Knickers: Country Trends


Figure 1.--We see quite a number of boys wearing knicker suits in the 19th century, especially the late-19th century. Knee pants suits were also common. After World War I, most English and other European boys wore short pants suits. This was not the case in America. Knickers became almost universally worn by school-age American boys until long pants began to increase in popularity in the mid-1930s. The flag here tells us that this boy was photographed some tiomr after 1913.

Knickers appear to be worn more widely in America than many other countries. While trends varied from country to country and over time, in the inter-war years, mostAmerican boys wore knickers. In Europe, knickers were mostly for older boys while younger boys wore short pants. Some European boys who normally wore short pants, wore knickers during the colder winter months.

America

American boys did not begin to wear knickers extensively until the 1910s. Until then boys commonly wore kneepants which differed from knickers because they were unclosed at the hem. Knickers soon became the major attire worn in America. School-age boys in America between the two world wars wore knicker suits. Little boys are boys from affluent families might wear shorts. Most boys of any size, especially if they were still in shorts, wanted their knickers as soon as possible. Knickers came to be almost a symbol of American boyhood as short pants came to symbolize British boyhood. Knickers were also worn in England where they were called "plus fours", referring to the additional cloth required. While worn in England and Europe they were much less common than in America. As short pants suit were more common on older boys who at 15 or 16 often were old enough to insist on longs rather than an intermediate knicker suit. Boys initially usually wore their knickers buckled above the knees in the 1910s and early 1920s. Younger boys especially wore them above the knees. Many boys as they got older and began to want long pants would often prefer the more manly style of buckling them below the knee.

Canada

Canadian boys clothes were strongly influenced by English fashions, but appear to follow American styles more than other country--although this certainly has changed over time. . French fashions to a lesser extent influenced the clothes if French speaking boys in Quebec. The greatest influence by the 20th century was neigboring America and Canadian boys commonly wore knickers like American boys. English style short pants were somewhat more common in Canada than in America, especially among upper class Canadians. For most boys, however, it was American styles that had beconme dominate--especially After World War I in the 1920s. As in America, knickers were the most common style of pants until the 1940s.

England

Modern knickers were esentially invented by mid-19th Century country squires as they found them more practical country wear than trousers. They were called knickerbockers. Knickers were being worn by English school boys by the late-19th Century. They were extensively worn by older boys in England. The English knickers were close fitting pants that came below the knee. By the 1910s shorts were becoming more important in England, in part because of the inluence of Lord Baden Powell's Scout movement. Knickers in the early 20th century had the meaning of short trousers which I believed continued until after World War II. One reader whose father operatred a mens' wear store tells us that his father used knickers for short trousers into the 1950s. English boys by the 1920s more commonly wore shorts although some older English boys wore knickers. Most English boys, however, when they outgrew short pants wore long pants. Knickers in the 1920s and 30s were not nearly as popular in England as in America. A British reader writes, "I certainly never saw them being worn here and believe they died out even earlier - maybe the 1920s - at which point most boys were wearing short trousers. By the way the word itself - "knickers" today has the meaning of women's underwear here and would cause us to giggle as kids in the 1970s. I'm writing part of my memories based around this fact as there was an expensive ice-cream called a "knickerbocker glory" sold at seaside resorts here and this brought back some amusing memories.I believe knickers is the short form of knickerbockers but I don't know why the ice-cream was so-called,

France

Knickers in France were primarily associated with age. Younger boys commonly wore sdhort pants, often with smocks to school. Boys beginning secondary school commonly stopped wearing smocks, but continued wearing shorts. Older boys at secindary schools would often wear knickers and there mest suit by be a knicker suit. They would less commonly wear knickers as casual clothes. Knickers were still worn into the 1940s.

Germany

We notice a lot of German German boys weating knickers in the laste 19th century. They seem to have been especially common with boys fashionally dressed boys from affluent families. Boys from working-class families more commonly worekneepasnts or their fathers cut-down long trousers. After World War I, short pants became more common for boys from all social backgrounds. Older boys might wear knickers. German boys beginning in the 1920s might wear short pants well into threir their teen years before receiving a knicker suit for best wear or for school. It was also very common to wear knickers instead of shorts during the colder winter months. HBC has not noted German boys commonly wearing knickers into the 1940s. The one exception was the Hitler Youth boys who had a knicker-like ski pants (longer-knickers) uniform for the winter. We are not sure what term was used for German knickes. One source suggests "Pumphose".

Italy

Italian boys like most European boys did wear knickers, but short pants were much more common. Older boys commonly wore knickers in the 1930s. We note younger secondary school boys in Italy still wearing wearing knickers in rhe 1940s, but short pants were more common. One example is the Liceo Foscarini located in Venice.

Norway

Norwegian boys commonly wore knickers through the 1940s and even into the 1950s.

Switzerland

Knickers were commonly worn by Swiss boys. Mostly older boys wore them as younger boys commonly wore short pants. Often boys wore knickers rather than long pants after graduating from short pants. Some younger boys who mostly wore shorts did have knickers for the colder winter months. During the summer knickers were often worn with ankle socks. Knickers were commonly worn through the 1940s and into the 1950s. Afterward they became asociated with cold weather clothes.






HBC




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Created: August 2, 1998
Last edited: 9:51 PM 9/5/2010