Clitheroe Royal Grammar School
Item #: 1602
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, November 1959
Although our official PE kit was a red school vest, shorts, trainers, lads from 10 upwards were still being stripped to the waist to exercise. Skins vs vests or skins vs skins were common outside on the field, but in the gym all lads were expected to strip down. I left school in 1994.
Sam's comments about his kit of shorts and plimsolls in the 1980s is more recent than many posters accounts but I was another in the same situation at the same time. I have no idea how common this was by then though but is suspect I was less so.
Andy: The first secondary school that I attended changed from vests and shorts to shorts only when I was about 13. I can't remember anyone, in my class at least, objecting to the change, in fact I think we all enjoyed the feeling of freedom that exercising topless brought, I know I certainly did. An unintended consequence, given that this was back in the era when most kids were expected to wear vests under our shirts, jumpers etc., was that within a couple of weeks of topless PE starting, I and most of my mates had stopped wearing vests altogether. Mum was not impressed with this development, but eventually accepted it.
Interesting comment about a school that changed it PE/xc kit to shorts only.
I wonder if anyone else experienced this ? If so, what was your classmates reaction ?
Andy - that was the same for me - we had no choice at my grammar school but to run barefoot and barechested. I don't remember any injuries from running barefoot and we accepted our skimpy kit without any problems.
However, a friend of mine from primary school ended up at the local secondary modern school where they had a choice of the kit they wore for cross country. Whilst it was clear that bare feet and tops were preferred they could wear plimsolls or tee shirts if they wanted. Their route was similar to ours and included the same muddy stream. In September, when they began at the school, most boys started running shirtless but quite a few wore plimsolls. By the middle of winter about half were wearing shirts but very few were wearing anything on their feet. This was because plimsolls got stuck in the mud too easily and also required cleaning and drying later. A little discomfort underfoot was preferable to all that bother for my friend and most of his classmates. From the following year onwards the boys were all told ro run shirtless and barefoot just like us.
Ross - yes, I suppose it was a tough course though back in the 60s we tended to just get on with it. The sections of pavement were easy and the longer section on the way back was a relief after the stones embedded in the tracks. Wearing plimsolls would have been the only other option but they would not have stayed on our feet in the stream as the mud there could be quite thick and deep.
We ran barefoot, as I’ve described previously.
Our course was around 4 miles, country tracks, woods and fields. Some roads around the school. There was a stream to be crossed in the woods.
One track was mostly gravel, which hurt soft feet, as some boys had. Minor cuts were usual.
The point here is that we didn’t have the option of wearing plimsolls, we were just told to strip to shorts, and that included bare feet. The school always did xc that way, over the years ever boy at the school ran like this, and therefore we did !
Arguing equalled the cane.
Bernard, certainly sounds like a tough course with no soft areas to rest your bare feet. No wonder you lads had to adjust and condition your feet. Least we had a field we ran across and a few grass verges next to the paths they helped us give our feet a rest period but we all got used to the stones and gravel
Ross - we ran up a track with gravel and stones across the school grounds then along the pavement and over a road. We then ran along various tracks with more stones and mud. There was a small stream which was little more than mud most of the year and then back to the school grounds via another road. Probably between 2.5 and 3 miles and we only ran round once - there wasn't time for a second lap unfortunately.
Bernard, you say some took a little while to get used to running xc barefoot. Was your course tough? What surfaces did you run over? For me our xc was over tarmac, gravel, stones, dirt trail, mud, water crossing and grass. It was a 1.5 mile loop and we ran 2 to 3 laps depending on your year group and sometimes an extra for punishment if the pe teacher didn't think you put enough effort in!
Jordan, we never played team sports in shirts and skins. We were all shirtless and barefoot with a coloured thin plastic sash around our torso.
Hi Jordan, To be fair most didn't really see being barechested for laps of the field as any great hardship. The school saw it as better than the belt and the vast majority of the teachers preferred giving laps out. I have to admit we didn't see barechested PE/Games as harsh. We knew before we started both middle and high school what awaited us. There's no doubt that being ordered to strip off could be seen as discipline but that wasn't how we saw it. We were made to sweat during each indoor PE/Games lesson and we quickly got used to having sweat running freely down your bare back or chest so it made much more sense for us to exercise that way. The girls definitely didn't object to us being stripped off for any reason and there was a bit of gentle, and good natured teasing about our physiques especially the first week back after the summer holidays.
Jordan - in theory our white shorts were for indoor gym, outdoor games in the summer and cross country whilst our black shorts were for winter team games but one team was allowed to wear the white shorts for football with the other team in black. Some years previously football shirts were worn and presumably boys played shirts and skins but things had got better and fairer by the time I started at the school.
Any punishments for misdemeanours in p.e. were not p.e. related. The school wanted boys to enjoy p.e. rather than link exercise to punishment. This was, perhaps, a little advanced for the 60s but it worked as I'm sure most of us did enjoy p.e. partly, in my case at least, because of the limited kit rather than in spite of it.
There were very few fat kids in those days, certainly none in my class, so there seemed to be little reason for any-one to be ashamed of their bodies. I wasn't aware of any-one having a problem with not wearing a shirt - we were all treated the same so no-one had any reason to feel hard done by. Some took a little while to get used to running cross country barefoot but it made perfect sense and we all just got on with it.
Thanks everyone who replied to my question, some interesting responses! It seems like a general thumbs down for shirts and skins and the arguments in favour of making it the same kit for everyone make good sense. Funnily enough we did have white shorts for PE but black shorts for Games, so I suppose they could have tried that system at my school.
I'm intrigued by a couple of things. Bernard referred to 'making' boys wear tops when they presumably preferred not to.. I always saw it the other way round, more a case of making boys take their tops off! But I take John's point about a kind of 'tough love' from the PE teachers, certainly many of us felt nervous about being skins. Maybe being made to go bare chested forced us to confront our hang-ups about our bodies and ultimately become more confident young men.
At the same time, it sounds as if there was a strong element of discipline involved in the no-top policy, especially from David's description of punishment runs and exercises. To be honest this sounds pretty harsh to me! It's great that you clearly found it beneficial, but I can't help thinking there must have been other boys reduced to tears by this kind of treatment, especially in front of a mixed audience.
Jordan - like others I wore nothing but a pair of shorts for all p.e. inside and outside for all my time at secondary school and really enjoyed it. Outside we distinguished teams by wearing black or white shorts - this seemed fairer than making one team wear tops which few of us would have wanted.
I attended mixed middle and then mixed high school and both had a barechested policy for PE whatever the weather. Like a lot of posters we all ended an indoor gym session openly sweating and girls regularly saw lads with sweat on their chests/backs. Though it took me a couple of winters to get used to being outside on a freezing cold or rainy day stripped only to shorts by the time I turned 11 I started to see the benefits of being topless outside. In addition to PE/Games classes we were given punishment runs, laps of the field, to do. The offender was taken from a class, stripped and did laps barechested. Once these were completed it was regular to be given a number of press ups and sit ups to do with a PE teacher standing nearby to ensure you did them correctly,if you didn't you had to start all over again. The way the school was laid out the girls could easily see boys on the yard or field exercising barechested. I benefitted by becoming more confident showing my upper body off and by being pushed to sweat freely in the gym by PE teachers who would deliver a hard and tough lesson but made it enjoyable.
Having been to a school that did pe and xc stripped to only shorts, I would rather have this than some kind of half way like shirts v skins.
One rule for the whole school all of the time is better, as everyone knows where they are, what kit to bring, and for parents not to buy vests, trainers etc.
It was common to see boys out running from the school, so if you lived in the area, you knew the required kit, or lack of kit ! One of my parents friends who had a son a year away from the school asked about xc kit. When I said we just stripped down to shorts even in winter, he was pleased as he felt his lad needed that kind of discipline. Not sure his son felt the same on a freezing morning stood outside bare chested.
We were made to strip to the waist for indoor PE with no exceptions. Sometimes we’d all get changed into full football kit and head outdoors only to be told by the PE teacher “shirts off lads”, we were then given different coloured bibs to wear in order to distinguish teams. The PE teachers knew that some lads disliked being a ‘skin’ and thought that it was character forming and good discipline to make all lads play as a ‘skin’. Andrew C’s school had a really sensible rule to make lads wear either white or black shorts to distinguish teams. Everyone was worked hard and sweated a lot so there was no point in wearing a shirt, all lads being skins for indoor and outdoor PE is fair and a healthy and comfortable way to exercise.
Jordan, ours was the same as Robs. We knew before we started middle school at 9yr old the expectation was we would strip to the waist both indoors and outdoors regardless of the conditions or time of year. To identify teams we wore different colour shorts black or white depending on your surname began with an even or odd number. It was odd at first being stripped off outside but soon got used to it. We also sweated up inside and it and always ended the lessons with sweat running down backs and chests so it made sense not to have a vest on.
Jordan, it was mandatory for everyone at our boys school to be bare chested wearing just shorts for PE in the gym and outside for athletics and cross country running. I was not aware that anyone felt self conscious about this and there was no reason why anyone needed to wear a top. In the gym we were worked hard and glad that we wore nothing more than shorts when we were running with sweat and when we were outside we enjoyed the freedom and ability to feel the fresh air on our bodies. In the changing room afterwards we were naked in the mandatory communal showers. No problem.
Question for everyone who attended a school where it was mandatory for boys to do PE bare chested (and enjoyed it): what are your feelings about the practice of shirts and skins as we had for PE at my school? Do you feel it's a good thing on balance because every boy has to experience being 'skins' at some stage? Or is it counter productive because some boys may feel they've been singled out, having to dress differently from others?
Hi, I am glad you enjoyed the barefoot experience at school Ross.Interesting about New Zealand!
Frank, that's true or athletes foot, plus being barefoot helps with foot development and strong ankles. If we had to run in mud we didn't have to then carry around wet dirty plimsols all day only to have to clean them once at home, we just showered and away went the mud from our feet. Plus been given the chance to shed our school shoes and socks for an hour or three was really great! Let my feet breathe as my dad would say.
I believe barefoot PE in or out and cross country is still quite the norm in new Zealand such a shame it isn't anymore in uk.
One advantage of barefoot,P.E.and cross country was very few foot infections.Veruka etc
I’m glad that you enjoyed barechested indoor PE and being worked hard, sorry to hear that you didn’t like exercising shirtless outdoors in winter. It was always great doing athletics and other sports shirtless in summer though. I found that I stayed warmer in winter doing cross country in the rain barechested than I would have done wearing a rain soaked top.
Lads need discipline and the shirtless PE rule definitely helped to keep us under control.
Andy / Bernard getting any foot injury never once crossed my mind when outside doing the xc barefoot the worst thing that happened was we all had muddy feet at the end of the run but this was easily fixed in the showers and so much better than carrying around muddy wet plimsols all day long.
Hi Toby S, during normal PE we did a lot of running and general fitness stuff - also things like small sided football and basketball in the gym. Outdoors we did cross country, Games lessons were separate. To answer your other question - I didn't mind going barechested in the gym after the initial shock had worn off. Outdoors though - judging by other posts there won't be many who agree! - I preferred to keep my vest on. Not that I was given the option, of course!
Hi Sam, I can see why you were surprised. What kind of activities did you do during your lessons and did you prefer doing PE barechests or with a vest on?
Andy - I'm glad you didn't mind bare feet for cross country - I don't think many boys did. Some think there would be a risk of injury but was never aware of any damaged feet and it was so much easier to clean muddy feet than muddy plimsolls.
Hi Toby S, I agree with your comment about how being barechested for PE helped to create better discipline. I remember noticing (and feeling) the contrast among my class when this happened under a PE teacher rather like the ones you described. Until then we'd done our PE lessons in a vest, shorts and plimsolls/trainers and it was all fairly easy going, a lot of boys just messing around and no one really seemed to mind if you weren't putting in much effort. It all changed at the start of my third year (when I was 13) when the new guy arrived and immediately made us all take our vests off and line up in the gym while he outlined the standards he demanded of us.
I just remember feeling shell shocked at first and part of that came from the feeling of being more exposed, I think. Most of us were taken aback when he made it clear our PE kit from then on would be shorts and footwear only unless he said otherwise. But there's no doubt we were better behaved and worked harder in PE with him in charge and I think being made to do lessons barechested was a key part of that.
This was 1980s by the way, so maybe more recent than most other contributors.