Navy nylon knickers: a bloomin’ delight of PE in the 1980s

Vacancy: one games teacher from the 80s. Skills required: (a seeming) lack of compassion. You must be able to show little/no emotion as:

  • children enter the communal showers, under your watchful eye, collecting their towels on the exit
  • you insist on showers after games, even if children forget their towel. Make them air dry!
  • children shiver during winter sports, wearing barely any sports clothes ❄️☔️
  • you insist that children play sport without parts of their uniform if ‘accidentally’ forgotten. What’s a bit of embarrassment?!

Benefits: no communal showers for you! 😄 And you can comfortably shout, from the sidelines of the sports pitch, in your tracksuit top and bottoms during our cold winters.

According to the Telegraph (June 23, 2009), almost a third (29.3 per cent) of those questioned said PE lessons were their unhappiest experience of primary and secondary school, with women more likely to have bad memories that men (34 per cent compared to 21.3 per cent).

“Hours spent climbing ropes in the gym and running across fields in little more than a vest and underwear are most adults’ worst memories of school, a poll of more than 1,250 people found.”

In contrast and seemingly a lone voice out there, I loved PE: whether climbing ropes, throwing myself into the high jump, racing cross-country or jumping into a sand pit, I relished every heart-pounding minute. It was the uniform, or rather lack of, that bemused me. Consisting of slip-on plimsolls, a white aertex short-sleeved shirt and most memorably; a pair of navy nylon knickers with elasticated waist and legs (shorts would be too generous a word for these tight-leave-nothing-to-the-imagination horrors). Navy nylon knickers, PE kit, 1980s

Jeepers creepers; these left nothing to the imagination!

Jeepers creepers; these left nothing to the imagination!

Is it any wonder women have more bad memories than men, wearing these bloomers!  Whatever inspired the design of these pants: was it Wonder Woman’s costume, or was there a fabric shortage in the 80s? In winter we were allowed to cover our navy nylon knickers with a short pleated skirt and, if we were really lucky, a sweatshirt!   We would look reprovingly at the PE teachers, standing on the sidelines in their tracksuit bottoms, shouting at us for not being more lively as the notorious British weather lashed our legs. Playing hockey or running cross country in the winter with exposed legs was not a barrel of laughs: we used to try and mitigate chapped and blue skin by smothering our legs in vaseline on icy days.

And don’t get me started on the horrors of the sweaty-smelling COMMUNAL SHOWERS: entering and walking through single file, having to collect our towels from a railing as we exited… 😁 There’s no doubt about it, times have changed!  Today, games/PE is a much more pleasant experience, with less-strict games teachers and weather-forgiving games kit.   Although, when I recently considered a second mortgage to purchase games kit for my daughter (a full tracksuit – no chance of cold legs there – a hoody, a thermal base layer, winter, summer and house-coloured sports tops, a skort, various socks and games and swim bag), I couldn’t help wondering if the simplicity of the 80s navy nylon knickers and its co-ordinating get up, including the stricter PE teachers, weren’t such a bad idea after all…?

Thank you for inspiring my trip down memory lane lovely AGMA 😘 with your post, Don’t be fooled by the smile.

7 thoughts on “Navy nylon knickers: a bloomin’ delight of PE in the 1980s

  1. At my school, one term of PE is mandatory for the entire 3 years of high school. So some students ask me why I’m taking it again. I guess some students would rather study and do homework instead of confronting the cold Canadian weather. I would have chosen to study if I were in the 80’s, if I even had the choice.

    • Thank you Shane! Wow, I am amazed your school only has to do one term in three years. Is that the norm in Canada? As far as I can remember we had to do PE once a week and sometimes (maybe summer?) twice a week. No choice back in the day…but funnily enough when that is the norm you just get on with it! I have heard worse from friends who had to swim in open air swimming pools ❄️😁😨

      • I believe most of Canada is like that. Once you’re finished PE in tenth grade for half a year, you have the choice to never touch a gym again. I believe it’s less stringent than the US, but it’s just a matter of time before changes come in. No matter how smart or invested you’re in academics, physical activity is so important.

  2. Ah yes, PE knickers… will I ever forget them?

    There seemed to be an unwritten rule at my school in the late 19802: girls never, EVER, need to cover their legs. Normal school uniform was a skirt and ankle socks. Stay on to the 6th form and the skirt gets shorter and you no longer wear socks at all. So completely bare legs, even when it snowed.

    As for sport, PE, athletics, cross country, volleyball and soccer (yes, we got to play ‘boys’ games’) were all done in black knickers. With a fetching white stripe down the side. And netball, tennis and hockey earned you the right to wear a super-short gym skirt. With aforementioned knickers underneath.

    Actually it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. Unable ever to cover our legs, we had no choice but to get used to them being blooming cold. Even now I don’t need trousers or tights when others around me do.

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