‘Indignities imposed by arbitrary adult rule’? Children’s dress and undress in interwar British progressive schools

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk


Invited lecture for AHRC network on children’s clothing practices and histories.

As independent schools describing themselves as ‘progressive’ or ‘advanced’ flourished in interwar Britain, so too were new ideas emerging among intellectuals about the social and psychological value of clothing. Progressives’ experiments in living and loving, eating and dressing, intersected with the choices they made for educating their children. Radical child-centred establishments integrated health cures and vegetarian diets, for example, alongside new curriculum approaches. They also implemented nude practices of ‘sun and air bathing’ as part of wider physical and psychological endeavours that might provide light therapy, sex education and liberation from shame. This talk will examine attitudes to children’s clothes by interwar progressive educators alongside arguments of contemporaneous health campaigners, fashion writers and nudists, who were often one and the same. In radical educational and health literatures, children were imagined and – controversially – photographed as ‘natural nudists’ or, as curator James Laver put it, ‘the best advocates of the modern movement’.
Period9 Sep 2022
Degree of RecognitionInternational