Back to school – historic school uniforms in Europeana Collections

If your social media feed is anything like mine, this week it’s been full of photographs of children dressed in school uniforms and big grins, ready for their first days at new schools. Their uniforms have been bought with growing room, so they all look tiny, swamped in swathes of grey, navy and black Teflon-coated fabric. Yes, the same stuff they put on non-stick frying pans gets applied to school clothing to try to make sure the knees don’t go through before Christmas.

So what did schoolchildren wear before polyester? I took a dive into Europeana Collections to see if I could find out. From the very youngest to some more mature students, I found fewer smiles than I’ve seen on Facebook this week, but more home-knitted jumpers, military-influenced jackets, voluminous blouses, pinafores and more than one very fine moustache. Enjoy.

And here are a few school uniform facts I found along the way (from Wikipedia actually)…

The school uniform is thought to have originated in England in the 16th century.

Research in 2017 showed that school uniforms stopped bullying. But there is no conclusive evidence to show they improve academic results.

On average, in the UK, parents spend around £200 (222 Euro) a year on school uniform for one child.

Image credits

Fotó, Pápa, Református Gimnázium. Gróf Esterházy Károly Múzeum – Pápa. CC BY-NC-ND.

Svetoslava Slaveykova in school uniform. NALIS Foundation. Public domain.

Introductory lesson in the Girls’ High School (Više djevojačke škole). Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Graz. CC BY-NC-ND.

Group portrait of teachers and students. Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Graz. CC BY-NC-ND.

Dimitar Drumev and others in school uniform | Дюрнбека, Ф. NALIS Foundation. Public domain.

Marko Molov in school uniform | Дюрибек. NALIS Foundation. Public domain.

Gerona. C. del Carmen. Salon de labor. Fargnoli Iannetta, Valentí. Ajuntament de Girona. CC BY-NC-ND.

The Classroom: 40 young students | Classe Unica: quaranta piccoli scolari | Unknown. Promoter Digital Gallery. CC BY-NC.

First Year at School | John Heywood (Photographer). Victoria and Albert Museum. CC BY.

Kinderkoor verbonden aan het Weerter Vocaal Ensemble o.l.v. Harry Janssen zingt in het stadhuis bij gelegenheid van de overdracht van een nieuw vaandel aan de K.M.S. Gemeentearchief Weert. CC BY-SA.


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