Even though I was wearing so little I was feeling hot and flustered. I watched in horror as Emily passed a pair of boy’s grey school trousers to the lady… a pair of boy’s short grey school trousers. And from what I could see they were a pair of extremely brief short school trousers (but little did I know then that short trousers for schoolboys came in even shorter sizes… a fact that I would find out all too soon!).
Emily teased me by saying that she’d selected a pair of the longer short school trousers: “The lady said they could order some shorter ones in your size Scottie, but I said we’d take these for now, just to see how you get on with them…”
The lady concurred: “Yes, these school trousers have a 2 ½ inch inside leg, which is our standard minimum size for junior boys. As the young lady…”
(Young lady!? I screamed to myself… Young lady! That’s Emily… I’m three years older than she is!)
“… as the young lady says, we’ll see how you get on with these first and in the meantime I’ll make sure we order some briefer pairs for you… just like the ones the young lady tells me you need for when you go back to school. You’re lucky that your school uniform regulations don’t specify a minimum leg length for boys’ short trousers. It’s not many schools that allow boys to wear such short trousers to school… particularly in the 3rd Form.”
In spite of my protests the lady appeared to think that I actually wanted to wear short trousers to school!
I was too traumatised to say anything. What could possibly be shorter than these very brief short school trousers? I could already see plainly that with my long legs, the 2 ½ inch leg-length would leave my upper thighs almost completely bare. Surely Emily wouldn’t expect me to wear anything shorter still… would she?
To an observer my stunned silence must have seemed as if I was somehow complicit in the arrangements for my new school uniform and that I was cooperating willingly. Nothing could have been further from the truth. But, as in a dream, I let the lady lift each of my legs in turn and draw my first pair of short school trousers in more than two years up my long smooth legs. Up they came, up and over my bottom. The sensation I experienced as I felt as the hem of the short legs of the trousers rub against the very tops of my thighs was indescribable. I felt so exposed, so vulnerable… and so humiliated! To be put back into short school trousers after over two years wearing ‘longs’ was unbelievable. It was so unfair. Boys my age just didn’t wear shorts trousers to school!
But if the thought of wearing short trousers to school was bad enough, the thought of being seen in public wearing them was more than I could handle. I made a complete spectacle of myself by pleading pathetically to Emily not to put me back into short trousers for school. I begged her not to make me wear short trousers so that everyone could see my long bare legs. Even though I was being put back a whole year at school, the year into which I was going, the 3rd Form, was one in which none of the other boys would be wearing short school trousers.
At my school, short trousers were a compulsory part of the school uniform for all First Year boys. Boys were permitted to wear ‘longs’ from their 2nd Year onwards, although there were always a minority who for one reason or another continued to wear short trousers during the 2nd Year, all boys wore long trousers to school by the time they went up the 3rd Year. From this you may deduce correctly that due to the wording of the School Uniform Regulations, technically the wearing of short trousers to school remained an option for boys of all ages.
There was nothing I could do but stand and let the lady finish dressing me in my short trousers. The truth was that I couldn’t think of what else to do other than to beg Emily not to do his to me. The lady tucked in my school shirt, drew her fingers around the waist and hooked the little metal clip together. Then, as she held the waist of my new short trousers with her left hand, she took hold of the zip and pulled it up… and my short trousers were on. The lady smoothed her hands over the brief grey trousers and I felt her fingers run around the leg openings, making sure they were ‘snug’ but not too tight. When she was happy with the fit she stepped back so that Emily could see me properly… and I could see myself in the big mirror. I turned my head away quickly. I couldn’t look in the mirror. I was so ashamed of myself for allowing this to happen.
Emily helpfully passed a pair of long grey school socks to the lady and once more I offered no resistance as she leant down and lifted each foot in turn, drawing up the woollen socks and turning the tops over just below my knees to show my school colours on the turnovers.
The lady even helped me on with my black school shoes before taking me by the arm and gently leading me out into the shop, towards a display case…
“Oh, no… Please… please, don’t make me wear a cap… Only first-formers wear school caps…”
“Nonsense,” the lady chided me, “Your school’s uniform regulations only state that it is compulsory for boys in the First Year to wear school caps. That doesn’t mean that other boys can’t wear caps if they want to…”
“But I don’t want to wear a school cap,” I turned to Emily who stood smiling sweetly next to the lady as she opened the display case and took out a cap in my school colours, “Please Emily, tell the lady that I don’t need a school cap…”
To hear me pleading with Emily, you would have thought that I was speaking to an adult, not a girl of twelve however mature she might have appeared. It was a sign, as if any was needed, that I was quickly becoming accustomed to my ‘place’.
“Of course you must have a school cap, Scottie,” Emily said firmly, “Boys look much smarter wearing school caps… especially when they’ve got a smart new uniform.”
“In fact…” the lady spoke, “… I think you’ll find that at your school, boys who wear short trousers are obliged to wear a cap, whether they’re on school premises or not… yes I’m quite sure that’s correct. Yes I remember I had to consult your school’s uniform regulations the other day after a young boy made a fuss… well he had a temper tantrum actually… right in the middle of the shop… wouldn’t put on his school cap to walk home in… he had just been fitted with some new short trousers and was wearing full school uniform… in the end his mother had to give him a few sharp smacks on the backs of his legs and said she’d spank his bare bottom right there and then if he didn’t do as he was told… that bucked his ideas up! My, the backs of his thighs were bright red, but he let me put on his school cap and held his mum’s hand when they left the shop.”
Was this what I was in for? It wasn’t just a matter of being put into short trousers again; it looked as though I’d have to be careful not to break any school rules.
The lady pushed a cap onto my head and twisted it to fit. Then she walked around me and tutted. Now what, I thought.
“Somebody needs to visit a proper school barber, I think…” the lady said as she reached out and examined my hair that fell below the school cap. “We can’t have long hair letting you down, can we?”
“But my hair’s not long,” I whined, “I haven’t got long hair…
Lot’s of boys at school have got much longer hair
than mine. I haven’t got long hair, have I Emily?”
That was a stupid question to ask. What do you think Emily said?
“Well, now that you mention it, Scottie… I mean I didn’t think your hair was that long, but since you ask, it does stick out from your school cap rather a lot. It makes you look untidy. Perhaps we ought to do as the lady suggests…”
“It’s not just that it makes you look untidy,” the lady continued, “but school rules state that when caps are worn, no hair should be visible below the edge of the cap, aside from a permitted length fringe at the front of the boy’s head.”
“That’s settled then,” Emily said, “We’ll get you a proper haircut to go with your new school uniform…”
“There’s a very good, old-fashioned school barbers just a few doors down from here. I’m sure if you take Scott down there now he won’t have to wait long for his haircut. Just remember to ask for a proper schoolboy haircut… short-back-and-sides. The barber will know what needs to be done.”
It was no use. Things just got worse and worse. Short trousers for school; a school uniform cap; long grey school socks; and now a haircut and not just any haircut, an old-fashioned schoolboy haircut; a short-back-and-sides! I knew exactly what that meant. I’d be a laughing-stock. I’d have run out of the school outfitters that second if I wasn’t dressed in my new short-trousered school uniform. The thought of leaving the shop dressed as I was, terrified me. True, I’d have to leave at some stage, but not before I’d been given back my ‘longs’… at least that’s what I hoped. So I stood there.
As Emily and the lady talked I looked across to a full-length mirror standing close by. It almost brought tears to my eyes. What a complete wimp I looked! Even first formers wore longer short trousers than the ones I was wearing. I was so embarrassed to see my bare thighs, set off as they were between the tops of my long grey school socks with their coloured hoops and the hem of the short trousers. My new school uniform simply drew attention to my bare legs. It was heart-breaking.
Emily and the lady both thought I looked wonderful. I felt nauseous.
The lady said what lovely smooth legs I had and what a shame it had been to cover them up: “He’s got lovely legs. I always think it’s such a shame when boys with nice legs are put into ‘longs’… a lot of boys get their ‘longs’ far too early in any case. Why I’ve known some mothers give in to pestering and let their sons wear ‘longs’ only to regret it later and come back to tell me what a mistake it was.”
She then went on to relate the story of the mother of two boys who gave her older son a pair of long trousers while the younger brother was still in short trousers. There was an age difference of two years between the boys and after a while it became apparent to the mother that her older son, George, was beginning to find it difficult to keep up with his schoolwork and at the same time his role of the ‘older brother’. He was a studious, responsible boy who tried to set an example to his younger brother, Alan. However Alan was much more outgoing and far less academically inclined and for the most part shunned his older brother’s advice.
When Alan was promoted to long trousers, which were compulsory at his secondary school, the boys’ mother saw that George’s difficulties were getting worse. After six months she decided to act and the best way she felt was to put her older boy back into short trousers.
George was then fourteen years old. At his school, there were no rules to stop his mother from putting him back into short trousers, whatever his age. Indeed at George’s school, unlike Alan’s, short trousers were compulsory during the boy’s first school year. It was during George’s second year, and his graduation to ‘longs’, that his mother came to notice her son’s difficulties.
Not surprisingly George kicked up quite a fuss when he was told he’d be put back into short trousers. But mum knew best and in spite of George’s tears and a tantrum, his long trousers were taken out of his wardrobe and put aside for his younger brother to wear when he had grown a bit more. George was given a pair of his old school shorts to put on for his first day back at school in short trousers. Unfortunately George was going through a growth spurt at the time and the short trousers looked very short. The hem of the shorts pressed into the very tops of his schoolboy thighs and George was close to tears when he set off for school with his younger brother Alan dressed in his school ‘longs’ by his side.
For his fifteenth birthday, the shop assistant told Emily, George’s mum bought him a tailored short-trousered suit. It was an indication, if any were needed, that George would be wearing short trousers for some time to come…
I couldn’t bear to listen to any more of the lady assistant’s stories about boys being put back into short trousers. I felt sorry for George and knew exactly how he must have felt. Fancy having a younger brother who was allowed to carry on wearing ‘longs’, that must have made George feel a hundred times worse. I couldn’t help wondering about the short-trousered suit his mum bought for him. I supposed it must have been for ‘best’, so he’d only have worn it on Sundays and family visits to relatives, and so on. That meant mum would have been expecting the suit to last a good long time; a few years maybe. The thought horrified me, as indeed I was sure it did George.
In hindsight, I’m sure it was these stories about schoolboys being put back into short trousers that stiffened Emily’s resolve to keep me in short trousers for as long as she could.
Despite hearing about George I tried to convince myself that I wouldn’t really be sent to school wearing short trousers. Why on earth I thought they were being bought for me if I was not to wear them to school, I couldn’t imagine, so desperate I was to think I wouldn’t suffer the same fate as George. Mum wouldn’t possibly allow Emily to send me to school dressed in short trousers, would she? I’d almost convinced myself that the short trousers I was wearing were some sort of deterrent to be used if I didn’t buck my ideas up when I went back to school.
With these desperate, self-deluding ‘explanations’ for my situation uppermost in my mind, it was a few moments before received another shock, as I realised the helpful lady assistant assumed I wanted to wear my new school uniform to go home in… as if!
Not even bothering to consult me, she simply turned to Emily and asked: “Would you like me to put them in a bag for you?” referring to my school ‘longs’ she was holding, “Or I should pass them on to someone who needs them…? There’s lots of wear left in them. I’m sure there might be a boy who’s moving up to ‘longs’ and would be grateful to have them. There’s nothing wrong with second-hand trousers… although,” she smiled, “it’s more usually short trousers that are no longer required by an older boy that are being handed down to a junior boy…”
“But… but, they’re mine,” I protested, “… they’re my trousers…”
Then it was finally brought home to me that I wouldn’t be needing my long trousers anymore, as Emily announced:
“Don’t be silly Scottie… you’re wearing your new trousers for school…”
My stomach did another back-flip. My mouth opened and closed, but no words came out as Emily told the lady to keep my long trousers and to give them to “… some younger boy who might need them…”
So it was that I approached the door of the School Outfitters and prepared to go out into the street wearing my new school uniform. It was bad enough to be seen wearing full school uniform in public with nearly two weeks still to go before the end of the summer holidays and the start of the new school year, but to be seen wearing short trousers was mortifying.
The minute I stepped through the door I felt a breeze on my bare thighs and knew this was going to be a constant reminder, if any was needed, that I had been demoted to wearing short trousers.
Emily announced breezily that we would call in at the barbers “as the lady suggested” and see if there was time to have my hair cut… there was! It was awful, simply awful. I had to sit still and look at myself in the mirror, bare knees and long grey school socks on display, and watch as the barber ran the electric clippers up the back and sides of my head. I had to sit quietly and let my head be moved this way and that as the barber worked remorselessly with clippers, comb and scissors. Emily handed the barber my new school cap and it was placed on my head. As the lady at the School Outfitters had said, there was not a hair to been seen below the line of the cap at the sides and back of my head. At the front a silly looking little fringe of hair flopped down onto my forehead. I was about to move when I felt a hand on my shoulder and I was pressed back into the chair. The barber had seen a couple of stray hairs peeking out from under my cap, above my ears… that would never do! The scissors were produced and the offending hairs snipped off.
I was left looking like an eleven year old on his first day at ‘big school’.
The barber had a final few words for Emily: “Don’t forget to bring him back for a trim every two weeks and we’ll keep him looking nice and smart for school…” She did!
When we arrived home mum was thrilled to see me dressed in short trousers once more, telling me how she’d forgotten how smart I looked, “… and with a nice haircut too!” Without a moment’s hesitation mum added I should wear my new school uniform to church on Sunday and said that she couldn’t wait to show my Aunt Violet just how smart I looked.
Was I to be paraded in front of her friends at one of her coffee mornings too? Was I to be taken on visits to her friends to be presented for everyone to admire my new, brief school uniform? Who else would I be displayed in front of? I neither knew nor cared; all I wanted to do was to run upstairs and take off the horrible, horrible school uniform.
Emily stood next to me and basked in mum’s effulgent praise. I wasn’t to be allowed to go to my bedroom just yet. I had to stand with my bare thighs on show while Emily smiled proudly and explained how helpful the lady had been at the School Outfitters.
It was obvious that mum was very impressed with the result of my transformation back into a short-trousered schoolboy ready to join the younger boys of the 3rd Form. But even she was taken aback when Emily told her she’d ordered some even shorter short trousers for me to wear. To be truly effective, Emily explained, short trousers should be seen to be as short as possible. Mum nodded, but I didn’t really understand. I was too concerned with the short trousers I was already wearing. I felt round the backs of my legs as I stood facing mum and Emily. With my fingertips I felt the hem of the grey school shorts. As I moved my fingers upwards, I realised with horror the lower curves of my bottom were less than an inch inside my short trousers! I knew I’d have to be very, very careful if I had to bend forwards to straighten my long socks, or tie my shoe-laces. If I didn’t take care my short trousers would ride right up!