. Since then, the pattern is to use the shirts to signify the name and the symbol of the school.
Currently, the school uniform is still valid but the freedom to modify it is greater and not so rigid. Private schools with compulsory education levels tend to maintain this habit of having uniforms. However, there have been protests with regard to this custom, as adolescents seek greater customisation of their own age, following fashions and personal tastes. Boundaries will always be pushed.
State schools differ in levels of formality, with some adopting the more traditional blazer and tie, whilst others choose a sweater and polo neck shirt. Whichever is used, each will have the badge or logo of the particular school and portray somewhere within it, the school’s colour scheme (usually on the trim or ties). They are also encouraged to be inclusive and flexible of all religions (such as a Sikh being allowed to wear a turban) and to incorporate this into their identity. Hence, every time you complain about the uniform, remember: dressing up to go to school has been much more complicated!