Knicker Suits

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 boys wore 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 America. As 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 1920s. Younger 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 their son buckle his knickers above the knee. The boy, however, after leaving the house would rebuckle 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 shorts 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.

Knickers and Shorts

I remember my first pair of knickers very well, but unfortunately I didn't get to wear them very long. My parents immigrated from Greece 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 middle class.

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 shorts.

When I reached 10 years old in 1938, I was given my first pair of 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.

Something 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 fact, I 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 next Sunday.

Note: Space limitations do not permit me to provide the full version of the author's experiences. The full versin, however, is available on the expanded Boys Historical Clothing web site. For details click here >>>>>> Expanded Site.

Christopher Wagner

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