United States Boys' Clothes during the 1930s


Figure 1.--These two brothers in the early 1930s wear a sailor suit and a knicker suit. The younger brother wears a beret and note the old style buttons on the shorts. The cap worn by the older boy was a very common style during the period.

There were not a lot of new fashions appearing in the 1930s, perhaps because the Great Depressin following the 1929 stock market crash caused many families to retrench. Several fashions, however, evolved during the decade and the fround work was set for the American boy's big leap to long trousers in the 1940s. The standard for boys was that younger boys wore short pants and older boys wore knickers. Once boys began senior high school they generlly began wearing long pants. Overalls were common for boys of all ages in rural America. Some destinctive 1930s styles were "T"-shirts, leather high top boots (with a pocket for a Scout Knife), leather fleece lined jackets, corduroy knickers and leather aviator helmets with goggles.

Garments

The standard headwear for boys in the 1930s was the flat cap. Younger boys might wer berets. A few boys had baseball caps. Thre were also winter caps with ear flaps. A popular novelty cap style was leather aviator helmets with goggles. Outwardly American men's clothing had changed only subtly during 1930s. Men and older boys wore suits with wider shoulders and more double-breasted suits. Boys wore both single and double breasted suits. School age boys mostly wore knicker suits. Younger boys might wear short pants suits. American boys commonly wore knickers in the 1930s. At the beginnng of the 1930s the knickers buckled at the knee. Most boys by the 1930s were wearing knickers that buckled below the knee. A new style of knickers appeared in the mid-1930s. Velvet Fauntleroy suits had not entirely disappeared for boys. Sailor suits were once one of the most popular outfits worn by boys. They were still worn in the 1930s, but were much less common than before World I or even the 1920s. Once virtually every by had a sailor suit. "T"-shirts are one of the most popular garments worn by boys. Virtually every boy had colorful striped "T"-shirts. The signal the arrival of new more casual styles. Kneesocks had replaced the long stockings worn by previous generations of American boys. Boys wearing knickers mostly wore them with kneesocks. They were almost always patterened kneesocks, especially argyles. Basic information about garments worn in the 1930s by American boys is as follows:

Conventions

There were still many fashion conventions concerning childrens clothes in the 1930s. These conventions were associated with both age and gender. There was some variation such as region and sociak class which affected these conventions. We note changes here so we substantial differences from both the 1920s and 40s. Boys in the 1930s commonly wore knickers, often with brightly patterned kneesocks. Younger boys might wear short pants. Here social class was a factor and not just age. Boys from well to do families were more likely to wear short pants than boys from working-class families. Older boys might wear long pants. Long stocks were still worn, especially by younger boys. Most boys wore shoes. We begin to see quite a few boys wearing tennis shoes, but generally not to school. A few boys wore sandals, but mostly younger boys during the summer. Girls still mostly wore dresses, but we see some some girls wear rompers for school gym classes and summer camps. We also see some girls wearing short pants, but it was not yet particularly common. Girls commobly wore sandals.

The Scouts

American Cubbing was introduced in 1930 so that younger boys could participate. The English-style peaked cap was adopted, but the rest of the American uniform was entirely different and a blue and gold color combination adopted. Exploring and Rovering programs were authorized for older Scouts in 1933. The Order of the Arrow program was approved in 1934. Scouts answered President Roosevelt's request in 1934 to collect food and clothing for needy. Scouts celebrated the Silver Jubilee of Scouting in 1935. The 1935 National Jamboree cancelled due to epidemic of infantile paralysis. BSA membership passes 1 million in 1935. The first National Jamboree, Washington, D.C. in 1937 and attendance exceeded 27,000. Air Scouting was added to the BSA program in 1939.American Scouts and Cubs primarily wore knickers. Some Scouts wore short pants and kneesocks for camping, bit primarily wore knickers for most Scout activities. I'm not sure if some Cubs wore short pants, but primarily they wore knickers.

Figure 2.--Most American boys wore knickers. Some older boys wore short pants during the winter, but they tended to wear knee-length shorts. The decision by the parents was not usually based on rhe season.

Rural/Urban Differences

Rural boys

Rural homemakers later recalled the importance of creativity during the lean Depression 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.

Rural boys commonly wore denim overalls. They had not yet caught on with urban boys, but were very commonly worn in rural areas. The most common style was bib-front overalls.

Urban boys


Country Differences

There was substantial differences between American and European fshions in the 1930s, especially boys fashions. There was considerable similarity in the 19th century ans even after the turn of the 20th century in the 1900s there was sibstantial similarity. This began to change in the 1910s and in the 1930s there were very substantial differences.

Textiles

The first hint of a new generation of textile fibers occurred in 1938 when DuPont announced the invention of nylon. The following year the company introduced nylon at the New York World's Fair. Initial production was limited, but stockings and underwear made of nylon sold well until the entry of the United States into World War II during 1941 when the new fiber was diverted to military use. Rayon also appeared in the 1930s and we see it being used in items such as suspenders.

Catalogs

A great deal of information on clothing can be obtained through clothing catalogs, sewing patterns, fashion magazines, and newspaper and magazine adverisements. Of course the two best sources of information are the Sears and Wards catalogs, but a variety of other publications carried images as well as a great deal of information about the garments. The publications with the most detailed ad cooy are discussions of the fashions and garmnents are by far the most useful.

Individual American Schools: 1930s

School portraits since American children generally did not wear uniforms can provide a great deal of useful information. We see private school boys still wearing coats and ties, but this was no longer very common at public schools. Boys were dressing increasingly casually for school, especially by the end of the decade. Knickers were still quite common at the beginning of the decade, but much less so by the end. Some primary boys wore short pants, especially the younger boys. This varied a good bit regionally and by social class. Knee socks were becoming less common for boys. Overalls were still worn in fural areas. Almost all of the girls wear dresses, often will puffed sleeves. Some girls wears skirts with blouses that had puffed sleeves.. Some children still came to school barefoot. Holderness School (1930)

Individual Boys

Lenny.






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Created: December 26, 1998
Last update: 11:15 PM 6/18/2006