Dress at Victorian Eton and Before

Sir H. C. Maxwell Lite

illustrated initial 'I'n 1700, a boy writing to his father commends the "genteel colour" of a new suit recently sent to him. George Finch, afterwards Earl of Winchilsea, going to Eton for the first time in 1761, took with him a greatcoat and a gold-laced hat. At the end of the century, a little fellow of eight, in the form called 'Lower Greek,' rejoiced in "a blue jacket, with a red collar." In Edward Coleridge's schooldays, 1813 to 1815, the boys generally wore blue cloth coats and trousers and yellow waistcoats. Black was regarded as a sign of mourning. A coloured print of March 1824, representing the School Yard, shows Oppidans attired in coats of various hues and nether garments of various shapes. The Collegers are, however, depicted in 'shorts' [i.e., eighteenth-century breeches] in compliance with a stringent regulation on the subject. If a Colleger, ignorant of the regulation, came to Eton in trousers, the local tailor soon transformed them into 'shorts,' adding strings and gilt buttons at the knees. Even in the yearly football match at the Wall between Collegers and Oppidans, the former used to appear in knee breeches and silk stockings. Gradually the rule was relaxed. Collegers began to wear trousers on holidays, tucking them up before 'absence,' and, by the third decade of the nineteenth century, the black cloth gown was the only distinctive outward mark of a Colleger. [p. 413]

Mr. Green, who was at Eton from 1843 to 1851, says: —

In play dress there was not the liberty or the variety of the present day. The boys generally had no distinctive play dress; only the great ones, e.g. the eleven in cricket, issued forth fully equipped in flannels, &c. The Boats had indeed their regular uniforms; and regular wet-bobs had boating jackets, but they kept them in rooms just out of bounds, and donned and doffed them there. Ordinarily for cricket your younger boy (starting indeed with straw hat) when he came to the ground threw off jacket and waistcoat and there he was. . . . In the football season, however, we dressed completely for football, and Collegers' gowns were a convenient wrap to and from the field. Collegers, be it noted, then always wore their gowns about College; left them, when going beyond bounds, at certain established places on the limits.

Left: Detail from Barnes Pool Bridge, Baldwin's Shore, and Upper Chapel by E. D. Brinton. [Click on thumbnail for larger image]

Right: Group [of Oarsmen] on the Fourth of June. [Click on thumbnail for larger image]

Etonian cricketers of the period gradually discarded their tall hats in favour of shady straw hats; but about sixty years ago the Wykehamists [from Winchester] used to appear at Lord's [Cricket Ground] in tall white beavers, survivals of a time when scarcely any variety in head-gear was permissible. About the same time, an unwritten, though lasting, law came into operation with regard to ordinary costume, that the bigger boys should wear black coats and white ties, and the smaller boys, black jackers and black sailor's knots. [pp. 488-89]

Except when going or returning from cricket, football, or beagling, no Etonian of fifty years ago was ever to be seen in or near the precincts of the College otherwise than in clothes of a prescribed form, a black full tail coat with a white cambric tie, or a black jacket with a black silk tie in a sailor's knot; no covering except a tall silk hat was tolerated" [p. 536]


Lyte, H. C. Maxwell, Sir. A history of Eton College, 1440-1910. 4th ed., rev. London: Macmillan, 1911.

Last modified 23 July 2006