Independent schools describing themselves as ‘progressive’, ‘modern’ or ‘advanced’ flourished in interwar England. At the same time, new ideas were emerging among intellectuals about the social and psychological value (or otherwise) of clothing (and its lack). Progressives’ experiments in living and loving, eating and dressing, intersected with the choices they made for educating their children. Radical utopian child-centred establishments integrated health cures and vegetarian diets, for example, alongside new curriculum approaches that included nude practices of ‘sun and air bathing’. This article examines attitudes to children’s dress and undress by interwar progressive educators alongside arguments of contemporaneous health campaigners, sexologists, fashion writers and nudists, who were often one and the same. In radical educational and health literatures, children were discussed and photographically depicted as ‘natural nudists’ or, as curator and dress historian James Laver put it, ‘the best advocates of the modern movement’. Drawing on primary research in pedagogic literature and nudist publications, as well as histories and theories of fashion, nudism, education, sexology and visual culture, this article argues that utopian interwar English independent education used nudity to demonstrate its most radical agendas and to perform its progressiveness via the bodies of children (un)dressed in an alternative school uniform.
|Publication status||Accepted/In press - 14 Mar 2023|