U.S. School Clothes: Individual Schools--The 1920s


Figure 1.-- Pierce Elementary School was located in West Pasco County, Florida. It sems a typical souther elementary (primary) school in the rural South. The class portrait here dates from the 1920s, probanly the early 20s. A reader writes, "This is a lovely photograph. It made me smile. There is a feeling of happiness in this image. They look to be children who would get into a lot of michief. Reminded me of the characters Mark Twain wrote about in his children stories."

There were changes in schoolwear in the 1920s. Some garments continued to be popular. Flat caps were very common. Many boys in secondary school wore suits and neckties. Norfolk and knicker suits were very common. More boys were wearing long pants, but knickers were still common for younger high school boys. Kneepants disappeared in the early 20s. Boys commonly wore knickers with long stockings. Boys in primary (grammar/elementary) schools began dressing more informally. Some younger boys wore short pants to school, but knickers were much more common. Boys at private schools tend to dress in suits, but few schools have uniforms. Bib-front overalls were very common at rural schools. Most boys wore leather shoes to school. Corduroy knickers are very common. We notice very few children wearing sneakers. Almost all of the girls wear dresses. It is common to see children at rural schools coming to school barefoot, especially in the South.

Early 1920s

Pierce Elementary School (early 1920s)

We note the boys in the 1920s wearing a variety of outfits. A few boys were wearing sailor suits. Several boys wear collared shirts. One boy wears an Oliver Twist suit. One boy wears overalls. The other boys wear both short pants and knickers. Many of the boys are barefoot. The girls all wear dresses.

Tod School (early 1920s)

The Tod School appears to be an elementary (primary) school in Cleveland Ohio. We note the school in the ealy 20th century. We are not sure if it is still functioning. The 1st Grade portrait here is undated, but we believe was taken in the early 1920s (figure 1). The girls wear dresses, a few with pinafores. The boys wear shirts and knickers. A few boys wear sailor suits

Grindstone School (about 1920)

Here we have a photograph of the Grindstone School in Calloway County Kentucky. The photograph was undated, but looks like the early 1920s. The boys almost all wear overalls, except one boy wearing kneepants with suspenders. Overalls in the 1920s were almosdt universal in these rural primary schools. School wear was quite destibctive in rural and urban schools at the time. After World war II these differences disappeared. The photograph is a little unusual as the school has a large front porch looking more like a house than a school.

Globe School (early 1920s)

A portrait from the 1920s show a class from Globe, Arizona. Globe was a mining town. We are not sure about the name of the school. It was pfobably the Globe School, but we know it was located in Globe. It was an elementary (primary) school. The boys wears shirts and blouses, a few with neckties. Notice how many of the boys whjo have buttoned their shirts at the neck. The boys also wear overalls and knickers with knee socks and long stockings. Two boys wear their knickers over their knees. One boy wears short pants and knee socks. The boys are not wearing their caps, except for ond boy who wears a bennie. The girls all wear dresses. Notice that none of the children are barefoot. Many but not all of the children are wearing high-top shoes. Notice the many Mexican-Americans in the class.

Unidentified Private School (early 1920s)

This looks to us like a private school class, both because of the formality in dress and the small class size. Notice the two teachers, one with an old fashioned wing collar. Only one boy wears a necktie. The portrait is undated, but was probably taken about 1920. The boys almost look to be wearing school uniforms as the suits are so similar, but we believe that at the time dark (commonly navy blue) suits were so popular that it just loks like a uniform. If you look carefully you can see thst there are different suits in both style and color. And notably there are different neck ties. Schools with uniforms of course has the same ties. Neckties were by far the most important neckwear in the 20th century. Boys commonly wore suits and ties to school in the early 20th century and we usually see at least one boy in class portraits wearing a bow tie, sometimes more in the 1900s and 10s. This became less common by the 1930s, both because bowties became less popular and suits began to be worn less to school.

1920

Unidentified School (1920-21)

We do not know the name of the school here. We do know that the school was in Jersey City, New Jersey. The portrait was taken during the 1920-21 school year. The children look to be 1st Graders or perhaps even Kindegardtners. The portrait is interesting because it shows that in the ealy 20s that children were still wearing a mixture of older early 20th century styles as well as the newer inter-War styles. One boys wear a floppy bow and another a necktie. We see boys wearing all kinds of blouses and shirts. Many look to be button-on styles. Several boys wear sailor suits. Many have bangs. The girls wear dresses. Only a few wear hairbows. We see three-quarter socks, knee socks, and long stockings.

Dobbs Ferry High School (1920)

Dobbs Ferry Dobbs Ferry is a village in Westchester County, New York, alomg the Hudson River. It is just north of New York City and became an affluent bedroom suburb for the city. It is part of the town of Greenburgh. We note a school portrait in 1920. There weew about 60 students. (at the time we think the 9th graders were still in junior high schools). So it would have been just 10-12th graders. approximtedly 15-17 year olds. There are about 70 students. Small high schools like this were very common at the time in towns. City schools were larger. Even so, most children did not yet continue their education into seconary school. This was especually true of working-class chilren. This was changing nd America had a higher school attendance rte than Europe. The boys wore suits and ties, the younger ones mostly with knickers. There is no way of telling, but we believe that the knickrs were mostly orn with long stockings. Unusually for high school, one boy wears bove the knee knickers with knee socks. We see younger boys dressed like that, but not highschool boys. The same boy has an open collar shirt. The girls wore blouses, we see several white middy blouses, and long dresses and skirts. One girl wears a sailor dress. The skirts are now well above the ankles. We do not see any hairbows. We are guessing that might have been a rule for the portrait.

1921

Grafton School (1921)

Many of the boys in the 7th and 8th grade at Grafton School wear knickers and long stoclings. Kneesocks were still not common. Several boys wear canvass sneakers. Most boyus wear ties with suit jackets. Quite a few girls, but none of the boys, wear middy blouses.

Pocahontas County Rural School (1921)

Here we see a one-room rural school in Pocahontas County, West Virginia during 1921. We do not know if it had a name. Often these rural schools were known by the local comminity Teachers had to split up their students in small age/sability groups to make assignments. Notice how the teacher has one group together at thefront for a lesson.

1922

Shaw's Bend School (1922)

Shaw's Bend School was located in Colorado County. Texas. Many of the the pupils are barefoot, but it is dfficult tell how many. Many of the boys have come to school in overalls. Some boys have dressed up and one boy wears a bow tie. Some of the children have come to school on horseback. Many of the boys hold their hats. Notice the different styles, including a straw boater. The clothing is an indicator of family affluence. The barefoot boys in overalls probably came from poor families, perhaps share cropers.

Sunnyside School (1922)

The Sunnyside School was an elemenarty (primary) school located in Carlinville (Macoupin County Illinois). We have a portrait of a 5th grade class taken in 1922. The photograph provides some interesting details about period dress. The boys are no longer wearing suits to school. A few boys wear shirts with ties. We no longer see floppy bows, but there may have been a few in the younger grades. The absence of suits is a major change from before World War I and reflects the trend toward casual dress. Mote that, however, that most boys that wear shirts with collar buttons had buttoned them. The first boy in the second rows wears a shirt without collar. Its hard to tell, but this may be the beginning of the "T"-shirt fashion which became popular in America. Two boys wear overalls. We suspect they were farm families. A seated boy in the first row is barefoot (we cannot see if some boys in the other rows are barefoot too). The girls all wear dresses. There is only one African American child in the class. All the other pupils are white. This was a time when many Black families in the South as part of the Great Migration were headed north.

Unidentified northern school (1922)

We do not know the name of the school here, but we know it was a northern school and tht the photograph was taken in 1922. The children seem to differ slightly in age, so perhaps this was a small school with several classes combined. The oldest children look to be about 10 years old. Most of the boys wear suits with neckties or white shirts with ties. The boys in the front row are all wearing knickers with black long stockings. Most of the knickers are fastened above the knee, but in one case (the boy on the extreme left, front row) we see knickers that fasten below the knee. The girls are mostly dressed in white or light colors. Most of the skirts are mid-calf length, but at least one girl wears a much shorter skirt with what looks like knee socks. Long stockings continued to be standard wear for school children in the early 1920s, but knee socks were beginning to be worn as an alternative. Note the center parting of the hair on many of the boys.

Vernon School (1922)

Here we have a snapshot of a group of boys from the Vernon School in 1922. It looks to be a class group ot at least some of the boys from a class. They look to be about 13 years old. A few boys wear suits, but more wear sweaters. Notice the roll collars. Two boys have flat caps. We suspect that several of the boys left theuir caps in their classroom. All seem to be wearing knickers and long black stockings with high top shoes. We know they were from the Vernon School, but we are not sure what the school was located. Portland, Oregon is a possibility, but we are not sure. Notice it is an all boys' group. This may mean that it was a private school, aklthough private school boys comminly dressed a little smarter.

Unidentified Alameda Elemenary School (1922)

Most of the Japanese Americans living on the mainland lived in California. Alameda was an island across the Bay from San Francisco. Alameda is one of the many places in California with a Japanese community, called Japantown at the time. Interestingly, the San Franciso terminus of the famed China Clipper was located at Alameda. Some Issei (first generation) settled in Alameda and created a Japantown roughly bounded by Park Street, Santa Clara Avenue, Walnut Street and the Oakland Estuary. This school would have been located in that area. The Nisei and Sensi (second and third generation) were mostly born in America and thus U.S. citizens. The Japanese community in Alameda opened a Buddhist Temple on Buena Vista Avenue. Many who converted to ristianity attended the Alameda Methodist South Church. The Issei started schools for their children, but Sensi were more likely to attend public schools, although they also went to the Alameda Gakuen--Japanese language school. Notice there is no duffrence in how the Japanese and other children dressed. This was the same pattern observed with other immigrant groups and is an indication of assimilation. Japantowns formed because of restrictions on Japananese property ownership and the desire to live in a community. The Issei looked somewhat diapprovingly on the Americanization of their children and grandchildren. By the 1930s there were some 900 ethnic Japanese living in Alameda. The class here looks to a First Grade class and about a third are ethnic Japanese.

Lincoln School (1922)

This is the Lincoln School if we are reading the board correctly. It is clearly not a class group given the wide age spread. We can only assume it was a small one-room school. We do not, however, see any boys wearing overalls which was common at the time in small rural schools. There are about 33 children. The teacher and at least the boys seem proud of their baseball equipment. There are just about enough boys for game of baseball, but some of the boys are too young to have mastered the needed skills. School was one of the few times rural boys coud get together to play basebll. The older boys wear suits. Many of the younger boys wear sweaters and knickers with long stockings. Two boys wear sailor suits. The gir;s wear dresses, several have hair bows. A little girl at the center has a huge hair bow. Two boys have Dutch boy bangs. We can makeout the date, October 1922. The studio was something like Welles in Lebanon, Pennstlvania.

1923

Buena Vista School (1923)

The Buena Vista School looks to be a public primary (elementry) school in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We note a class portait from the 1920s which looks to be the 1st or 2nd grade. We see some older styles that were still popular, such as large collars and floppy bows. Some boys wear sailor suit. The girls all wear dresses. Only a few of the girls have hair bows.

Shady Side Accademy (1923)

Shady Side Accademy was run like an English public (exclusive private) school. One aspect of these boarding schools was organizing the boys in houses. As in England each houuse was composed of boys from each form (grade). The idea was that the younger boys would benefit from their association with the older boys. The photograph here shows the boys of Moorewood House, one of the dormitories of the school. This group photograph was taken in 1923. The boys are between 14 and 18 years old. Note that all the boys--at least those whose legs we can see--are dressed in knicker suits. Some have elements of Norfolk styling with a belt around the jacket.

Holderness School (1923)

Sports were important at Holderness school. This was also the case at public highschools. One of the most popular sports was basketball. A photograph is dated 1923 and shows the Holderness basbetball team with their two coaches (note the two adults--in the bow tie at the rear left and in a three-piece suit at the rear right). I did not realize that at least some basketball players of this period wore knee socks with striped tops. We do not yet have much information on basketball uniforms at other schools over time.

Sutton School (1923)

We do not know very little about the Sutton School in Mapplewood, Missouri. It looks to be a primary school. They had a small school band in 1923. The children wore all-white uniforms with capes.

1924

Unidentified private boys school (1924)

Here we do not know the name of the school, but we have a photograph of boys learning to play tennis. The boys are all quite formally dressed with white shirts and ties, dark knickers, and long black stockings. They all wave tennis rackets in their hands. We don't know the exact location except that the photo, taken in 1924, was somewhere in Indiana--probably Indianpolis. Tennis was a kind of country club sport at the time. This and the fact that the boys all have rackets suggests to us that this is a private school. The rural setting suggests that it was a boarding school.

Allan School (1924)

The Allan School I believe was a public elementary (primary) school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A photograph in the library during 1928 shows the older children, probably about 11 or 12 years old. Thet are reading in a clearly staged portrait. The boys all wear white shirts with ties. While this is a staged portrait, we believe this was how the children commonly dressed for school. One boy wears a suit. The boy seem to be wearing knickers, although this is a little difficult to tell. The boys also seem to be wearing dark long stockings. Notice the one boy wearing shoes that come up above his ankles. They look to be sneakers. Many boys at the time had sneakers, but generally wore leather shoes to school.

Dunbar High School (1924)

This is the High School in Dunbar Nebraska, we assume thast the chool was called Dunbar High School. The inscription on the back reads, "Harry's picture when he was in 9th grade at Dunbar, Nebraska. The 9th grade students would be mostly 14-15 years old. This is all High School. November 1924-25 term." Most of the boys are wearing suits and ties. And most of the boys in the front row are wearing knicker suits with long stockings. Notice that no one is wearing the bright patterns like argyles that were populsar in the 1930s. The girls are all wearing dresses. At the time, most students did not go to high school. So the students here would be from the mkore affluent families in town.

1925

Cordova School (about 1925)

This photograph was taken at the Cordova School, I think in Cordova, North Carolina. The photograph was probably taken in 1925. The school looks to be a substantial brick building, but there are only about 30 children in the portrait. I am not positive this is all the childen. Nearly all the boys wear overalls.

Unknown School (1925)

We do not know the name of this school, but we do know that it was a California school. We have an image of the first grade class in 1925. The boys wear a mixture of kneepants, knickers, and overalls. The portrait is interesting because of the number of oriental children, I think Japanese. As many of the children wear overalls, I believe that this was a school in a rural area.

Western Reserve Academy (1925)

Here is an image from a private school in the Mid-West--the Western Reserve Academy (WRA). The boys wore coats and ties to class. Most had knicker suits. This photo from WRA was taken in the librry during 1925. It shows three of the boys that year studying. From left to right the boys are Jack Looker (15 years old), Allan Ayers (17 years old), and John Lea (16 years old). Even when not in class, WRA boys had to wear collared shirts and ties during the 1920s.

San Pedro Street Grammar School (1925)

Here we have a portrait from a school theatrical at the San Pedro Street Grammar School in 1925. We are not positive where the school was located. We know it was in California, perhaps Burbank. The photograph illustrates a popular theatrical activity--creating freezes. Here the children are doing Greek statues, but of course more modestly clothed than mny such statues. These freezes were done for both school and community theatrical events. The children are identified as Catherine Pandel Brotsis, Xenopon Vourns, and Alexadra Dolks Alexakis. These are all of course Greek names. Presumably the school was in a Greek neigborhood or the children were chosen because of their Greek ancestry.

Unknown Elementary School (1925-26)

This is a photograph of a 3rd grade elementary (primary) class in Wisconsin. We don't know the name of the school, but we do know the date (1925-26). All of the children, both boys and girls, seem to be wearing long black stockings. The boys wear short trousers, and most of them have white shirts with neckties. I would think this is a rather middle-class city school. The long stockings may be because Wisconsin is a chilly state in the winter, but the boys don't wear sweaters or jackets, so maybe the Germanic influence obtains here--the idea of long stockings as part of propriety and formality for well-dressed children.

Clovis School (1925)

We notice a portrait of the first grade class at the Clovis School in This would mean 6-year olds. Many of the boys wear long pants. That was not very common in the 1920s. I think this was a social-class matter. Clovis is located in the Llano Estacado and eastern New Mexico area bordering on Texas. It is a largely agricultural area. And this is relected in the children clothes Interestingly mazny of the boys wear overalls with the large collars commonly wirn by younger boys at the time. Most of the boys have shoes, Some of the boys wear short pants and long stockings. The boys have a variety of hair cuts, but not a lot of combing is going on. Notice how common the standard bangs and bob is with the girls. Strangely, Clovis while a small town is notable for two very different matters. Clovis is near the site where the clovis point projectiles were found. And in sharp contrast the town played a role in the early history of rock music.

1926

McCaskill School (1926)

The McCaskill School was located in Susperior Wisconsin. It appears to be a standard American grammar (primary) school, problably with grades 1-6. We note a photograph of a 2nd grade class in 1926, The children would be 7-8 years old. Some of the boys are wearing sailor suits. The boy in front looks to be wearinh a light-blue sailor suit. We do not see this so much in Europe. Other boys wear white shirts (one with a tie and one with a white shirt buttoned at the neck but without a tie). Nearly all the children wear long stockings. Most of the boys seem to have short pants rather than knickers. Some of the stockings are black, others seem to be of the popular new tan or light brown shade

1927

South Kortright High School (1927)

Here we have a photograph of a small highschool, we believe in upsate New York. Now when high schools often have 1,000-2,000 students it is hard to imagine a scgool with only about 40 students. This could be one class, but we suspect that it is the enire school. There does not seem to be much of a mix in the age of the girls, but there does of the boys. The boys are wearing a variety of garments. Somne boys are dressed cassually in open neck shirts while others wear suits. The school does not appear to have a struict dress code, if any at all. Its a bit hard to tell what the boys are wearing as many are in the back row, but several are wearing knickers. The boys look to be wearing both long stockings and knickers.

1928

East Shannon School (late 1920s)

Here we see the East Shannon Scohool. The photograph is undated, but we would guess was taken in the 1920s, probably the late 1920s. Almost all the boys wear overalls. Many are barefoot.

Eureka School (1928)

Here we see a great one-room rural school, the Eureka School, near Canton, Illinois. At least we think it is a one-room school because of the small number of childern. The children are, however, quite young. Perhaps there was an older group as well. And here we don't have to guess at the date, there is a chalk board with the name of the school and date. The photograph that we have features Mrs. Cluts, an experienced looking teacher, and her brood of young learners taken from a Canton, Illinois photo album. The cildren are ll very serious, not a smile in the group. You can tell it is a a rural school as the boys all wear overlls. Every time I look at the photo I see something new. The one boy in overalls biting his lower lip. The girl in front a little shy to be the only one barefoot. One girl wears what we might have called a tunic suit with matching short pants, rather unusual for a girl.

Unidentified Brooyklyn School (about 1928)

A dealer believes that this class portrait was taken about 1928. A least we think ot is a class, we are not entirely sure about the ages of the boys in the portrait. The portrait is not real clear. The boys look like teenagers to us, but there seem to be several year grouops, say boys about 13-16 years old. The dealer tells us, "School photograph from around 1928. The portrait depcits a boy's school in New York. We don't know the name of the school, but it looks like a private school. The boy in the lower right hand corner as you look at the photo is Robert Eversfield, born 1918. He went to school in New York and appears about 10 years old in this photo." To us the boys seem more dressed like the 1910s, but we are not at all sure. The boys all wear suits, including both knickers and long pants. The portrait is blind stamped Scherer, Brooklyn, 489 Fulton Street. Presumably the school was near the studio. The backdropp is a studio backdrop not a school scene. The portrait is 9.25 x 6.5 inches and is glued to a tan mat, 11 x 14 in. Thus this is a large cabinet card, not a portrait in a paper frame that was the standard for the 1920s.

1929

Western Reserve Academy (1929)

Almost all the younger boys wore knickers in the 1920s. They were not required by the school, but most of the parents thought them approprite for boys. A photograph shows a group of WRA boys standing in front of a heavily foliaged building, the Loomis Observatory, in 1929. These boys belonged to the Western Reserve Academy Astronomy Club. They look like Freshman (called "Frosh" then), which would make them about 14 uears old. Here knickers are virtually universal although one boy may be wearing long trousers. It is hard to tell what kind of pants the boy standing next to the boy at the extreme right is wearing.

St. James Catholic School (1929)

Here we see the children at the St. James Catholic School in St. Louis, Missouri. We see the younger children doing their First Communion. The boys wear white suits and the girls wear junior white wedding dresses.

Landon School (1929)

The Landon Boys' School opened September 12, 1929, not a very propitious time for a private school. The school began using a comverted mansion on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C. They moved soon after in 1934 to Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington. The school still operates in Bethesda as a non-sectarian school and has an excellent academic reputation. We note a portrait of Hans Penndorf wearing his new school uniform about to begin at the newly opened Landon School in 1929.

Unidentified Indianapolis school (1929)

Here are some photographs taken in Indianapolis, Indiana during 1929 on the occasion of a parade of third graders having a park parade. Notice that most of the children wear paper crowns or hats. The photo seems to have been taken in the spring when the whether was nice enough for the children to walk in pairs without outdoor clothing. I am not sure, but I am guessing they are celebrating May Day. That used to be a major event at American schools. The boys (who are 8-9 years old) all seem to be wearing shirts, mostly with ties. Most of the boys wears short trousers but a few wear knickers. There is considerable variety in the hosiery. Some of the boys wear knee socks while others wear long stockings (beige or black). At least one boy wears ankle socks. I include a close up of a boy in black long stockings walking with a girl in beige stockings.

Unidentified San Francisco School (1929)

Unfrtunateky we do not know the name of this school. We do know that it was a located in San Francisco. The children are very nicely dressed. It could be a private school, but many private schools at the time were single-gender schools. The one photograph we have was taken in 1929 and looks to be a 1st or perhaps 2nd grade class. There is quite a diversity of dress. Many of the boys wear open sports collars, often with suit jackets. A few boys wear ties. Several noys wear sweaters. The boys are probbly wearing short pants and knickets. The girls wear frocks and other dresses.

Glen School (1929)

Glenn School seems to be a small one room country school. We notice a photo taken at Glenn School during the school year 1928-29, probanly in May or June 1929. The boys would not have gone barefoot in cold weather. This was just before the Great Depression. The boys wear either knickers or overalls which were common in rural schools. Boys commonly wore long stockings with knickers, but in warm weaher went bsarefoot. The youngest boy wears a button-on sailor suit. The girls wear dresses and seem less likely to come to school basrefoot. They wear knee siks asnd long stockings. Glenn School was located in Butler County, Pennsylvania. There were 16 students and they are pictured wth their young teacher.







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