Like a scene from Harry Potter, the first school uniforms emerged in a very strange way. Back in the 16th Century a new type of school was formed in the old Newgate Prison building. Patrons from royals like King Henry VIII to wealthy land owners realised a need to offer a safe place for the children on the street. Supported by a young King Edward VI, this school opened in 1552. A new beginning in the community, pupils were given an education to offer them a better future.
Long navy blue coats were donated and given to the pupils at this special charity school called Christ’s Hospital School. Their coats offered warmth to these fatherless and poor pupils. Very distinctive bright yellow contrasting knee high socks added to the uniform too. Children dressed in this attire did not go unnoticed! Debates on this colour combination run unsubstantiated but the dyes for these choices were cheaper at the time. The navy coats were lined in the same bright yellows.
Even today, in their new location of Horsham in 1902 the pupils have chosen to keep the original designs. Steeped in tradition, this prestigious school admits boys and girls. Uniforms are still given to each and every individual pupil following the long tradition of the school.
The first Elton College was founded by King Henry VI in 1440 to accelerate the learning of 70 of the cleverest boys to prepare them for Kings College Cambridge introduced the Eton suit in 18. Hats accompanied their formal dress. A top hat featured as a prominent and coveted part of their uniform. Only removed when silk became unavailable after the war and gas-masks were an essential part of their kit, while top hat was optional and later removed from the uniform list.
By the 19th Century uniforms were widely used in British public schools. Certain supplies made uniforms for particular schools. This custom continues now. Billings and Edmond are specialists in the field with a depth of experience and many an untold story. Each school had a unique uniform list. Their suppliers are consistent and changes only made as customers change and life in modern schools adjusts to current demands.
In 1882, Winston Churchill attended St George’s School for a short time. Later becoming a girl’s school, a hat is kept for special occasions at this school in Ascot which has notoriety for their red capes and stunning straw boaters. These items have been put aside as new looks were introduced. The boater was adorned with a wide red hat band to abide by the customs of the times for every trip outside. A highlight on their calendar is to line up in uniform for the royal family on the Gold Cup Day during Royal Ascot dating back to the reign of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.
At this time, there was outrage at Bromsgrove School when their summer hats were removed and replaced with hats that could be worn all year round. Their white straw hats signified privilege. Pupils demanded in their school magazine, ‘The Bromgrovian’ that it be reinstated for their future. This was considered and new hats called boaters have been worn ever since. These days, the hats are only worn once a year on Founders’ Day.
The state schools in Britain introduced uniforms in their primary age range. After that, the uniform moved up to senior schools. Now schools in the United Kingdom have autonomy to pick a school uniform or opt out. About 80% of schools wear school uniforms.
Headwear is an integral part of uniforms around the world. Caps, hats and sun-hats are worn in countries where sun protection is needed like Australia and the Far East while other communities use their uniforms to differentiate schools and identify their pupils. Schools in China mix traditional styles into the school uniform while African nations choose simple natural fibres in bright colours that offer pupils comfort in the hot weather.
Read the October issue of The Hat Channel Mag for some great images of traditional, and modern school hats.