American Mail Order Catalogs with Boys Clothings: The 1940s


Figure 1.--A popular style for boys throughout the 1940s was sets. This was a shirt of varying style that was coordinated are matched with the pants. This was most commonly done with shorts pants, but there were also sets done with long pants as well. These were often play outfits, but there were dressy ones. Yonger boys often did not wear suits as they once did, but instead wore a shorts set. The age range for these shorts sets varied, but usually were done in sizes for pre-school and early primary school boys. These sets foryounger boys are from a 1941 Sears catalog.

American mail order catalogs offer a very useful time line on changing fashion trends. Mail order catalogs show a major shift in boys' clothing in the 1940s. Younger boys no longer as commonly wore short pants for dress wear. Shorts were increasingly becoming casual wear. At the beginning of the decade boys were still wearing knickers, although long pants were increasingkly common. Knickers rapidly went out of style during the War era. Both boys and girls were still wearing long stockings at te beginning of te decade, although ankle and kneesocks were much more common. Long stockings also rapidly wentbout of style during the War.

1940s

Military uniforms were extremely popular during World War II. A book, Everyday Fashiions in the 1940s which has pages taken from Sears and other clothing catalogs. One page is just reproductions of military uniforms (all services) for your little boy to wear (presumably in support of his dad or uncles who were in the service).

1940

Catalogs still commonly features knickers in 1940. We still see knickers being oiffered. Some suits were made with two pairs of pants, knickers and "longies". There were also sets offered with informal jackets and knickers (figure 1). Corduroy was a very popular material. The Sears Fall and Winter catalog for 1940-41 showed a boy riding a wagon. It was an display for long stockings. The boy wears short pants with his long stockings. The stockings had to be quite long, way above the knee as the shorts are quite short. This was a fairly large display, suggesting that there were still good sales for children's long stockings in 1940.

1941

Fashion was out of style in Europe, but not in America. In fact war order meant that the economy was expanding. People had jobs and were buying clothes. Styles common in the 1930s were still widely worn in 1941. Shorts sets were popular for younger boys (figure 1). There was a distinct decline in the popularity of knickers, but they were still widely worn. New suits were mostly long pants suits, called longies, but there were also short pants suits for younger boys. Long stockings were still wrn, but most boys wore ankle socks. We notice a wide range of shoe sizes. Black and brown Oxfords were the most common, but we also notice saddle shoes and two tone shoes as well as sneakers.

1942

America entered World War II in December 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. War time restrictions thus did not begin to hit Ameruica until 1942. The War of course had a significant impact on the styling and availability of clothes. American boys very rapidly stopped wearing knickers in the early 1940s. We are not The Government issued regulations designed to reduce the amount of material used to produce garments. sure if they were still offeredfby the major catalog companies. Sears continued to carry ads for long stockings. One impact of the War was that Sears began to recycle the ad illustrations in their catalog.

1943

American mail order catalogs in 1943 still featured many of the styles of the 1930s. Knickers were still worn, but declining in popularity. Long pants were becoming increasingly common. Younger boys still wore short pants, especially in the summer. A McCalls patterns from 1943 was issued for a boys' shirt and button-on shorts which could be made in different styles. Sears and Wards still had a range of long stockings and Eton collars, but they were becoming increasingly less common

1944

The American economy continued to be dominated by World War II in 1944. We have not been able to find many clothing items from 1944. We get the impression that there was less advertising during the War and 1944 was the peak of the war-effort for the United States. We do notice a magazine advertisement for Top Flight Corduroy from the Crompton-Richmond Company. It is a rather unusual ad in that it was promoting the company's fabric and not actual clothing. The company does not seem to be very up with fashion trends, curious because they are stressing hiow boys want to be dressed like their friends. In fact the clothing depicted seems rather dated and even more curious, instead of a mass market appeal they seem to have chosen to depict a private school. Most of our information from 1944 comes from the major national catalogs which continued to be published, but consumer items were significantly limited. Long stockings had significantly declined in popularity, but we still see some offerings in the big catalogs. We even see a Sears adverisement in color for 'longies', a term more commonly used for long pants.

1945

Advdertising in 1945 continues to be somewhat less common than earlier or later, we assume a result of the War. American mail order catalogs in 1945 still featured some of the styles of the 1930s, but we notice a range of changes. Knickers were still worn to a limited extent, but had declined markedly in popularity. Long pants were becoming increasingly standard for boys. Younger boys still wore short pants, especially in the summer. Here social class was a factor. A McCalls patterns shows boys' overcoats, worn with shiort pants and ankle socks. Sears still had long stockings and Eton collars, but they were rapidly disappearing. This is reflected both in the space devoted to these styles as well as independently in the photographic record.

1946

Knickers were still worn, but now given only limited room in the catalogs whch now offered mostly long or short pants. Long pants were becoming increasingly common. Younger boys still wore short pants, especially in the summer. Long stockings and waists or stocking sduporters were still avialable, but the ads are much less prevalent than the early 1940s during the War.

1947

American mail order catalogs offer a very useful time line on changing fashion trends. American mail order catalogs in 1947 featured a variety of destinctive 1940s styles. Many 1930s items had disappeared. We see brightly colored striped T-shirts, both short and -long sleeves. There were short pants for younger boys. Jeans were vecoming increasingly important. Knickers were gone. Mostly boys were offered long pants. Long pants were becoming increasingly common even for younger boys. Younger boys still wore short pants, especially in the summer. Boys mostly wore ankle socks, often done with stripes. Some boys might wear knee socks when dressing up, butnot the patterened style worn in the 30s. Waists or stocking suporters for long stockings, but no longer widely worn.

1948

Knickers were still occassionaly worn, but had become quite rare and are absent from mail order catalog whch now offered mostly long or short pants. Long pants were becoming increasingly common. Younger boys still wore short pants, especially in the summer. Snowsuits and leggings were worn by little boys in cold weather. We note a boy's Simplicity pattern from 1948, size 4. It is for a coat, cap, and leggings to be worn in cold weather. We notice various styles of casual clothes for boys including overalls and jeans. Boys from about 6-18 wore the same styles. Briefs had become quite common as underwear.

1949

We do not yet have much information on 1949. We notice stripped T-shirts were very popular for playwear. And some boys wore them to school. Retailers refer to them as basque shirts, a name that disappears in the 1950s. Jeans were a major item for boys, especially primary-age boys. Girls were not yet wearuing them and teenage boys were often not allowed to wear them to school. Moys wore mostly ankle socks, often striped. Long stockings were no longer worn to any extent. We do note a Sears catalog adverisement for a garter waist to serve as a stocking supporter. This was the last time (1949-50) that garter waists for boys was offered in a Sears catalog that we know of. After this only girls' waists are shown--and even then not very prominently. We note Sears offereing brown/black and white saddle shoes in its 1949 catalogs.






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Created: April 29, 2000
Last updated: 9:33 PM 10/2/2012