Figure 1.--Larry Mathers played the Beaver. When the began he was a second grader and often wore plaid shirts and blue jeans.
HBC has noted several television, movie, and other media in America during the 1950s and 60s that addressed the issue of boys wearing short pants suits. Interestingly, boys did appear on American television wearing short pants during the late 1940s and early 1950s. By te mid 1950s, however, as sea-change occurred. American boys were suddenly only pictured as wearing long pants--with only a few exceptions. The Leave It to Beaver may well be the television episode that most Americans remember that addresses the issue of boys wearing short pants suits. It was not, however, the only series that addressed the topic or the only media. HBC also wonders if the impact was not more important on the parents who saw the show than the boys.
The impact on boys watching these shows seems obvious, but HBC can't help but think that most boys already had their minds made up about short pants suits. HBC believes that the Leave It To Beaver episode, as well as other media treatment of the issue, may have had a greater impact on parents, both moms and dads, than on the boys themselves. HBC does not, however, have any personal accounts from parents to assess the impact. One interesting aspect of parental attitudes is the different attitudes of mothers and fathers. One HBC contributor reports, "When I was a kid men of a certain age seemed to feel that long pants on boys were a privilege not a right and that they could be taken away." HBC belieces that by the 1950s this may have been an attitude more common in England than America. HBC believes that in America, it was primarily the mothers that were insisting that boys wear short pants suits.
An HBC contributor comments: What you say about the Leave It To Beaver episode being aimed more at parents than children is, I think, very true. One of the purposes of
folk tales and fairy tales was to teach proper manners. In the case
of a writer like Perrault this was a conscious effort. TV, especially
in the 1950's, had much the same mission. In that Beaver episode, for instance, Wally is an exemplary older brother. The father remembers his own embarrassment wearing long white stockingsv as a kid and spares his son the same experience. And the misdeed (pretty minor compared to Grimm and Perrault) is committed not by a parent, but by a well meaning, but out
of date aunt, in the same way that mayhem against children in folk tales is almost always carried out by step parents. Without implicating parents the episode teaches the lesson: You can hurt your kids by not taking their feelings about their appearance into account. In the case of the Spin and Marty episode, the short pants suit versus jeans episode was aimed much more at kids. And it being a Disney production may have meant that Disney was playing on the opinions of their target audience.
HBC can recall only a few TV programs and other media in which American boys, at least the main characters, are costumed in short pants suits. A much larger number of shows had episodes in which boys appear in short pants suits. The boys were usually either rich (often spoiled) Ameican boys or (well behaved) European boys.
The popular novel, Broadway play, and movie depicted the experience of Patrick who was I think about 11 or 12 when he arrive's at Mame's apartment. In the first part of the story he wears a short pants suits. He is, however, delighted with Aunty Mame buys him his first long pants. He wants to put them on right away. There is a follow up scene several years later when Patrick is in college. Mame buys him a pair of Bermuda shorts which were becoming popular among older boys at the time and he is again delighted. While Partick appears in 1929, his son is pictured in a black short pants suit and kneesocks at the end of the show, probably in the 1950s.
Even in cartoon strips, this subject of boys wearing short pants suits came up. The comic strip, Big Ben Bolt (no longer published) in the Fall of 1963 had its title character, a prizefighter "resuce" his ward, Andy, from a similar "fate". As memory serves, Ben brought Andy to live with his Aunt and Uncle, stately Back Bay
Boston residents, who'd been his own guardians. Ben returns to his aunt and uncle's one day, not long after settling Andy in with them, to find a none to pleased Andy in a shorts suit much like Beaver's. Andy wears his suit to a school, a nice private academy where his suit was once the uniform. Aunt and Uncle just aren't up to date. I think both Aunt and Uncle liked the suit, the Uncle because this was his school, and he's proud of the tradition; the Aunt just thinks this is a proper suit. Andy appeared to be about 12. Ben "saves" Andy by telling his Aunt and Uncle that a new, more casual uniform has been adopted, and Andy has to, ah, follow suit (if you will!). I remember this strip, as it was in the paper I carried on a paper route. It was in the August-September, 1963, papers.
This American sitcom starred Dennis O'Keefe as Hal Towne, a syndicated columinist with a widower with a precocious, friedly 10-year old son named Randy. As is
the case of TV sitcoms with widowers, a housekeeper, in this case named Sarge, helped to keep the house together. A HBC contributor reports that Randy often wore short pants and kneesocks. This was rather uncharacteristic for an American television
show and HBC can not yer confirm it.
Figure 2.--Dennis during the 1970s and 80s usually wore a black short pants suit to church. Jay North in the TV-series never wore a short pants suit, except in a dream sequence.
Dennis the Menace may be the world's most widely recognized boy cartoon character--except of course Charlie Brown. Dennis in the famous Hank Ketcham comic strip, of course, usually wore bib-front overalls. He almost never wore short pants for play, unlike his best pal Joey. I'm not sure about the 1950s-60s, but his mom by the 1970s almost always dressed him up in a black short pants suit or later balzer and shorts for church. This continued untilmthe mid-1990s when Dennis began wearing long pants to church. In the Jay North TV-series, however, Dennis hardly ever went to church and never appeared in a short pants suit--except once in a dream sequence.
One of the classics of American telvision was Carl Ryner's Dick Van Dyke Show. The Petri's had a little boy, Richie played by Larry Matthews. He appeared in quite a few episodes, but usually only briefly. At first he sometimes wore shorts. I can remember seeing him in shorts, white ankle socks, and leather shoes when he was about 6 or 7. A HBC reader confirms that Richie did wear short pants in a few of the first season's episodes but not in the rest of the series' run. The still shots that introduced the first season's episodes (quite a contrast with the more familiar opening of Van Dyke's tripping
over the foot rest) also show Richie wearing shorts. I didn't watch the show regularly, so I don't know if he ever appeared in a short pants suit. He generally wore a collared shirt and slacks. Richie was a very nicely mannered boy about 8-9 years old. I can only recall him wearing long pants. I have seen, however, stills of him wearing short pants. I'm not sure if they came from an actul episode or if he sometimes wore shorts before the final shoot. This popular TV-classic was primarily set at work which is why Ritchie was only occasionally seen. I saw a rerun recently with him at 9. He was causing a problem by telling the other kids the facts of life at school. He was wearing longs. This was one of the few shows where one of the main characters appeared in shorts. It is notable that it was only for a few episodes in the first season. It would be iteresting to know just how the producers arrived at decissions concerning Richie's costume.
Leave it to Beaver was one of the most popular TV-sitcoms of the late 1950s and early 60s. Virtually every American either watch it or was at least familiar with Beaver and his family. Many more have watched it in sindication. The program was thus widely viewed at the time this episode. Beaver of course almost always wore jeans. When his Aunt Martha visited, his wardrobe was significantly upgraded. HBC wonders to what extent it affected boys' thinking about short pants suits. It was in the mid-1950s at the time this episode aired that the number of boys and the ages of those boys wearing short pants suits dropped precipitously. Several HBC readers have provided their reactuions as boys when they saw the episode, Beaver's Short Pants.
In this case a French boy comes to America in his short pants suit and has to prove himself to the American boys. The French boy wore regular shorts during the movie. I though the neigborhood kids mostly wore long pants, except for soccer. A HBC reader, however, tells HBC that the neighborhood kids wore OP cord and other casual shorts and tube socks. None of course wore a short pants suit except the French boy. All in all, the film depicted 1980s kids clothing quite realistically. The film starred Martin Sheen, Craig T. Nelson, Blythe Danner and Billy Jacoby.
In the first years of "My Three Sons" (when it was still in black
and white, early 60's), Don Grady, who played the then-middle son Robbie in high school, sometimes wore casual Bermuda shorts on the show. I don't recall any dialogue about it, indicating that this wasn't considered remarkable or out of the ordinary by then. Even so this was one of the rare times that boys on America television during this period wore short pants.
Figure 3.--One of the few boys to appear regularly in a short pamts suit on American television was Eddie Munster. Of course this was possible because it was a spoof.
One of the few boys to appear regularly in a short pants suit was Edward Wolfgang Munster. Many child stars had both their fans and critics. (Even Shirley Temple has been criticized for being sacrinely sweet.) To my knowledge, however, everyone loved Eddie and his wonderfully excentric family. Eddie wore a Eton suit type suit with cable knit kneesocks. I believe they were suspender shorts. He even wore a Prter Pan collar. Of course this was possible because it was a spoof. Interestingly in all the munster shows, none of the other boys wore short pants or ever commented on Eddie's shorts.
HBC has received the following personal accounts from reades who remember seeing Spin and Marty on the Mickey Mouse Club.
Richard (13 Year Old): The Leave It To Beaver episode was from 1957 or 58, when I was in my early teens and short pants were in my distant past. The fact that Beaver is ridiculed reflects popular opinion among boys by that time. I think the fact that Ward, the father, sides with the kid also reflects reality. Fathers remembered their own experience fighting their way out of shorts, knickers etc. (Ward remembered white stockings) and sided with their sons. Quite unlike the situation in the next boys' grooming controversy--long hair. There, fathers tended to be unsympathetic--to put it mildly. I do remember seeing The Adventures of Spin and Marty on the Micky Mouse Club with some of my friends just a couple of years before the Beaver episode when we were all 10 or 11 years old. In that show, Marty, an Eastern rich kid whom we thought of as being our age, shows up at a ranch in a black short pamts suit. I remember we ridiculed him. But I also remember one or two of my friends had to wear short pants suits not all that long before. And you never knew what your mother was going to do. So there was fear behind our contempt.
Another way short pants suits were pictured was as a school uniform for rich kids going to an exclusive school. Tim Hovey goes to an American boarding run by two kind-heated, but dottery head masters--in fact the only masters. The uniform is proper gray short pants, black knee socks, and black blazers with caps. He is only seven, but most of the other boys look to be about 10-13. Most of the film is set at the schools with the boys in their uniforms. This is one of the best films with American boys in school uniform.
A Canadian television program appearing 20 years later has large numbers of skits involving boys wearing clothes like short pants, sailor suits, ballet costumes, and other outfits perceived as embarassing. The series was emensely popular on the Nickelonian cable channel in the United States--reaching cult status. A variety of problems, however, prevent it from being sindicated. Some of the skits were shown a year or so later as Turkey Television.
We have noted some variety shows that included boys wearing short pants, wither as costume or as the clothes they nomally wore.
Perry once had a boys' choir short pants. I think it was an English choir, theSt. Paul's choir if I rememember correctly.
The annual Bing Crosby Christmas shows began in 1962. At first they were more of a general variety show, but soon the
shows were focusing on the Christmas theme. The family first appeared on the show in 1966. Both Nathan and Harry were
dressed in matching bright red blazers with black short pants and kneesocks. The boys were 6 and 8 years old. I believe either
the next or following year only Nahan wore short pants and kneesocks. It was a scene in a toy store. A boy in background
briefly appeared in black shorts and kneesocks. I'm not sure who costumed the boys, Bing, his wife, or the producers. I also
do not know if the boys normally wore short pants suits and if so to what age. This was Bing's second family and he had
mellowed quite a bit. He was apparently very strict with the boys in his his first family. They were not great singers, but the
family event was hearfelt. In a later show when Harry played the guitar while Bing sang. Harry made some mistakes, but Bing just smiled a bit. It was actually very touching.
Most Americans will probably not remember the King Family. It engendered a show that was briefly carried on American television. It
was aired in the mid-1960's The show was called appropriately
enough The King Family. They also appeared in several TV specials over
the course of several years. Unfortunately, the VCR wasn't
available then, so few images exist of their performances.
We have listed here some of the major television chikls stats or characters and how short oants were handled. There where also occassions where short pants suits figured in a single episode and were worn by a minor actor making a brief appearnce on the program. Interestingly the circumstances were almost always tht the boy in the short loants suit was a (usually spoiled rich) American boy or a (nicely behaved) European boy. I can recall ony a few episodes right now, but know there are many more examples.
If boys smartly dressed in short oants suits or even wearing play shorts were rare on American television, boys in shorts were even rarer in commercials. I remember a news boy wearin OP cord shorts admiring a Japanese car (I think a Homda). This was in the late 1970s or early 80s. It is notable that this rare appearance of a boy in shorts in an Ameticam commercial was sponsored by a Japanese company. Few iother examples come to mind, but perhaps HBC readers recall a few. A HBC reviewer has mentioned a 2001 commercial for Target. The main color is brown, and the ad includes chocolate and coffee. The first half of the commercial has 3 or 4 boys running down a sidewalk, all dressed in identical "school
uniforms" of chocolate (dark brown?) short pants suits, knee socks and dress shoes. The boys look inside a shop window, then run inside. They sport modern colored shirts and a snazzy tie with suit jacket. "It's interesting to see a modern update on the traditional school boy uniform, even if it's only for an "absurdist" modern television ad. I am certain that
the Target stores do not even sell the clothes." [HBC note: Actually if target sold clothes, they almost surely would noy have had an ad with boys in short pants and kneesocks.]
Television, movies, and other media have dalt with boys' attitudes toward other clothing styles. Shows have dealt with a wide variety of garments and styles, includinfg sailor suits, Fauntleroy suits, kilts, and other outfits. In some cases it was done more as a parody than as a serious program.