RMS Pinafore

The pinafore – or pinbefore as it was often known by past pupils; a dialectal variation – is a sleeveless garment open at the back and worn over other clothing to protect it. According to the dictionary, the first recorded use of the word was in 1782 and the name derives from pin and afore, denoting an apron with a bib which was pinned onto the front of a dress.

A pinafore was part of school dress at the Masonic school from its inception, continued throughout the whole of the following century and still featured in the 1930s.

These three images are captured from contemporaneous portrayals of the school
These three images are captured from contemporaneous portrayals of the school

The first is dated to c.1800, the second c.1845 and the last from 1875.

In Massonica 1912 (the Old Masonic Girls’ Association magazine), an article entitled Memories of the Past draws on the recollections of a former pupil who had left the school in 1838. Referring to in the reign of King William IV (i.e. 1830-1837), she recalled:

“Over their dresses they wore little muslin aprons with bibs, which, funnily enough, when they went into meals were folded in half, rolled up to the waist, and secured by a pin. Evidently they were meant to be an ornament rather than a protection to the dress.”

This is certainly an interesting variation of a pin afore!

Throughout the nineteenth century, the pinafore is in evidence as a part of the uniform although by the beginning of the twentieth century it had changed from being white for everyday wear to being made of brown holland. This was an unbleached linen originally made in the Netherlands, hence its name. It was more like sacking than the quintessential image of a Victorian girl as represented by Tenniel in his depiction of Lewis Carroll’s Alice. The white pinafore was reserved for best dress occasions.

Junior pupils c.1920s
Junior pupils c.1920s

This image shows the pinafore worn by younger pupils. Undated but believed to be from the 1920s, it depicts the pinafore as very much a working garment. When the School moved to its latest site in 1934, the pinafore was still visible.

Uniform 1930s
Uniform 1930s

This image cannot be earlier than 1934 and is probably 1937, and it shows the pinafore still in use. However, by this stage, it was a garment worn in the same sort of way as aprons are worn today – a protection for clothes.

The photographic evidence of the pinafore being worn as late as the 1930s and therefore perceived as part of the uniform is also reinforced by what is referred to in School annals as The Battle of the Pinbefore. When Miss Calway was appointed as Headmistress in 1938, practically her first action was to demand its abolition. She, unlike almost all the other teaching staff, had not been a former pupil of the school and so was not hampered by the notion of Tradition for Tradition’s sake. She probably also detected the resentment of the girls of their having to wear it. The fact that its removal as a uniform item is described as a battle probably indicates the reluctance that the governing body felt for change but Miss Calway got it banished at any rate. A contemporary edition of the school magazine reported:

“So delighted were the girls that this hated garment had been consigned to the bin, that they all made the pochettes in house colours to hold their serviettes for meals and the serviette from then on sufficed to protect the serge dress from the spoils of food.”

But, it was not quite the end of the ‘pinbefore’! In 2009, the School celebrated 75 years on its current site with a 1934 day. Obviously it was too much to ask for everyone to invest, for one day, in genuine 1930s outfits so the compromise was that the modern pupils would be asked to create an apron in the style of the old uniform and wear that over their usual uniform. (It was at this point that it was discovered that many mummies no longer sewed as there were countless cris de coeur over the summer holidays for help in constructing this garment!) The modern pupils had a thoroughly enjoyable day sampling 1934 style lessons and wearing their pinafores just as their predecessors had done since 1788.

Modern pupils reflecting past pupils
Modern pupils reflecting past pupils
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