School PE Kit: England 1947-1960June 17 2009 at 5:36 AM
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Response to PE kit: shirtless, barefoot and no underwear
Primary School: age 5 - 10
There was no special kit (this was not many years after WW2 when clothing was rationed) and we generally did PE in whatever we had on at the time. This was generally cotton (summer) or woollen (winter) vest (singlet for non-UK English speakers) and fly-front underpants, topped with grey flannel shorts and grey shirt, with a woollen jumper in cold weather. I remember one Summer afternooon, just before I left primary school, the PE master made us (boys at least, I can't remember if we did PE mixed or not) strip to the waist for PE in the sun in the playground. I remember confiding in this episode with my younger sister, but for some reason I was reluctant to tell my parents, probably because the prospect of kids going about without vests on was rather revolutionary in most households at that time.
Secondary School 1: age 11 - 16
Specified PE kit was white shorts and PE vest; on economy grounds, those of us who regularly wore underwear vests, i.e. initially virtually all of us, got into the habit of substituting our normal everyday vest for the latter item. After I had been at this school for a couple of years, the PE staff decided that it would be healthier for us to do PE topless and took a vote among us on the matter. Not surprisingly, toplessness got a 100% vote. With this garb, "Shirts and Skins" was obviously out, so we had coloured sashes to distinguish teams when necessary. Although we were expected to wear vests between the changing room and the gym, this rule was honoured more in the breach than the observance and we soon got into the habit of "forgetting" to put our vests back on under our shirts after PE. As we had PE every day of the week, generally in the mornings, we ended up minus our vests for much of the school week and soon most of us didn't bother coming to school in a vest at all, much to the concern of most of our parents, who felt that all children should wear vests all the year round, regardless of climate. There was no prohibition on the wearing of underwear, although for the first couple of years, most of us freeballed. At one point, probably when we were 12 or 13 and one lad got accidentally kicked in the "privates", the PE master advised us that we should think about wearing some form of support, and mentioned a thing called a "jock-strap". I don't think any of us had ever heard of this item of clothing, and i don't think any of us took the trouble to obtain one, but most of us took the hint, and from then on we tended to keep our underpants on for PE.
Secondary School 2: age 16 - 18
Specified PE kit was rather more conservative, white T-shirt and black rugby shorts, and no exceptions. Despite a persistent campaign by myself and a few others who arrived from schools where topless PE was customary, full kit was the inflexible rule, except for the beginning and end of term weigh-in, when for some reason we would strip down to our shorts. Since the shorts weighed rather more than the T-shirts, the logic behind this still escapes me. "Shirts and Skins" was out, sashes distinguished teams. There were no underwear rules, or even recommendations, but for comfort and safety we generally all wore some form of support, principally swimming trunks (Speedo type) or, increasingly, jock-straps, which we preferred once we had tried them out. This was where I got my first jock-straps, which I still find the ideal mimimal male undergarment, and which I generally regularly wear, particularly at week-ends.