Chronology of the Development of Boys' Clothing Styles: 20th Century


Figure 1.--Short pants became a popular style for boys during the 20th century. This varied from country to country. Shorts were more popular in Germany and other European countries than in America. Here we see a German boy and his mother durung 1943.

The 20th century is often characterized as "the century of the child". The cetury witnessed the emergence of new structures of knowledge for understanding and managing childhood. As schools and other institutions for the well-being of children proliferated, professionals, including physicians, social workers, child psychologists, and teachers--increasingly drew upon scientific language to both explain and shape children’s development. An increasing number of authors have begun to explore the intersections between 20th century institutions for children and science, broadly construed. The sailor suit epitomizes turn of the century dress for boys along with sailor hats and the familiar streamers. Some new styles appeared after the turn of the century. Russian blouses were very popular. Clothing styles for boys became some what less formal. Little boys emerged from dresses at earlier ages. Rompers for todlers. Formal dress was still common at the beginning of the centurry, but after World War I, the general trend in boys clothing was increasingly casual styles. Knnepants were displaced by knickers and short pants, but after World War II, long pants became increasingly common. In the late 20th this trend appears to have reached its peak. Boys commonly wore baseball caps, "T" shirts, jeans and sneakers. It is difficult to see that clothing styles can become any more casual. It is interesting to see in HBC how the social meaning of particular items of clothing mutates over time. As something passes out of fashion for older boys, mothers will persist in dressing younger sons in it. Thus a particular style doesn't become old fashioned as much as it becomes juvenile.

Social Trends

The 20th century is often characterized as "the century of the child". The cetury witnessed the emergence of new structures of knowledge for understanding and managing childhood. As schools and other institutions for the well-being of children proliferated, professionals, including physicians, social workers, child psychologists, and teachers--increasingly drew upon scientific language to both explain and shape children’s development. An increasing number of authors have begun to explore the intersections between 20th century institutions for children and science, broadly construed. Professionals in many different institutions serving children in the 20th century utilized scientific language in their work with children. Although there were core components of scientific thinking, different disciplinary paradigms and professional practices inevitably yielded different approaches to working with children. The difficulties that professionals and parents encountered when confronted with the realities of children in all of their complexity. Delopmental psychologists were called upon to address the needs of twentieth-century children and their parents, a demand that all too often led to the dissemination of hastily-constructed, ill-considered advice for parents and practitioners, which nonetheless bore the imprimatur of science. Teachers, social workers, and others directly working with children often faced challenges beyond the scope of academic theory. Parents especially had a difficult task in negotiating between expert advice and the daily exigencies of child rearing. Children thankfully have remained remarkably resistant to categorization and efforts to mold them according to thedictates of prevailing social-scientific wisdom.

Decade Trends

The sailor suit epitomizes turn of the century dress for boys along with sailor hats and the familiar streamers. Some new styles appeared after the turn of the century. Russian blouses were very popular. Clothing styles for boys became some what less formal. Little boys emerged from dresses at earlier ages. Rompers for todlers. Formal dress was still common at the beginning of the centurry, but after World War I, the general trend in boys clothing was increasingly casual styles. Knnepants were displaced by knickers and short pants, but after World War II, long pants became increasingly common. In the late 20th this trend appears to have reached its peak. Boys commonly wore baseball caps, "T" shirts, jeans and sneakers. It is difficult to see that clothing styles can become any more casual. Here we explore the fashion trends decade by decade.

Style Transformations and Cycles

It is interesting to see in HBC how the social meaning of particular items of clothing mutates over time. As something passes out of fashion for older boys, mothers will persist in dressing younger sons in it. Thus a particular style doesn't become old fashioned as much as it becomes juvenile. Overalls didn't become truly dominant among rural American youth until the 1920s and 1930s. By the end of the 30s rural teens were increasingly wearing ordinary trousers. Younger boys kept wearing them as a matter of course for a decade longer. By the late 40s overalls were definitely juvenile wear, and had become as popular for urban children as for country boys. The styles of overalls had become more juvenile too, with much simpler and less durable hardware. By the mid-50s they were worn almost exclusively by preschoolers. Overalls didn't become fashionable again until the 1970s. Their popularity waxed and waned until reaching a peak in the early 90s, when there was even a fad for young men to wear shortalls. Their popularity among boys has rapidly declined over the past decade, although they seemed to persist a little longer in Europe. I had seen them featured at European web retailing sites as late as 2001, but this year they are sold only in toddler sizes.






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Created: May 29, 2001
Last updated: 1:35 AM 4/12/2012