Boys' Clothes during the 1930s

Little folks' clothes seemed quite perfect in the 1930s, tailored and so simple in line. Dresses were short and so were a young man's pants. Girls of all ages wore the classic Chanel suit while boys had a choice of the older style business suit, the Norfolk with knickers and if he were inclined to be dressy, the English Eton suit of short jacket, vest (when of self-fabric), trousers and a derby, if you please! Under the smart little coats girls wore party dresses of crepe georgette, voile or cre^pe de chine exquisitely handworked with tiny tucks, smocking, piping and fine pleating yet retaining the over-all simple effect.

Youngsters now had quite a wardrobe of play or sports clothes ranging from basic rompers, sun suits to snow suits.

With the stock market crash of 1929, life changed drastically for many consumers. The lifestyles of the most affluent, however, were little affected. The popular Prince of Wales, a fashion leader for men, and his cousin started wearing trousers with zipper fly closures, and the rest of the world soon followed. Improvements in the technology for knitting fancy-patterned hosiery made it possible for men to wear plaid, chevron, and argyle socks. Boys were soon sorting flashy argyle and other patterned knee socks with their knickers. Some knee socks were solid color, but has a pattern at the top. More conservative moms might stick to grey and navy or black. The removable stiff Eton collar passed from the scene by the end of the decade.

American boys mostly wore knickers. Younger boys might wear shorts, but by the time they were 8 or 9, sometimes earlier, they wanted knickers or even longs. Many men of the era can remember to this day when they got their first pair of knickers and then long pants.

Rural homemakers later recalled the importance of creativity during the lean years. One reported, "During the hard years, my boys wore short pants made from the legs of men's pants." Others spoke of the usefulness of feed sacks, some of which were printed with colorful patterns. "We made everything from them. We made shirts, dresses, men's shirts and all sorts of clothing from them." Not only clothing but household textiles were manufactured at home from these plain-weave, cotton sacks: ". . . four feed sacks would make the size of a tablecloth or sheet, and one pillow case could be made from each feed sack." Using feed sacks was not without its perils: "The first things I had was bloomers and slips out of flour sacks that they bleached the names off. Mom was good at that. She didn't leave parts of the name. Some people had Pillsbury on their seat." In the 1930s, even though more household workers were available, only affluent families could afford to hire them.

Outwardly men's clothing had changed only subtly by the end of the 1930s. Men and older boys wore suits with wider shoulders and more double-breasted suits. The real changes were underneath. By 1938 men were wearing boxer shorts or knitted briefs with the registered trademark Jockey. The year 1939 provided the first hint of a new generation of textile fibers when DuPont introduced nylon at the New York World's Fair. Stockings and underwear made of nylon sold well until the entry of the U.S. into World War II in 1941 when this fiber was diverted to military use.

Note: Space limitations do not permit me to provide more information on the 1930s or historical photographs. There will be, however, a great deal of additional information and many historical photographs from this decade on the expanded Boys Historical Clothing web site. For details click here >>>>>> Expanded Site.

Christopher Wagner

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