Recent Historical Origins

Many British schools have a long history of school uniforms that have influenced school dress codes elsewhere (although the styles generally regarded as British school uniforms made their appearance in the late nineteenth century). By the early nineteenth century in Britain, the ensemble of student uniforms had more or less stabilized. At schools such as Eton and Harrow, a student uniform would include a short round jacket with deep lapels made of checkered woolen or strong cotton materials. By the 1920s, a typical boys' uniform for middle and upper-class schools might consist of a gray flannel suit (or blazer) with breast pockets, "Eton collar," school cap (or straw boater), and necktie with school colors. School badges or insignia would be affixed to the uniform. A typical girls' uniform might consist of a low-waisted dress in navy wool, pleated skirt, white collar with navy silk bow, navy blazer, black stockings and shoes, and a panama hat. Popular colors were navy blue, black, brown, or dark green. In the late nineteenth century, the introduction of sports, games, and gymnastics into the curriculum resulted in the modification of girls' uniforms.

Examples of dress uniformity among youth outside the school walls indicate broader cultural trends and attempts to acquaint children with the imperatives of formality, self-discipline, social order, and patriotism, as well as attempting to suppress working-class anomie and militancy. The uniforms of youth movements (such as Boy and Girl Scouts) illustrate these attempts. Another example is "sailor suits," which relied on a generalized "military metaphor"—children will be "recruited into society" through uniformization. The popularity of sailor suits, originally introduced in schools that trained boys for Britain's navy, spread to other countries (including Japan, where their influence can still be seen in girls' uniforms) among both boys and girls of all ages during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Such continued popularity is arguably an illustration of how uniforms generally preserve older, even obsolete, styles (for instance, boys' uniforms in Japan are modeled on Prussian officer uniforms).

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