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Thursday, 20 April 2017

"When I first put this uniform on,,,,,,,,,," - Sepia Saturday

This week's Sepia Saturday prompt shows a group of schoolgirls in white blouses, ties and longish  skirts, c.1910'-20s   

I have an ideal match that I have  shown before, but I can't resist showing again!

The girl second left with the long plait is my great aunt Jenny Danson (1897-1986)  of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.  She worked in the local post office and I was told that this was a group of her work colleagues all dressed in the  same skirts and blouses   Jenny had written their names on the reverse -  Gerty Roskell, Jenny Danson, Annie Jolly, Margaret Porter, Madge O' Rourke, and Edith Jackson.   

A family story related how whilst on duty a War Office telegram came through  for Jenny's  widowed mother Maria Danson.  Fearing the worst news, Jenny was allowed to run home with it,  to discover that brother Frank had been wounded and was in hospital in Malta, but recovering  - Jenny  had 8 brothers, five of whom were serving in the army in the First World War.  


The prompt photograph made me look back at my own life in Uniform and immediately came to mind the lines of the song in  Gilbert and Sullivan's opera "Patience":                                            
 "When I first put this uniform on
                                             I said as a looked in the glass.... "

There was not a strict uniform at my primary school, but I was desperate to wear a gymslip.  My mother did not like them, but eventually I got one handed down from my cousin Jose,  and wore  the school tie and the red girdle round my waist, feeling I had stepped out of one of the school stories I loved to read.

When I started secondary school, in Blackpool,  the uniform had just had its first major change for years.   For the first two years, though,  we wore short pleated navy "Windsor Woolie" skirts,  with braces - made by a local firm, and still very "little girlish".    I certainly cannot see any self-respecting  12 year old wearing such a style  today!  Unlike the pudding basin hats  or berets of other schools in the town,  we felt very smart and modern  in a  pillbox style hat  - navy with a narrow sky blue band  round it. a fringe at the side and a metal school badge.   I was so proud of that hat!  My mother said she got seasick sewing the school summer dress - it was sky blue again,  highly patterned with with lots of white sea motifs and waves.   We moved across country and my next school uniform seemed extremely dowdy in comparison  - long navy pleated skirts, and a  navy beret which sat like a flat pancake on my head and you were expected to wear at all times to and from school.  Unfortunately  I have no photograph of myself in these school uniforms.

Shop jobs during my university holidays meant wearing a shapeless, dowdy, usually grey  overall, circa 1950s style.  It was always far too long for me, so the priority was to get it home after my first day and shorten  the hem - after all this was the 1960's and the era of the miniskirt!

Onto my work in tourist information centres in the Scottish Borders - it was the 1980's when kilts were then a fashion statement, so for the first time at work  I wore an attractive  uniform -  a kilt in the mid blue/green of the Douglas tartan.   However kilts became too expensive as a uniform item, and we later had pencil skirts - but still in tartan.  Men on the staff were just given a tartan tie, so the women had the better deal. 

Uniform  fashions have changed so much  and the trend now is very casual - purple polo shirts and grey fleeces - with no sign of tartan.  Whoever chose grey must have been colour blind  - to think  that it provides a good welcoming first impression to visitors,  when so much of Scotland is often sitting  under grey skies!   I am glad I worked  in earlier times in a uniform that made me feel smart and professional.  

Onto wearing a uniform for leisure  - my first being as a Brownie  and wearing the brown tunic dress,  and a yellow folded tie,  which very practically could become a bandage or sling  - I was never called upon to use it in that way.   In the Guides,  I  graduated to a blue blouse worn with my navy school skirt,  and  red folded tie, as I was in the Scarlet Pimpernel Patrol. 

Being  a junior dancer in Staining Gala - an annual community event in my village - gave the pleasure of a different "uniform"  each year .  

Here we gathered in the church hall for a photograph, prior to our outdoor performance.   I am the little one  fifth back on the left.  We were obviously very well trained, all  standing the same way - heels together, toes turned out,  and skirts held out at the same angle.   Our dresses were apple greens satin,  with silver cardboard headdresses and our shepherd crooks garlanded with crepe paper flowers. For me, the  worst aspect was the torture the night before of having my hair put into rags, in the hope I would end up with ringlets the next day.  

Looking back, this was c.1952,  not long after the war, with people still having to put up with rationing, but the gala days were a great tribute to community efforts, and my mother, as the local dressmaker, was heavily involved in making the costumes.   I was delighted to wear this dress as my uniform for the day,  and  which was  later destined to be my party dress for the year. 

Back to the white blouses and dark skirts of the prompt photograph:   Below is  the alto section of the choir I sang in for nearly 40 years - the Roxburgh Singers -  I am on the back row - second left.  This photograph was taken before  our performance of Handel's  "The Messiah",  c.1978 - the first time it had been performed in my small town for a very long time, so quite a momentous occasion.

Two decades later, (progress is slow in the Borders!),   it  was decided that our long black skirts, white blouses of our own style and varying shades of whiteness   were not smart enough and we needed to up our game.  The result was  outfit of  still the black skirt,  black skirt,  and a black camisol top worn  with an over blouse of  jade green - I was happy as I jade green was one of my favourite colours. But what happened?  No sooner had we all bought these, then  amateur choirs starting adopting the more casual look of black trousers for women and self-coloured long sleeve blouses.    But we kept our formal look, which is still worn today! 

Sepia Saturday gives an opportunity for genealogy bloggers 
       to share their family history through photographs

 Click HERE to read other bloggers'  "take"  on this week's prompt below.


  1. How cute they all look. Good post!

  2. Nice photo of your Aunt Jenny & the other post office gals in their white blouses and long dark skirts. Good match to the prompt. Also liked the photo of you in the blue tartan skirt and dark blue blazer. Very smart, indeed. I owned several Pendleton pleated wool skirts in look-like tartan patterns and matching sweaters when I was working in the '60s and still have a couple. Not sure they'll ever fit me again, but oh well. :)

  3. You get an A+ and a gold star for this wonderful and fun look at uniforms. I must say, I am just carried away reading terms like "gymslip," "pudding basin," "braces" (here that's either for your legs or teeth!).

  4. I'm with Wendy...sometimes the language is baffling to those of us who live in the US; but I understand "braces." Gymslip is a new one on me! But I, too, had to wear a school uniform (gray skirt, white blouse, forest green blazer)...it certainly leveled the playing field, didn't it?

  5. Once again I learn more about the trends in fashion from your posts. Uniforms or quasi-uniform styles are good ways to date unmarked photos. I've actually started a sub-genre in my German postcards of ladies musical ensembles who are arranged in a close line like the photo of your great aunt Jenny. Surprisingly quite a number of these pre-WW1 German ladies bands are dressed in a tartan plaid.

  6. Like the rest of the Americans I learned new words from your excellent post. You have enjoyed and endured wearing many of them with good cheer. Long ago was put in charge of a project designing a uniform for a chain of 1000 restaurants. That's when I learned how difficult it is to find something that will fit every possible kind of figure. I know nothing about fashion...only about doing research and getting projects completed which is why I was assigned the job. In the end, everyone hated me. A very entertaining post.

  7. Sue I just love that first photo of you. You look so delighted. It's fantastic. I haven't contributed to Sepia Saturday yet this week...feeling a bit swamped with the AtoZChallenge but I'll get there.

  8. Uniformly good post Sue! You reminded me of the agony of wearing rags on your hair overnight; we later progressed to plastic rollers, which left us with dents in our head and a very tender scalp! Poor Jennie though, with five brothers fighting in WW1; my Gran had three and lost them all sadly.

  9. Thank you all for your kind comments. To Wendy and Deb, perhaos I should include a glossary of the purely English terms. Braces to us were straps on girls' skirts - now very out of fashion, but still used with men's trousers. Gymslips were a standard school uniform c.1920s-1950's - shapeless pinafore dresses (no darts or waistline), with broad pleats from the shoulders and neckline, and tied around the waist with a girdle - usually a coloured woollen long belt. I suppose the theory was that it would suit growing girls! Helen, I would not envy you having to project manage choosing a new work uniform, with so many conflicting views.

  10. Hello Sue, I really miss Sepia Saturday but all my time is taken up with my ‘other’ blog at the moment. I long to get back to some family research but while that blog is going well I’m going to stick with it. I just wanted to thank you for giving me so much information regarding the ‘perfect little works of art’ I shared this week. I’ve added the information about York Minster to the blog post with a link back to your blog. I’m sure you are right about the others as well, but I should just look at some photos before I share the information. I’ve had a hectic week this week but will get to it as soon as I can.
    I really enjoyed this Sepia Saturday post, there are so many lovely memories in your words and photographs. Thanks again, Barbara
    I’ve just seen all the familiar faces among the comments and miss Sepia Saturday even more.

  11. A fun story with so many wonderful photos across the years. I was amused that you wanted to wear a uniform because oupt evoked stories from books. You've certainly done some fascinating things.

  12. After reading the other comments I was even more amused by some bewilderment over terminology :)


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