Leeds nostalgia: M&S Archive goes ‘old school’ to look back at uniforms

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With the new school year approaching, the M&S Company Archive, which is based at the University of Leeds, has taken a step back in time to look at school clothing throughout the decades, looking at innovations that have made M&S uniforms as smart and durable as they are today.

1970s and 1980s

The 70s and 80s saw innovations in school wear, including the introduction of items available all year round in the late 80s to meet demand. New easy care school wear ranges also launched, designed to allow maximum washability and minimum ironing.

New easy care school wear ranges, 1989-1990s

Comfort and durability were the key aims for the 1990s school wear range, using high quality fabrics that made sure that uniforms did not lose the smart first-day-of-term look. Items were made machine washable and fabric patches and deeper hems were introduced on trousers to make them easier to let down. In the 90s, before any garments went into production, selectors and technologists conducted numerous fitting sessions and trials with school children to ensure they were comfortable.

New range of school wear, 1990-2000s

In the first decade of the 21st century, school uniforms were created in up-to-date styling and were also given hidden extras, such as mobile phone pockets in teenage uniforms. In 2002, independent research found eight out of 10 people preferred a certain brand of uniform and said it looked newer for longer after washing.

Stainaway uniform, 2007

In 2007, innovative non-iron shirts were improved with the introduction of a high performance stain-repellent finish called Stainaway. There was also a move towards more environmentally friendly products in the 2000s and products including 100 per cent Fairtrade cotton blouses and uniforms made of recycled plastic bottles were launched in 2007. The use of recycled materials in M&S clothing helped to reduce the company’s carbon footprint and reduce the amount of packaging.

Eco uniforms 2009-2016

These featured recycled polyester technology. Today, M&S school uniforms have had a contemporary update. Items like the girls’ Pure Cotton Gingham Playsuit and the boys’ Crease Resistant Stain Resistance Cargo Shorts are modern takes on classic uniform styles and characteristics. Innovations including Triple Action Stormwear, which repels water, oil and mud, have been introduced to make school wear even more durable and long lasting.

M&S continues to innovate, this year introducing an autism friendly range ‘Easy Dressing’ in partnership with the National Autistic Society designed to make it easier for children to dress themselves and feel comfortable all day. The range includes pull up trousers up to age 16 so children of all ages do not need to worry about fiddly zips and buttons, shirts with a hidden panel of soft Velcro instead of Girls’ Pure Cotton Gingham Playsuit.

Do you have memories about your school uniform? Did you have to wear one at all? If you did, was it strictly enforced and what the punishment for not following the rules? Or perhaps you were a uniform rebel and modified your clothes? Let us know.

For more information about the archive, visit: www.marksintime.marksandspencer.com