Whilst at junior school we boys always wore short trousers and only started wearing long trousers when starting senior school but whether your trousers were short or long there was the problem of keeping them up and you had a choice of either belt or braces, I hated braces although they were probably better than a belt in some ways, particularly as most trousers were designed for them and not a belt as there were no belt loops thus the belt would rise above the trouser top which meant constantly having to make adjustments often resulting in pulling a great deal of the trousers above the belt leaving you looking like a sack tied in the middle.
The problem with braces was that if you were wearing a pullover on top of the braces meant you had to undo them, if you undid the back buttons the braces it would shoot up to the back of your neck when you downed your trousers and a devil of a job to get hold of them when you pulled them up, a similar thing happened if you released the braces from the front because they would disappear up to or even over your shoulder and cause a similar problem of finding them when it came to doing them up, I hated them so I always wore a belt with a snake shaped clasp. A further problem with that garment at that time was that they had button flies and buttons to hold the braces and buttons would constantly come off, loss of either could be the basis of embarrassment.
Shirts were also different in that they didn’t button right down the front as today but only to about half way down you chest thus you had to pull the garment over your head. Many adult shirts were supplied collarless and where the collars were a separate item and attached with studs. The collars were made of stiff material and starched on this type of shirt the cuffs were fixed with cufflinks and not buttons. It was also common to wear an elasticated arm band above your elbow that enabled you to pull your sleeve up and keep the cuffs cleaner. A cotton vest and under pants were essential wear, no man ever went out without a vest which was considered important from a health view point, alternatively men wore ‘long-johns’ all in one vest and pants with the arms covered down to the wrist and legs covered down to the ankles, this garment was the choice and more suitable for labouring and manual workers. Waistcoats were also worn by most men and fob watches were still more common that wrist watches particularly with older men.
Manual tasks such as digging ditches was very labour intensive and it was quite common to see dozens of men employed in such work which would now be carried out with one man and a hydraulic digger, it was very hard work but even in hot weather they would not strip to the waist and still mostly would not strip off even their shirts. Labourers used to ‘york’ their trousers up. ‘Yorking ‘ was were kind of band was tied just below the knee and pulling the leg of the garment up above the banding making them baggy around the knee which I suppose had a dual purpose of firstly raising the bottom of the trouser clear of their boots and out of the dirt and mud and secondly to give more flexibility when kneeling.
Boots were worn more than shoes by the labouring classes, my father never ever owned a pair of shoes, although by the time I went to school very few boys wore them and those that did came in for some ribbing, I remember one such boy who on top of wearing boots wore short trousers with them, this lad who was a bit slow [learning disabled] was tall for his age which in its self made him stand out, he had ginger hair wore a flat cap and dark blue serge jacket and trousers, a collarless shirt and home knitted sleeveless pullover, on top of all that had a squeaky voice and wore round wire framed glasses, I felt very sorry for him and angry with his parents who instead of doing their best to minimise his differences did every thing that made him stand out in such away that he was bound to attract the attention of the bullies, who had a field day. I did my best to befriend him in the hope that others would leave him alone if I was around.
It also seemed that all men over a certain age wore hats mainly trilby’s and flat peak caps with berets becoming more popular as the war progressed. Bowler hats were mainly worn by the business men and office workers and not often seen in a place like Eastleigh but if you worked in a bank they were essential to give you the status. The hat was also used to show good manners with either the peak of a flat cap being touched of the trilby and bowler being raised as a greeting, sign of respect and deference to women. Something I always found odd was that men were expected to take off their hats when entering a Church and women dare not enter one without covering their hair. One thing for certain was that politeness and good manners were the norm in those days and to give up your seat to a woman and open doors for them etc., had nothing to do with equality or regarding women as inferior it was simply just ‘good manners’.
Before the war nearly ever woman wore a hat when ‘going out’ and also gloves and as expected the styles would be controlled by the latest fashion but the working class women tended to favour a hat with a rim that was over decorated with artificial flower arrangements but as the war progressed more and more women, especially the younger ones, either wore head carves, or went bareheaded. Going hatless meant paying more attention to the hair style but to some degree wearing hats dictated the style with any curling of the hair being below the rim of a hat. Most working class women, as would be expected, curled their own hair, rolling their hair using strips of cloth which had to remain to dry naturally as hair dryers were not available except in hair dressers saloons. It was common to see women out and about with a scarf covering their curlers whilst the hair dried.
The hair fashion of the time both before the war and during it was the Permanent Wave which was mostly done at a hairdressers or by a professional hair dresser in your home. I remember Mum having her hair done at home in this fashion on a number of occasions where the hair was fashioned into what to me looked like corrugations across the skull close to the scalp. To achieve this the hairdresser used long curved clamps with meshing teeth, much like a ‘bulldog’ clip, to form the ‘wave’ with the whole of the head covered in the camps which stayed in position whilst the setting lotion dried, the process also required the use of hair tongs which most women had, as we had no electricity in our house the heating of the tongs had to done using the rings of our old gas cooker which was a bit ‘hit and miss’ in terms of how hot the tongs were leading to a great deal of singeing and yellowing of the hair and the smell that went with it.
For men the hair style was very much ‘short back and sides’ with almost all the hair removed up to the top of the ears and to look fashionable the remaining hair was plastered with hair cream, which was mostly ‘Brillcream’ or a less greasy less controlling make called ‘ Brilliantine’. Brillcream had and advertising ditty which went ‘ Brillcream, a little dab will do you, Brillcream you’ll look so debonair, Brillcream a little dab will do you, they’ll love to get their fingers in your hair’. although the reality was that it was probably a sticky mess and left pillows stained. Denis Compton a handsome top cricketer and professional footballer was the companies main role model, he also advertised ‘Players Cigarettes’. How times have changed. Rod, when he had reached his teens, could not afford these hair products and was told that ‘liquid paraffin’ was a good substitute which he started to use and continued to use even though it caused him to suffer from ‘dandruff’ on a massive scale with the result that his black hair was completely flecked with white and mum moaning about the state of his greasy pillows.
Dad used to cut my hair using a pair of hand operated clippers which had a couple of teeth missing which resulted in my hair being caught ever time he pulled the clippers away and it hurt and being profoundly deaf he never heard me yelp and couldn’t understand why I was reduced to tears every time he cut my hair, he had little sympathy and that I was making a ‘fuss over nothing’. Once I had started senior school I saved enough money to get my hair cut at Mr Ecket an old barber who used the front room of his house in Station Road for his business, not only was the experience pain free but also looked better and smelt better as he would finish off the job with a dab of Brillcream.
Although women started to wear slacks during the war and I believe better off women did between the wars, pretty generally most of them wore dresses and skirts and nearly all of them wore hats or scarves on their heads, I can only comment on what they wore underneath from what I saw of my mothers and sisters underwear either on the washing line or being ironed. Come to think of it I can’t remember seeing mums knickers on the line she must have washed and dried her underwear when no one was around as she was very embarrassed about such matters also she did not wish to show that her knickers were patched and repaired as nearly all our clothes were but other women were less discrete so it was common enough to see various styles hanging out to dry, mostly they were directoire knickers with tunnelled elastic at the waist and at the base of the legs which reached almost down to the knees, they were almost always pink in colour as was most of the other items of underwear such as petticoats and corsets.
Young women wore French knickers which were shorter and had lace around the leg holes . Although women’s underwear was of little interest to me, there was a cartoon strip in the Daily Mirror called ‘Jane’ where this attractive girl would regularly end up stripped down to her French Knickers, Bra, suspenders and stockings, the artist always managed to create the affect of silkiness in his illustrations, I must confess that although I cannot say that the cartoon turned me on, it did have some sort of sexual effect on me and a great many men followed the adventures of ‘Jane’ for the same reason. The only reason that I knew about ‘Jane’ was that on occasion our next door neighbours ‘Mirror’ would find its way into our house. ‘Jane’ was always accompanied by another strip cartoon called ‘Belinda’ following the adventures of a younger girl who never lost her clothes and the stories I found more interesting. My father only read the ’Daily Herald’ as a daily newspaper and the ‘People’ on Sundays, both were more serious and left-wing socialist papers and did not have strip cartoons but the ‘Herald’ had a very good political cartoonist called ‘Low’ and his cartoons were very hard hitting and influential.
Girls like boys wore a vest and on top of that what was called a Liberty bodice up to age of about ten or eleven, which was a fleecy garment as far as I can remember, I also think that they wore a petty coat and for school long legged navy blue knickers with tunnelled elastic like adult directoire knickers with the addition of a pocket on the right leg. Boys had to wear gym shorts on top of their under pants and a vest for games etc., but the girls wore only a vest and their navy blue knickers for gym and games. Again like the adult women girls wore either dresses or blouses and skirts but the most common was pink or blue gingham dresses with a round collar and short puffed sleeves with a narrow strip of lace around both during summer months and blouses skirts with woollen jumpers during cooler and cold weather. Sleeveless pullovers, often in multi-coloured wool, very often knitted by the mothers or wife were common for boys and men of all ages, the wool more often than not was unpicked from redundant garments and re-knitted which resulted in the multi coloured horizontally striped appearance. All types of materials would be used and reused and re-fashioned more than once to the point that it was reduced to rags but even then it would be used as cleaning, dish and house clothes and worn down to nothing. All the fibrous materials used back then with the exception of Rayon, I believe, were derived from natural fibres, such as silk [the most expensive and desirable] cotton, wool, and linen.
Everybody, men, women, boys and girls had outerwear such as overcoats, raincoats and mackintoshes and one of the things I hated was that in ‘going out’ we had to carry a ‘raincoat’, even if the sky was cloudless with no likeliness of rain, you would drape the coat over your arm, which got in the way, on top of that it was very likely that on fine days you would forget that you had taken it to school and having put it on a peg in the cloakroom first thing on entering the school, forget to pick it up, much to the annoyance of your mother because with our very changeable weather it was likely to rain the next day. Raincoats were not really effective in heavy rain and in those circumstances you might as well not have one because the rain water would quickly soak right through to your skin and entail changing all of your clothes for dry ones which was not possible if it rained heavily whilst going to school which resulted in sitting in wet clothes for much of the day and a cloak room full of wet rainwear. The only really effective garment against heavy and continuous rain were cycling capes and oil skins made from oil cloth but they were clumsy to wear and even worse than raincoats to carry. Of course there was also umbrellas which was the main protection for women and with the exception of top business men and bankers most men would rather be dead than be seen under one. Wellingtons and Galoshes were also available for really wet weather although I can’t remember seeing anyone wearing Galoshes.