What clothes did people wear?

A group of tailors stood outside a shop in 1912 A group of smartly dressed people standing outside a tailors shop in England

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In the early 1900s, people covered up more than we do today. Women and girls never wore trousers and women kept their legs hidden with long dresses or skirts.

Men and boys often kept their coats, jackets and ties on, even in hot weather. People from every social class usually wore hats when they were outside. Children's clothes were usually miniature versions of grown up's clothes.

Clothes were made from natural materials, such as wool or linen. Materials used for today's clothes, such as nylon and polyester, did not exist. There were no zippers on the market yet and Velcro hadn't been invented so clothes were fastened by buttons, hooks or laces.

Jeans were unknown in the British Isles and the closest things to trainers were canvas slippers with rubber soles known as plimsolls. Shoes and boots were made from leather and were kept on the feet with laces or buttons.

Church clothes

A smartly-dressed couple with their son and daughter posing for a studio portrait Families wore their 'Sunday best' for special occasions and to attend church

People wore 'Sunday best' to church once a week. This would be their smartest, cleanest clothes - if they could afford it, people kept a beautiful dress, or a smart suit, just to wear on Sundays.

In an age before washing machines, clothes had to be washed by hand in a tub of hot, soapy water. Shirts had removable collars so that if the collar was grubby but the shirt was clean(ish), it could be swapped for a clean one.


In the 1900s people used carbolic soap to wash their clothes. This was the same soap that was used to wash people and the kitchen floor!

There were a lot of very poor people in Britain. Their clothes were often ragged and patched. Children would wear 'hand-me-downs' - their brothers' or sisters' old clothes. Second-hand clothes that had once belonged to adults were also cut down to fit them.

In some of the poorest families the children had no shoes at all. They had to wear their plimsolls or go barefoot, even in winter.

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Teachers' notes to accompany the 'What clothes did people wear?' section

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