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
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 knee socks, especially argyles. Basic information about garments worn in the 1930s by American boys is as follows:
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 social 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 knee socks. 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 commonly wore sandals.
Boys dressed differently depending on the occassion. Here thre were both dressup and casual occassions. Ooutfits varies a good bit depending on these two circumnstances. Boys wore suits and ties commonly when dressing up, but ther were fewer dressup occassions. And some boys might just wear a dress shirt and tie rather than asuit whn dressing up. There were a wide rnge of casual outfits, especially for the summer. This depending somewhat on age. Some outfit ha a kind of crossover usage such as sailor suits. There were fewer dressup occassioins han earlier in the decade. Boys wore short pants, knickers, and long pants for both dressup anbd casual occassions. Here age was more imporyant than the iccassion. Girls still wore mosly dresses even for casual wear. They would have a special party dress when dressing up. Girls might have summer frocks for play or wore just wore older resses. We do see some casul garmnents being win incluing rimpes and shor, but dresses wer more common. Anther category of clothing usage was school wear. Most children got a brand new set of clothes for each svchool year. Suits and tis were no longer very coimmon at schol, but nether did childrn where casual clothes very commonly. Boys did not yet wear jeans to school anb we see fewer boys in rural areas wearing overalls, especiallu by the end of the decade.
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.
The 1930s was the last decade in which there were major differences betweem rural and urban children. The Depression of the 1930s meant that fshion was put on hild during the decade. Many parents dod not have the money for fashionable clothes. These differences rapidly dusappeared during and after World war II in the 1930s.
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 bib-front denim overalls although this declined as the decade progressed. They had not yet caught on with urban boys, but were very commonly worn in rural areas. Jeans had not yet caught on, but some boys saw cowboys wearing them in the movies and wanted them.
It was of course in urban areas where fashions were set. It was often only the lack of monet tht prevented ruralnchilren from dressing like city children. And in the cities children were increasingly wearing cimfortable casual styles. The major shifts for boys wear wearing knickers with patterened knee socks rather than long stockings, Other important trends was the gradual disappearance of flat caps abd the shift from jigh-top to low-cut shoes. we also see more snekers.
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 substantial similarity. This began to change in the 1910s and in the 1930s there were very substantial differences. You can usully identify American children by the way theu dressed. The same is true of the larger Europen countries.
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.
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.
More advertisements can be noted in the 1930s adverisements. We can begin to see dvertisers tiloring the clothing to the target market. The United States and the rest of the world were plunged into the Great Depression during the 1930s. We are not yet sure, however, just how advertising was affected. We have begun to develop some information on the fashions displayed in period advertising. Eton collars in America by the 1930s have almost dissappeared, but younger boys might wear what Americans referred to as Eton suits. These sometimes appear in ads aimed at higher-income clientelle. Sailor suits are still seen, but much less common than earlier. We no longer see kneepants in the 1930s. Most of the American ads we note show younger boys wearing short pants and older boys wearing knickers. Here there is some variation. By the end of the decade we begin to see boys pictured in long pants, especially older boys. Another major shift is in hosiery. Long stockings are still quite common in the early 1930s. By the end of the decade boys are mostly showm wearing kneesocks and ankle socks. Swimsuits are still pictured as including a kind of tank top.
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)
We do not have very many personal contribtions from readrs for the 1930s. We have collected a few accounts from HBC readers during the 1930s. Sadly we have just lost one of our most generous and knowledgeable readers, Charles, to help tell us about the 1930s. We are adding some family snaphors ans well as well as biographies and literary pieces. We still see flat caps, although they were no longer dominant anf had largely disappared by the late-30s. Button-on outfits were ppular for school-age boys. Knickers which dominated the 1910s and 20s are still very important in the 30s, especially the early-30s. Most boys recall wearing knickers. Knickers were commonly worn in the 1920s and continued to be worn in the 1930s, although fewer older boys wore them. Corduroy knockers were common for school wear. Here social class, seasonal, and regional factors were also involved. And families varied as to age and fashion conventions. There were substantial regional differeces. One reader rembers feeling out of place wearing short pants in kindergarden. Oher readers remember wearing short pats to kindergarden and elementary (primary) school. This was more common in the South than North. One reader recalls wearing short pants for Cubs,but the knicker uniform was more common as they were for Scouting. Jeans were not yet veryimportant. We see youngr boy wearing short panrs. Older boys mightwear them during the summer and lng pants become oncrasingly importan. Boys commonly wore knee socks with knickers and long stocings were declining n populrity. Ankle socjswere becoming increasingly popular. Boys mostly wore leather shoes, but sneakers were becoming more popular for casual wear after school. Many boys wore kneesocks, but long stockings were also worn.
Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main 1930s page]
[Return to the Main U.S. page]
[Return to the Main U.S. Inter-War page]
[U.S. 1900s page] [U.S. 1910s page] [U.S. 1920s page]  [U.S. 1940s page] [U.S. 1950s page] [U.S. 1960s page]
[U.S. 1970s page] [U.S. 1980s page] [U.S. 1990s page]
Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Cloth and textiles] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Girls] [Topics]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]
Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
[The 1800s] [The 1840s] [The 1880s] [The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s]
[The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s] [The 1990s] [The 2000s]