The greatest change in children's clothing in the postwar
period occurred when
dressing boys in skirts until the age of four or five was discarded. Instead, little
romper suits or
short pants. School-age boys wore knickers of
corduroy or wool with knee-length socks, and the change from knickers to that
first pair of long pants was symbolic of the change from boy to man. Little girls
wore dresses cut much like those of their mothersstraight and unfitted.
American school-age boys between the two world wars wore knicker suits. Little
boys are boys from afluent families might wear shorts. Most boys
of any size, especially if they were still in shorts,wanted their knickers
as soon as possible. Knickers came to be almost a symbol of American boyhood
as short pants came to symbolize British boyhood. Knickers were also
worn in England where they were called "plus fours", referring to the additional cloth required.
While worn in England and Europe they were much less common than in
short pants suit were more common on older boys who at 15 or 16
often were old enough
to insist on longs rather than an intermediate knicker suit.
Knickers were usually worn with long stockings or knee socks. Long
over the knee stockings were more common in the years before
World War I and the 1920s. Boys usually wore their knickers buckled above the knees in the
boys especially wore them above the knees. Boys would often prefer
the more manly style
of buckling them below the knee. Some mothers would insist that
son buckle his knickers above the knee. The boy, however, after
leaving the house would
his knickers in the preferred below the knee position. This
mother/son struggle of the 1920s
was imortalized in the Music Man. The problem was eventually
resolved in the 1930s as
became more common for younger boys. Knickers for older boys were
made slightly longer and the fashion of buckling them below the knee became accepted.
Some American boys, especially during
the summer would wear their knickers with ankel socks.
Boys in the 1920s might wear knickers during high school or at least the first few
years of high school. By the late 1930s and early 1940s boys generally wore knickers in
grade school and would get their first long pants suit at least by
the time they were 13 or 14.
I remember my first pair of knickers very well, but unfortunately
I didn't get to wear them very long. My parents immigrated from
to America in 1925. Both were old fashion in the custom and
culture of Europe. Mother was from Sparta and Dad was from Corinth.
They emigrated to America after they were married and they brought
to America their European traditions with them. Both were
cosmpolitan and were married in their late thirties. My mother
believed boys should be dressed in shorts until they reach their
teen years. From the pictures and descriptions given to me all
Greek boys wore short pants until they were about 13 or 14 years
old. I never saw any knickers at all in the albums by parents kept
on our Greek relatives.
I was born in America and raised in Fresno, California. Fresno
had a large Armenian population, probably 30% were Armenian out of
a population of 60,000 in the 1930s. Many of these Armenian boys
wore shorts, more so than the other boys in Fresno. We lived several
house away from William Soroyan's sister's house and her sons all
wore shorts. The neighborhood where we lived I considered upper
My mother always brought short pants for me. Mostly they were
gray, navy and black and about midway to the knee. When I was in
my rapid growth years, my shorts became quite short. When I was
a little boy I didn'r really give it a thought. Many of my friends
also wore shorts. As I got older I began to notice that my friends
were getting knickers or even long pants in several cases. I
estimate at age 10 (1938) about 50% of the boys in my neighborhood
were wearing knickers, about about 40% were wearing shorts, and 10%
were in long pants. By the timen I reached 12 (1940) only about 10% were
wearing shorts, while 60% were in knickers and the balance long
pants. Almost all the little boys were in shorts.
In the Winter we wore knee socks with our shorts and knickers,
but in the Summer just ankle socks. With my dress suit
which was navy I wore navy knee socks. I remember I wore some
argyle socks, but
basically they were gray knee socks.
I was active in the Cub Scouts. My mother
convinced the Cub Scout Master to have our Cub Pack wear short pants as part of their
scout uniform. Mother was active in the PTA and was actually
was convincing many of the other Mothers to have their sons wear
When I reached 10 years old in 1938, I was given my first
knickers, up until then I was in shorts. My mother opposed this
transition to my manhood. However, dad thought I should start wearing
knickers, the kind you buckle below your knee. Living in Fresno,
California the weather was mild in the Winter and hot in the Summer,
making my mother very unhappy for me to graduate to knickers.
Fresno gets very hot in the Summer, many days over 100 degrees in
August with no air conditioning.
happen to me, I started to grow and grow and within 6 to 8 months
I was unable to buckle my knickers below my knee. As a matter of
couldn't even get my knee through the buckle closure. Since these were the depression
years, my mother just made my knickers in short pants and I remained in
short pants until I started Jr. High School.
After I entered Junior High, I wore long pants to
school. (Thank goodness as I would have been the only boy in shorts.
There were, however, some boys still wearing knickers.) As soon
as I came home from school, however, I had to change intor short
pants. This included the only short pants suit I had, which I had to
wear to church every Sunday and for other dress occasions. The war years according to my mother,
prohibited us to but long pants. I guess I wore short pants until I was
fifteen years old and got my first
long pants suit.
I felt strongly on the matter, but so did mom and she just
wouldn't budge, she was old fashioned and wasn't about to changer her
mind no matter how much I pleaded on the matter. My dad was helpful, but
when I grew out of the knickers so quickkly--that was end of me
wearing them. I must have grown almost 6 inches in only 8 months.
Because the Depression was still on and my mother was thrifty,
we were not going buy any knickers, that wouldn't even last a year.
I was stuck. I tried my best to convince mother to let me wear
long pants, but that was is an impossible task. I got nowhere
in our discussions. She kept saying, Your Uncles wore
short pants until they were 16 years old. She even had the photographs
in the albums to prove it! I can still rember her saying, Boys
should dress in boys clothing and you are not a man yet. Money
was tight in the Depression, but we were pretty well off and that
was not the real issue. It was a one way
argument, even dad could not convince her.
As I got older, I got all kinds of comments about my shorts.
The other boys teased me quite a bit about still wearing shorts
as I got older. But I was a big and strong and most really didn't
didn't push it to far as they didn't want to mess with me. I got
along pretty well with girls. Because of
my height, they would call me high pockets. Older adults would
also sometimes say things. This often happened when we went to
church on Sunday I would always wear my navy short pants suit.
Some of the younger kids that were wearing knickers, would sometimes
make some remarks. In some instances they were heard by their
parents and occasionally I noticed that they were wearing shorts the
Note: Space limitations do not permit me to provide
the full version of the author's experiences. The full versin, however,
on the expanded Boys Historical Clothing web site. For details click
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