Knicker Suits: Country Trends

We have begun to collect information on the knicker suits worn in different countries. Belgian knickers seem comparable to those worn in France. Knickers appeared in England before the turn of the 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. English boys by the 1920s more commonly wore shorts although some older English boys wore knickers. Knickers were widely worn by French boys in the 1920s and 30s. They were mostly worn as suit pants. Play clothes were most likely to be short pants. Boys from 8 to 16 years of age might have a suit with both a pair of short pants and a pair of knickers. The most common colors were beige and grey. The knickers would often be reserved for cold weather winter wear. Older boys from 14 to 19 years might have a suit with a pair of knickers and a pair of longs. The estimates are based on the sized produced and sold in the stores and are thus an accurte estimate of what boys wore. I believe that knickers were less common in Germany than in France. I have, however, little real information to confirm this. We note knickers being worn by both older boys instead of short pants. We also notice even younger boys wearing knickers during the cold winter weather. There was also a Hitler Youth winter uniform with a kind od ski-pants knickers. I'm unsure how common knickers were in Italy. Knickers as best we can tell were mostly worn as part of a suit and not as casual wear. We notice them particularly being worn by older boys. We also notice Dutch boys wearing knickers, but have few details at this time. American boys did not begin to wear knickers extensively until the 1910s. They 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. American boys initially usually wore their knickers buckled above the knees in the 1910s and 1920s.

Belgium

Belgian knickers seem comparable to those worn in France.

Canada

Knickers were commonly worn in Canada. We see many Canadian boys wearing knicker suits. The trends seem more similar to America than Britain. A good example is George Bowditch about 1930.

England

We note younger boys wearing bloomer knickers at mid century. They were worn with various jackets and tunics. We see youngerboys wearing hese bloomer knickers for the rest of the 19th century and into the early-20th century. They were popular with Fauntleroy suits (1880s-90s). American boys mostly wore Fauntelroy suits with straight-legs knee pants. British boys noustly wore knickers. We still see these knicker pants for younger boys in the early-20th century. An unidentified boy about 1900-05 is a good example. Soom after bloomer knockers appeared we also begin o see noth boys and young men wearing suits with proper knickers. The Norfolk jcket was commonly worn with knickers. There are various their ies about who invented the Norfolk jacket. For men it was a kind of hunting outfit. King George VII helped popularize the style, both the Norfolk jacket and the knickers pants, called knickerbockers in England. The term was a hint as to the Dutch origins. At the same time e see the same outfit being adopted as a school uniform at British public (elite boarding) schools. They English knickrs syuits were extensiveky wirn by English boys during the late-19th nd early-20th century. The English knickers were ccut below the knee and worn with both long stockings and knee socks. By the 1910s shorts were becoming more important in England, in part because of the inluence of Lord Baden Powell's Scout movement. 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.


Figure 1.--This 1936 French ad shows knickers (cullote de golf) as a second pair of pants for long and short pants suits. I believe little boys would mostly wear them in the winter. Knickers were mostly worn with suits and not for play. Suits with knickers came in sizes through 19 years.

France

Knickers were widely worn by French boys in the 1920s and 30s. They were mostly worn as suit pants. Play clothes were most likely to be short pants. Boys from 8 to 16 years of age might have a suit with both a pair of short pants and a pair of knickers. The most common colors were beige and grey. The knickers would often be reserved for cold weather winter wear. Older boys from 14 to 19 years might have a suit with a pair of knickers and a pair of longs. The estimates are based on the sized produced and sold in the stores and are thus an accurte estimate of what boys wore. Actally you would have to add a couple years to the ages because most boys would wear a suit for at least two years after it was purchased. Thus a boy bought a short pants suit at age 16 might wear it until about 18 or when he finished secondary schools. Boys of 19 thus theoretically wear knickers until they were 21!

Germany

I believe that knickers were less common in Germany than in France. I have, however, little real information to confirm this. We note knickers being worn by both older boys instead of short pants. We also notice even younger boys wearing knickers during the cold winter weather. There was also a Hitler Youth winter uniform with a kind of ski-pants knickers.

Italy

I'm unsure how common knickers were in Italy. Knickers as best we can tell were mostly worn as part of a suit and not as casual wear. We notice them particularly being worn by older boys.

(The) Netherlands

We also notice Dutch boys wearing knickers, but have few details at this time.


Figure 2.--This ad shows the styles of knickers and knee pants available for little boys in the 1920s. Different styles were abvailable for older boys. Note the strong influence of the Norfolk jacket style.

United States

American boys did not begin to wear knickers extensively until the 1910s. They 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. American boys initially usually wore their knickers buckled above the knees in the 1910s and 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. Some mothers would insist that their son buckle his knickers above the knee. The boy, however, after leaving the house would rebuckle his knickers in the preferred below the knee position. This mother/son struggle of the 1920s was imortalized in the Briadway musical the Music Man. The problem was eventually resolved during the 1930ss as shorts became more common for younger boys. Knickers for older boys were made slightly longer and the fashion of buckling them below the knee became accepted. Knickers during the 1910s and during the early 1920s were mostly worn with long over the knee stockings. Gradually knee socks replaced the long stockings. Some American boys, especially during the summer would wear their knickers with ankel socks. Boys in the 1910s or 20s might wear knickers during high school or at least the first few years of high school. By the late 1930s and early 1940s boys generally wore knickers in grade school and would get their first long pants suit at least by the time they were 13 or 14. The knicker fashion in America was a major divergence from British and European fashions for boys. Through much of the 19th century, American dress patterns simply followed those of Europe, with a few exceptions such as Fautleroy and Buster Brown suits. But these, especially the Fautleroy style was adopted by Europeans. With the popularity of knickers in America there developed significant differences between European and American styles. Knickers were not unknown in Europe where older noys might wear them instead of shorts. They were not, however, worn as widely by European boys as knickers were in America. Knickers passed from the American boys' fashion scene in the 1940s. Some of the boys who wore knickers in the 1940s hearitly disliked them. I'm less sure how boys in the 1910s and 20s thought about them.





HBC






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Created: May 2, 2004
Last edited: 8:54 AM 6/5/2014