National Sporting Uniforms and Outdoor Leisure Clothing in Britain between the Wars
Geraldine Biddle-Perry (Central St Martins College of Art & Design)
This paper draws on previous research exploring the links between sporting nationalism and its embodiment in British Olympic ceremonial uniforms from the inception of the modern Olympic movement in 1896 through to the London Games of 1948.
The paper will evidence how the outfitting of British Olympic athletes in the 1930s can be seen as a material expression of a British amateur ideal that functioned as an important ideological tool of British diplomacy. It will argue that the dull respectability of British teams equipped by public subscription operated as a symbolic gesture of a wider, politically motivated strategy of ‘non-intervention’. British blazers and caps and concepts of ‘fair play’ offered an important ideological counter gesture to the spectacle of fascist bodykultur in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin in 1936.
However, the paper seeks to further explore this dynamic by turning attention towards other forms of anti-fascist embodiment in Britain between the wars. It explores how this was expressed in the uniforms and dress of various youth movements and sporting clubs, for example the socialist Woodcraft Folk formed in South London in 1925, the British Workers’ Sports Federation, the Red Wheelers (British Communist Party cycling club), and the wider Ramblers and ‘Right to Roam’ movement. However, the paper focuses particularly on the Woodcraft Folk for whom adopting an anti-militaristic, anti-commercial, anti-fascist, non-uniform ‘costume’ (not uniform), which also fulfilled the spectacular demands of partisanship, was clearly problematic.