The 1940s were shaped by the Second World War, and no aspect of American and British cultures escaped its influence. Even the school uniforms of the day reveal the scarce resources and austere attitudes of the times.
The Private School Look
School uniforms have always been more prevalent in private schools than in the public sphere. Private schools in the United States have generally modelled their policies and practices after those of the English prep schools. The required uniforms in 1940s American private schools reflect this very influence. Typical prep-school attire on both sides of the Atlantic included grey slacks or shorts, a white dress shirt, perhaps a blue blazer and a matching cap, both bearing the school crest. A school tie was likely as well.
Shorts and Knee Socks
Both in the lean times and when rationing began to subside, the 1940s saw many boys attending school in tailored shorts and knee socks, along with a white shirt, tie and a blazer or vest. Photos from the period from both public and private schools are filled with bare-kneed boys, some with shorts and others with knickers.
The Impact of War and Rationing
The war made clothing much more difficult to obtain. War-time rationing affected what materials and fabrics were available, and the weakened economy made it much tougher to afford clothes. Boys in particular were expected to wear their clothes for years at a time, even beyond their proper fit. It also became necessary for schools with strict uniform codes to relax their standards in light of the war's effects.
Blue Jeans Make the Scene
It was in the 1940s, particularly after the war, that many boys began wearing blue denim jeans to school. This was generally accepted at the primary school level but much less tolerated once a boy hit the secondary level. Private schools were far less willing to include jeans in their dress codes, but state schools generally allowed them.