United States Boys' Clothes during the 1920s


Figure 1.--American boys in the early 1920s mostly wore knickers, even older boys wore them. At the beginning of the decade, above the knee knickers were still worn. Note the boys in this 1922 photograph wear both styles. By the end of the decade almost all noys wore below the knee styles. Also notice that only one boy wears kneesocks. The other boys wear long stockings.

A dramatic change occurred in the clothes worn by America boys after World War I which ended in 1918. Dresses and kilt suits for younger boys dissappeared as did Fauntleroy suits and kilts during the 1920s. Sailor suits were still worn, but mostly by younger boys. Flat caps became a standard for school age boys. Kneepants disappeared entirely. Knickers were widely worn in the 1910s as well, but younger boys still often wore kneepants. Some boys wore the new short pants with kneesocks imported from England, but knickers proved much more popular in America. Boys commonly wore corduroy knickers to school. By the end of the decade highschool boys were commonly wearing long pants.

World War I

World War I (1914-18) occurred in the 1910s. Most "Doughtboys" dis not get back from France until 1919 anssome not until 1920. For many is was the graet adventure of their lives. Most had not traveled much before. The War opened new horizons and ways of thinking. Old ways of thinking and ready acceptance of the established order was challenged and often discarded. The "Roaring 20s" intoduced many new styles, especially for womem but boys fashions was also affected.

The Roaring Twenties

The 1920s is one of the most famous decades in American history. It is one of the few decades with a iniversally knowm name--the Roaring Twenties. It was a decade of peace, one of two separaring the Great War--orld War I ((1914-18) and the even more terrible World War II (1939-45). President Harding who won the 1920 presidential election offered to return America to normalcy. The 20s were, however, anything but normal. The 20s were a reaction to the auterity and sacrifice of the War. The decade is, as a result, sometimes called the Jazz Age as music and dance bcame more licentious. Hem lines rose. Limiting the fun was the 18th amendment which brought in prohibition--which was widely ignored giving a huge boost to organized crime. The 19th amendmendment allowed women to vote for the first time. The economy boomed after making the tranision to peace. Wages rose and Americans experienced the greatest prosprrity in history. People brought big cars, appliances, and homes. Trading stocks became widely popular and not just an activity to the rich. Calvin Cooldige won the 1924 presidential election serving as president for most of the decade. The icons of the decade were a diverse group: Al Capone, Charles Lindberg, and Babe Ruth. There were important scientific achievements. Penicillin was discovered. President Hoover won the 1928 presidential election and promised conginued prosperity. The Wall Street crash (1929), howver, led to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Chronlogy

Clothing styles were varied in the 1920s. Many styles from the 1910s were still worn in the early 1920s, but only for a year or so. Generally by 1923-24, many boys were dressing quite differently from the 1910s. By 1925, the popular styles begin looking more like the popular fashions of the 1930s. Keepants disappear in the early 1920s and long stockings become much less commonm, although there were regional differences. One observealble trend throughout the 1920s was the steady decline in the number of older boys wearing knickers and the steady inmcrease in the nimber of boys wearing kneesocks rtaher than long stockings. The number of boys wearing Eton collars also decimes sharply.


Figure 2.--This boy has Buster Brown bangs. He wears button-on velvet short with a large bow. The collar style is difficult to determine. It looks like he has on his dancing pumps. These kinds of outfits became much less common in the 1920s.

Garments

HBC is developing detailed information ion the garments commonly worn by Americam boys diting the 1920s. This is complicated to some extent by the fact that many omages are mot dates, but we do have some dated images.The practice of outfitting little boys in dresses, declining but still common in the 1910s, virtually ended after World War I. By the mid-1920s it was very rare to see boys beyond the infant stage still in dresses. Smocks were increasingly less worn by American boys during the 1920s. Some mothers used them for very young boys, but they were not common. Good indicator of this is the absence of available images and the fact that they were not aadvertise in mail orer catalogs. More common for boys than smocks were one piece romper suits. I have little information on this style in the 1920s. I believe that the age of the boys wearing them declined during the 1920s. A wide variety of rompers were available in mail orer catalogs, especially in the early 1920s. The tunics common after the turn of the century were still worn at the beginning of the 1920s, but were declining in popularity by the middle of the decade. This had been a very popular style in the 1900s and 1910s, but had generally disappeared by 1925. The Fauntleroy suit with velvet kneepants and lace or ruffled collars that boys had worn since the 1880s also did not survive World War I. Some younger boys in the 1920s might wear fancy collars and bows, but it became increasingly less common. Sailor suits continued to be popular for boys in the 1920s. They were worn by boys from about 3 to 10 years old. Kneepants and long stockings were still worn at the beginning of the decade, but after only a few years they were mostly worn with short pants and knee socks. The shorts were at first knee length, but became shoirter by the end of the decade. Wide brimmed sailor hats were no longer worn. Boys continued to dress more formally than is common today. American boys mostly wore knicker suits. Suits and jackets were worn for many occasions that would call for casual clothes today. Suits that look much like the suits worn today appeared. Single breasted styles were the most popular. One of the most popular styles were Norfolk jackets or jackets with some Norfolk styling. As the decade progressed, double breasted styles became increasingly popular. Toddlers still wore rompers which became popular in the 1910s. The Levi Stauss company was marketing Coveralls, their first child's style. Overalls were still commonly worn by rural boys, but not commonly in the city. The long stockings that boys had worn for decades disappeared in the early 1920s as boys began wearing their knickers below the knee. Instead boys wore kneesocks. Patterned kneesocks were the most popular, in contrast to the solid color kneesocks more popular in England and Europe. They were mostly worn with knickers, but boys wearing shorts also wore them. Boys mostly wore leather shoes. Canvass shoes with rubber sneakers apeared for the first time in the 1920s. Many boys, especially in the country, went barefoot in the summer. Caps and hats were commonly worn by both men and boys. One of the most popular style of caps was the flat cap.

Hair Styles

Short styles became dominant, especially after World War I (1914-18). Boys no longer wore ringlet curls. Mothers had to give into poular fashion which no longer saw ringlets as accptable for boys. Ringlets became a decidedly girlish fashion. We do see mothers postpone hair cuts for younger boys and allow natural curls to grow. Most boys after about 3-4 years wore short hair. Cropped hair was not real common. Short cuts seem popular, but to a length that could be parted. The hair was common cut well around the ears, but precise lengths and styles varied, in part because of the varied nature of hair. The front of the hair varied. Younger boys continued to wear bangs, but older boys treated the front of their hair in different ways. Actually the attention in the 1920s was off the boys and focused on the girls. Girls and young women as casual fashions became more popular and skirt lines rose, decided to "bob" their hair. The term "bob" in connection with cutting hair short seems to have come from the term for cutting a horse's tail short ("Bob-tailed nag"). A celebrated ball room dance in the 1910s, Irene Castle cut her hair short (1915). The cut came to be known as the "Castle Bob" and after World War I many girls and young women embraced the style. For girls it was common bangs at the front and hair over their ears at the side. Celebrated novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald even wrote a short story, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair", for the Saturday Evening Post (1920). Both boys and girls wore commonly wore bangs in the 1920s. The primary dufference was the length of hair at the sides. Here mothers had some discression, at least for younger boys. The complete history of the decade was not just short hair. Ringlets came bacl with a vengence at the very end of the decade, at least for little girls. This resulted from a spectacular little girls in the movies--Shirley Temple. This trend florished in the 1930s.

Family Scenes

Family scenes often help put the clothes worn by boys in content, showing what other members of the family were wearing at the same time. This we can see what the parents and siblings of other ages were wearing. This is important information in iyself, but is also useful in helping to date undated images. Sometimes the family images are of the grandparents rather than the partents. Here some care must be takenm as grandparents are more likely to cling to sometimes dated styles.

Cars

The automobile by the 1920s had become an intrical part of the American life style. Henry Ford with the Model T had made the car an affordable item for most Americans. In the prosperous 1920s many American families purchased cars. And with many families the car was a prized possession. Countless American children were photographed by the family car. It was in the 1920s that a family vacation in their car became an American institution and motels and roadside cabins sprang up all over America.

Activities

American experienced economic prosperity after World War I. That prosperity mean that American children had more leisure time than ever before. Baseball was the big sport for American boys in the 1920s. Football was also popular, but basketball was not nearly as popular as today. Soccer was almost unknown. Most middle class boys were Cubs and Scouts and there was a substantial growth in the Scout movement after the War. Scouting was the only siuzeable uniformed youth group in which boys participated. Play grounds were very popular and often in walking distances from homes. There were substantial differences in the facilities. The moce to the suburbs had just begun. Mothers strongly incouraged boys to take music or dance lessons. The United States is a large country and thus there are substantial differences among regions. Northern states tended to have winter sports like skating and skiing which were virtually unknown in the Southern states. This of course had an impact on clothing styles.

Boy Scouts

The American Scout movement was relatively small until after World War I (1914-18). The War gave the movement a tremendous boost as patriotism soared. The movement grew significantly in the properous 1920s. A new uniform was adopted in 1922 to better diferentiate Scouting and the military. It was rapidly becoming an excepted part of an American boyhood, at least in small towns and cities to join the Boy Scouts. The organization became increasingly popular throughout the country and was supported by both schools and churches. The American Cubbing program had not yet been created in the 1920s. Unlike England and Europe, short pants were not commonly worn. Shorts were worn to some extent at jamborees, but for the most part American Scouts wore the knicker uniform when not at a camp or jamboree.

Publications

Publications from the 1920s had a variety of interesting information and images which provide insights into contemporary fashions. There were some wonderful covers from the Saturday Evening Post. We also note a variety of adverisements from newspapers and magzines which depicted children's fashions.

Mail Order Catalogs

A good way to follow popular American fashions is to assess the styles offered in major mail order catalogs. HBC believes that these catalogs are a very accurate expression of popular fashions. The styles commonly picture in these catalogs are what American boys were commonly wearing. Some of the most important in the 1920s was Altmans, Sears, and Wards.

Personal Accounts and Articles

We have begun to collect some personal accounts and articles with information about the 1920s. We are also linking interesting images showing boys clothing and activities during the 1920s.

The 1920s: First long pants suit

The 1920s: Back yard boxing

The 1930s: Kindergarten







HBC





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Created: January 10, 1999
Last updated: 8:54 PM 2/24/2010