B Suits and Corduroy Shorts

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Gay Sturt, Dragon Archivist, looks back at the Dragon uniform over the years. From 1910’s Eton collars to today’s kilts and yellow blouses, Gay walks us through a small gallery of images (below) showing the Dragon uniform over the years.

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The clothing for the first 14 boys in 1877 probably had little sense of a uniform. However, in the 1882 School Photo uniform can be seen (Photo 1). Some smaller boys are still wearing their sailor suits, several with distinctive caps. Shorts that go down to the knee along with proper jackets are the main items.

Depicting a typical schoolboy of those times, with shorts, jacket, and a belt is Lionel, the firstborn son of A.L. Smith, Master of Balliol College (Photo 2). The delightful portrait of Lionel shows his knitted stockings go well over his knees. He proudly holds his cricket bat, ready for his first day at school in 1889.

In 1910, the first photo of the School House boys was taken (Photo 3), the first boarders at the Dragon. The photograph, although not planned, ended up marking a historic moment in the Dragon’s uniform. Up to this pictured day, all boarders had to wear Eton collars, and Mrs Clark had managed to get them ready on time for the church service on Sunday mornings. However, on the day of the photograph, Skipper was in charge and he struggled to get all ready in time. After it was taken, he quickly announced that Eton collars would never be worn again.

Skipper was keen that the children felt free to run and play outside. The summer uniform then (Photo 4) comprised bare legs, shorts, and belts, to keep the shirts tidy in 1934. Summer hats were grey, of soft fabric, but had to be worn by all in the heat. The few girls of that time were allowed to wear their own choice but with a blazer (Photo 5). The Barge on which the boys are standing (Photo 6) was built to hold the changing rooms below. Their knitted costumes of 1936 looked good when dry but most were wool and they would stretch badly when coming out of the water! Moving from the water to the ice (Photo 7). Skating on ice rinks was a popular Dragon winter sport. Here the boys are wearing the dungarees that many wore over their uniform from 1939 until well after the war was over. They had been made at home as so many uniforms were damaged by playing in the trees or field in rough play. Many were patched in various places.

This boy (Photo 8) is changing into summer sandals, after playing cricket. The heavier laced shoes were kept for the winter. ‘Changers’ were always a continual difficulty for the staff as items were surreptitiously appropriated from another locker when a child’s locker was already empty. Difficulties with naming items were only solved when Cash’s name began to be available in 1846. This shoe locker was made of wood, whereas modern ‘changers’ now have metal wire cages. Lost individual shoes were very often found at the end of a term resting behind a radiator!

Until the early 1990s, no Dragon wore long trousers. Pictured in the playground (Photo 9), these boys are wearing the jacket and shorts of the most well-known and much-loved corduroy uniform. However, the embarrassment of going to visit your senior school in shorts became a talking point and it was eventually changed. The benefit of the cord was its strength and resilience. The multiple pockets were useful for conkers, marbles, or pens, and they could serve several generations of Dragon. Some major changes were brought about in the 1990s. Firstly more girls began to arrive. Their previous B suit had been a plain grey kilt worn with a blazer with a jumper. Otherwise, it was their own choice. Now the girls all wore tartan kilts for every day with a yellow blouse and a much warmer dark blue jumper. Although the corduroy shorts still were worn for the juniors, the jacket gradually faded as the warmer jumpers became more worn. The seniors could choose to wear long trousers (Photo 10). Today, young Dragons can choose to wear their grey shirt and shorts or long trousers, with a dark blue jumper, or a tartan kilt, yellow blouse and dark blue jumper.

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What was your Dragon uniform like? We’d love to hear your memories of your B Suit-wearing days, email [email protected].