The Eton dress code is one of the most important traditions at the Eton College, frequently referred to as Eton, an English boys’ boarding school founded in 1440 by King Henry VI. The College has over 1,300 pupils, aged 13 to 18 years, and is one of four remaining single-sex boys’ public schools in the UK (the other three are being Harrow, Radley, and Winchester) to maintain this tradition.
Since its foundation, Eton tutored many British prime ministers, 19 to be exact, and is one of the oldest schools in the UK. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that Eton has a restrict dress code. The original College uniform was actually colorful with blue jackets and red waistcoats. The black jackets and large stiff collars were introduced in respect of George III death, becoming the official school uniform in early 19th Century.
The Contemporary Eton Dress Code
The standard uniform is known as ‘School Dress’ and it consists of an entirely black tail suit with tailcoat, waistcoat (always worn with the last button undone, a style linked to Edward VIII), white collars, and black pin striped trousers.
The school also mentioned in its clothing list a pair of black walking shoes (well polished and of traditional design), white tunic shirts, front and back collar studs, white disposable ties, and a black v-necked pullover. The list continues with optional items, such as a black overcoat (long enough to cover the tail suit), gloves, navy or black scarf, and an umbrella.
The collar and tie worn at Eton need a little more explaining, the broad collar named after the school is no longer used. Instead, Arundel collars are used, a small gentleman’s collar attached with studs at front and back. Arundel collars are starched and very stiff, and most boys will own about five during their time in the College regularly washing and starching them.
The tie worn with the collar is not actually a tie, but a disposable strip of linen about half an inch wide by ten, with a hole in the middle. The garment evolved from a kind of bow tie, and now it is simply placed over the stud and folded inside the shirt in a unique way. First-years spend hours learning the trade.
Not wearing the full uniform is a ‘dress offense’ so students have to wear the complete outfit to attend classes. Change of gears is permitted on a few occasions, such attending or participating in games and events, and yes, they do have a clothing list for this as well.
The list includes a rain/tracksuit jacket, tracksuit bottom, reversible game shirts, outdoor game shorts, indoor game shorts, sports polo shirts, outdoor game socks, and indoors game socks. The list goes on and on, also referring to other types of clothes the boys are allowed to wear.
It is interesting to note that not only students have to wear a uniform; Eton College has different dress codes for masters, staff, and boys with authority, such as prefects.
Eton Dress Code for Senior Boys and Masters
There are a number of variations of school dress, which distinguish boys in positions of authority (Pop, Sixth Form Select, and House Captains) from masters or teachers (Beaks) and other staff members (Office Holders).
- Eton Society, commonly known as Pop (the oldest self-electing society at the College), are entitled to wear black and white sponge-bag trousers, wing collar with a white bow tie (or stick-ups), and waistcoat of their choosing with silk piping.
- Sixth Form Select, an academic group of elite boys, are allowed to wear stick-ups and a black waistcoat with silver buttons.
- House Captains, a senior prefect in one of the many buildings at Eton, wear a gray waistcoat (often double-breasted) as well as stick-ups.
- Beaks (masters or teachers) wear a white bow tie, black jacket, and striped trousers.
- Office Holders, internal staff, wear stick-ups and black jackets.
Other Curious Facts About Eton College Uniforms
Eton’s tradition regarding their restrict and fancy dress code for student and staff started many years ago, so as expected, there are plenty of interesting facts about their uniforms, here are some of the most interesting of them:
- A few years back there was a vote to see whether ‘School Dress’ should be abolished, and the boys decided to retain it as is surprisingly comfortable and a tribute to proper tailoring.
- Eton has four independent tailors that solely supply the 1,300 boys and several hundred Beaks.
- Pranks do happen in Eton, senior students undo ties of first-years in between classes as they know it is tricky to refasten the tie correctly, in particular without the aid of a mirror.
- Short jackets wore in early 19th Century came to be called Eton Suits and created a trend for boy suits, so other schools adopted it as part of their own uniform.
- Eton College used to have two different uniforms; junior students wore a stiff white collar with short black jackets while senior students wore tail suits.
- Boys recognize when a master walk by them outdoors by raising a finger, and masters reply the gesture. This tradition is said to originate from when boys wore top hats and would raise them on meeting a master.
- Casual clothes, for wear around Eton on informal occasions, are referred to as ‘Informal Change’.
- Eton used to have a school uniform for boys under the height of 5’4″ (1.63 m); the College dropped this tradition in the 16th Century. The College also abandoned the use of top hats about twenty years earlier.
Traditions in Eton go way back, and the College even has its own Glossary explaining all the different terms used for masters, prefects, staff members, houses, games, and so forth. With more than 576 years of history, Eton is bound to forever be the most influential school in the history of dressing codes.