Thursday, 17 February 2011

The best days of our lives - not.

Last night, I found an email from the young son of a German friend, who is doing a project on school uniforms, and he asked me how I felt as an English boy who he suspected as having been forced to wear a uniform at school, so I sent him the note below, along with the two pictures.

I had only met this lad once, when his mother turned up to Bath with her husband and him, after an absence of about 15 years, during which she married and gave birth to him. I was surprised at the intensity of the painful memories that my reply evoked in me for such a short little account of one aspect of my adolescence! Careful how you dress your children...

Hello again Luca,

I will tell you my feelings about the school uniform that I had to wear, but it was a long time ago - between about 1958 and 1968.

I went to what was known as a ‘Secondary Modern’ school, and the uniform for that was dark trousers, dark ‘blazer’ jacket, a school ‘cap’ type hat and a neck-tie with the school colours on it, in stripes. On the jacket of the blazer was a badge of the Surrey coat-of arms, which was the leaves and nuts of an oak-tree.

All of these had to be bought and payed for by our parents, and because my parents were quite poor, I used to be given my older brother’s uniform trousers, after he had finished with them. This meant that the trousers were always too small for me, even though he was bigger than me. I was very tall (almost 2 metres), so to have trousers which were about 30 mm too short was very bad for a boy of 14 - especially when the girls laughed at me!

I hated the uniform, and the cloth that the trousers was made from was a type of plastic - like Nylon, which made it even worse.

When I reached about 13, I refused to wear the school cap, as this seemed to be designed for little boys, so I went out and bought myself a ‘Sherlock Holmes’ hat and wore it to school. All the girls (and the teachers) laughed at me even more, so I stopped wearing any hat at all.

After school, the first thing that all the boys did was to take off their tie - but we were only allowed to do this when we had left the school gates.

Below is a picture of the sort of hat that I wore (once!) to school, and also a picture of the uniform for ‘Eton’ the famous school at Windsor, where the Queen’s castle is. They still wear this uniform today, but you have to be very rich to go to Eton - our Prime Minister went there!

I hope this helps, but if you need any more, please ask.

Best wishes,



  1. Strange. I was about to post a piece about MY school days. But about the buildings; NOT the uniform. Why don't schools have their own shops. Clothes could then be bought and sold much cheaper; either new or second-hand.

    Hand-me-downs or clothes-you'll-grow-into should both be banned!!

  2. I was the 4th child Tom, and often had to wear my brother's cast off school jumpers. I actaully liked wearing a uniform because I think I didn't look as poor as we were. When I arrived in Canada where only the Catholic shcools had uniforms, I was taunted because I didn't have the fashionable clothes that the kids were wearing to school.

  3. Plastic trousers and a deerstalker and you're trying to sound surprised that you were laughed at!!!
    My school uniform list was as long as your arm, hats also being the bane of my schooldays - navy velour in winter, panama in summer, blue beret for mid-season and white cotton, 'Christopher Robin' style for the terrace and garden in hot weather.
    Curiously, I now rather like hats and wish that I'd not thrown away my velour and panama. It amuses me when I see pupils leaving school at the end of the day with their determined efforts to individualise their uniforms.
    At our younger daughter's school there was a swap shop where you could hand in any outgrown uniform and for just a small amount of money select the right size replacement .

  4. This brought tears to my eyes, Tom. I went to school between 42 and 48 - and my parents had little money too. In fact they did the best they could but often I had to wear blouses which were too small until the end of the summer term - it certainly made we much more careful about the way I dealt with my son's school uniform.

  5. Strangely enough, I actually like wearing uniforms now, like black-tie (tuxedos, you yanks!), and - as you may have guessed - I like hats too. I have reached the age when I can where a hat and get away with it (or so they cruelly lead me to believe). I have about three which I wear, and one of them is a Panama in the summer. I make damn sure my trousers are long enough these days, though. The Nylon trousers weren't my choice, but the hat was.

    Have you got any photos of yourself wearing the too small, end of summer blouses, Weaver? You could cheer me up by posting them, and make an old man happy at the same time. (was 42 - 48 your bust size?)

  6. I went to an old fashioned grammar school. The girls had to wear navy blue uniform with bright red stockings teamed with flat, blue leather sandals (how does that grab you Tom?) Needless to say we were teased unmercifully by the local comp kids; we were known as Red Shanks.

  7. I'm not saying a word, Sue, other than the local Comp must have been keen bird-watchers.

  8. tom
    you can tell its spring

    your sap is rising!

  9. Yep - the moths are crawling out of my underpants and blinking in the harsh light.