Short Pants Suits

Figure 1.--British boys in the 1950s generally grey short pants suits or their school uniform which generally meant a blazer and grey shorts.

Short pants suits for boys began to appear in the mid-19th Century. Previously boys had worn skeleton and sailor suits and tunics with long pants after graduating from baby dresses and kilts. Their fathers in the early era of the 19th Century wore knee breeches. By mid-Century that had changed. Men wore long pants and children knee length pants. At mid-Century the suits worn by boys were generally plain, although some more elaborate styles were available to romantic mothers. It was not until the 1880s that elaborate Fautleroy suits appeared with lace collars and fancy blouses.

The pants worn by boys after the mid-19th Century came to the knee. Many styles buttoned at the knee, others were simply cut off at the knee. They were worn with long stockings which were kept up by suspender waists. The stockings were usually a dark color or horizonal stripes which became popular ..... The tops of the stockings which came over the knee held up with clasps. Only the very youngest boys had bare knees, and it was even rare for little boys wearing more juvenile styles. Boys wearing short pants suits always wore long stockings.

Boys wearing short pants suits with knee socks and bare knees began to appear in England after the First World War and became increasingly widespread during the early 1920s. Before the War knee length pants were common, but generally worn with long stockings. After the War the shorts became shorter and were more commonly worn with knee length socks, leaving the knees bare. The fashioned was greatly influenced by Lord Baden Powell's growing Boy Scout uniform. The fashion spread to the United States, especially for boys from affluent families. Well to do Americans had always looked to England, at least for men and boys' fashions much to the chagrin of American boys. Despite the English trends, however, knicker suits were more common in America--especially for older boys. Shorts soon became the dominate fashion for boys in major European countries. In many, especially France and Italy, the fashion for increasingly shorter shorts became wide spread. British boys, however, generally wore longer knee length shorts, often baggier than on the Continent.

Boys' pants or trousers through the 1920s had button closures. The BFGoodrich Co. in 1924 registered the name "zipper," although it would be a number of years before this closure was used in any apparel other than overshoes, it would eventually repace buttons. Eventually vitually all pabts would have zipper rather than button closures.

American boys after the First World war did not wear short pants suits as commonly as European boys. For some reason, many American mothers did not ssem to think it was healthy to dress boys in short pants leaving their knees bare during the winter. This did not seem

Figure 2.--American boys from affluent families in the 1960s generally dressed up for church and other special occasiions in black or navy blue short pants suits.
to phase British and European mothers. Boys there, especially in Britain, through the 1960s commonly wore shorts even during the cold winter months. Generally well to do American families, often with English conections, however, did often opt for short pants suits. This English influence continued into the 1960s. Knicker suits were more common in America. They were usually worn with knee length socks pulled up under the knicker pants. Apparently American mothers felt knickers suitable for both summer and winter. Short pants suits were more common among upper middle class and wealthy families. They were also more common in the South with its warmer climate. Short pants suits in America became more wide spread in the 1940s and 1950s as knickers went out of style. Mothers generally preferred the shorts while the boys by the time they were 7 or 8 years old wanted longs. Long "discussions" ensued between moms and their sons on the subject. Boys from wealthier families generally wore short pants suits longer. This was due to several reasons. One they went to private schools which might have short pants uniforms. Two they went to parties and other social events where their friends might also still be in shorts. Three many established families had ties to England and were strongly influenced by English fashions which still dictated short pants for boys. Custom varied widely in America. In some areas boys wore shorts for play. This became much more common in the 1960s, especially among older boys. In other areas boys wanted long pants, especially jeans, even for play. One common thread, however, was the desire of boys for long pants suits for dress occasions. One new style which appeared in America during the 1950s was Eton suits for younger boys.

The Party

I remember the first time I wore it. A new family had just moved in near us and I had made friends with the boy who was about my age. He invited me to his birthday party, he was turning 12. I was hoping that I Wouldn't have to dress up, but mom insisted I wear my new suit? Almost as irritating as the shorts, were the blue knee socks I had to wear with them. By this time, knee socks were Becoming something that girls wore. Only the very smallest boys wouldn't be caught dead in them. I still remember the scene when I ran the doorbell. His mom answered the door and just beamed when she saw me. "My goodness Phillip, don't you look nice," of course referring to my short pants. She just gushed all over me. Actually she was worse then my friends who were used to seeing me in shorts. My friend Richard came over to accept his present. He was surprised to see me in shorts and knee socks, I noticed him glancing at my bare knees. But mercifully he didn't say anything. His mother though wouldn't let it go. "Now see Ricky, how nice Phillip looks. I don't see why you won't let me get a short pants suit for you." Obviously it was a bone of contention between them.

Figure 3.--French and other Continental boys in the 1930s tenned towear shorter cut shorts withbtheir short pants suits.


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Last updated: March 26, 1998