Knee Pants: Country Trends


Figure 1.--Here we see siblings from Valparaisdo, Indiana. They were probably photographed in the 1890s. The boy looks to be about 11 years old.

Boys in the America and Europe commonly wore knee pants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was the dominant style of pants for boys in most Western countries for most of the late 19th century and the early 20th century. We have archived thousands of images from many different coutries. Many were American boys. They were very common in America in the late 19th century. More boys and we think older boys wore knee pants than in any other country. A good example is a chicago boy, Robert Mason Hamilton, in 1897. We have not yet developed many country pages on kneepants, but this is one of the many projects underway at HBC. They were commonly worn in many other countries. We note a Canadian boy in 1885.

America

Knee pants appeared in the mid-19th century. They were first worn by younger boys and cut rather long, often to calf level. They were very common in America during the late 19th century. More boys and we think older boys wore knee pants than in any other country. American boys began wearing knnepants after the mid-19th century. We see younger boys wearing kneepants in the 1860s, but the fashion did not become widespread for even older boys until the 1890s. A good example is an unidentified boy from Boston, Massachusetts about 1890. Another example is a Chicago boy, Robert Mason Hamilton, in 1897. Knee pants become shorter in the 1890s, commonly cut to knee lengths. Early knee pants were long, often cut at calf lebel. Kneepants by the 1880s began to be cut shorter and by the 90s knee level was the standard. By the 1890s even older boys were wearing knee-length knee pants. This varied, however, from family to family. Social class factors were involved. In the 1910s knickers began replacing kneepants, but kneepants were still worn in the early 1920s, but primary by younger school-age boys. American boys commonly wore knee pants with long stockings.

Belgium

Belgian boys mostly wore kneepants in the late 19th century, but short pants became more common by the 1910s, and were mostly worn by Belgian boys after World War I. It is often difficult to identify the two as the first short pants were quite long. We note boys for formal occassions wearing kneepants as late as the 1930s, or at least long short pants with the ornasmental knee hem buttons.

Canada

Cnadian boys commonly wore knee pants. We note a Canadian boy in 1885. A reader writes, "YOur statement that American boys wore knee pants longer, i.e., at ages older than elsewhere, is interesting. Note the Beckett boy in Montrealng 1899, who wears knee pants into his upper teens--perhaps as old as 16. I don't think there was much difference agewise between American and Canadian boys in this respect." Yes HBC is inclined to agree with this. We were basically thinking about Europe when we made the comparison with American knee pants.

England

Knee pants were one of the styles of shortened-length pants thay appeared for boys in the mid-19th century. They were straight-cut pants and not bloused out like knickers. We note English boys in the second half of he 19th century wearing noth knee pants and knickers. This was different from America where the primary type of shortened-length pants were knee pants in the second half of the 19th century. We do not see many knickers in America until the 20th century. We see both knee pants and knickers in England. We are unsure about the relative importance. We see boys at public (elite private boarding) schools motly wearing knickers and long pants. Knee pants seem less common. Age may be afactor here with younger boys motly weaing knee pants. This is something we have yet to establish, but are working on as our 19th century English archive grows. We are less sure about the general population. Knee pants eventually became standard for British boys and were widely worn at state schools. Rarly knee pants were cut long at calf level. Gradually they became shorter cut at knee level. We see knee pants with rather full cuts, something else we do not see in America. We are not yet sure about how these full cut varied over time. Americans boys mostly wore knee pants with long stockings. We note English boys wearing long stockings in the 19th and even the early 20th century. Knee socks became, however, much more popular after the turn-of-the 20th century. Baden Powell and the new Boy Scout movement may have been a factor here.

France

Kneepants appeared in the mid-19th century. French boys in the late-19th century wore both kneepants and knicker-type blouced pants. Some kneepants in the mid-19th century were rather baggy, and fashionable pants might have embroidered or other decorations such as stripes. Kneepants became more trim tailored by the late-19th century and were worn without decorative trim. They were commonly worn with three-quarter socks, but long stockings might be worn in the winter.

Germany

We have relatively limited information on kneepants in Germany. We are unsure if there were any destinctive aspect of German kneepants. German boys began wearing kneepants after the mid-19th century, although HBC has little information on this period. By the late 19th century, kneepants were very common among German boys, even teenagers. We note many schoolboys wearing kneepants at the turn of the 20th century. This appears to have varried from family to family. Social class factors apparently were important. They continued to be worn through the 1910s, although short pants and knickers were becoming increasingly popular in the 1910s. We are unsure about the age conventions which apparently varied over time.

Italy


Russia


(El) Salvador

We notice Salvadoran boys wearing kneepants in the late 19th century. A good example is an unidentified Salvadoran boy, we think in the 1880s.

Spain


Switzerland

We begin to see knee pants and other shortened-length pants like bloomer knickers in the mid-19th century for younger boys. Older boys began wearing them later in the century. Our 19th century archive, however, is still very limited. Knee pants were very common in the early-20th century. We see many boys wearing short pants after World War I (1914-18). Even so we also see knee pants. Actually there was not a lot of difference between knee pants and short pants because shorts were very long when they first appeared. The basic difference is that knee psnts had the ornamental buttons at the knee hem. In Germany we mostly see knee pants as suit pants rather than standalone pants. They seem to have been seen as more of a formal style, suitable for suits. And of course, short pants began to get shorter in the 1930s and knee pants were usually kept long. Thus we still see knee pants in the 1930s, but they were clearly becoming less common. We no longer see them in the 1940s, especially after World War II (1939-45). Knee pants were commonly, but not exclusively worn with long stockings. Many boys woire knee pnts year round. The long stockings were somewhat more seasonal.






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Created: 5:42 AM 1/27/2007
Last edited: 1:04 PM 2/13/2018