Boys' Knee Pants Suits


Figure 1.--This American boy with his sister wears a double-breasted knee pants suit. He looks to be about 10-11 years old. The portrait was in a fancy paper frame. We would guess it was taken about 1900.

Boys in the late 17th and early 19th century began wearing the first specialized children clothes. Sailor suits were worn by some boys with the same bell-bottomed pantaloons that real sailors wore, but it was not the widely popular fashion that it was to become after Queen Victoria adopted it for the royal princes. One of the principal fashions for boys of the late 18th and early 19th century was the skeleton suit, worn with long pantaloons or trousers at a time with adult men when they dressed up wore knee breeches. A new style of knee-length pants appeared for boys after mid-century. This new style along with associated more modern styles of knickers and short pants were to dominate boys' fashions for the next hundred years. They were at first worn by younger boys, but in some periods and countries were worn by older boys, even boys of high school

Knee Pants

Most of the work we have done on knee pants suits has been on the trousers themselves rather than the suits. This is because when knee pants were first introduced they were normally worn as part of a suit. Suits were very common in the 19th century. Thus mot knee pants were really suit pants and two destincr sections, one for the suits and two for the pants did not seem necessary. We have notice as HBC developed boys in the 1890s wearing knee pants with blouses and without a suit jacket. This seems to have been particularly common in the 1890s. So we decided that in addition to the knee pants page that a knee pants suit was needed. Until we have time to woek on the suit page, most of the information on knee pants will be in the trouser section.

Country Trends

We begin to see suits and other outfits for boys with shortenened length pants in the mid-19th century. We are not sure where this style first appeared, it may have been England. But it quickly spread throughout much of Europe and evetually to America. Straight-leg knee pants were just one of the styles. This began before photograohy ws very common in Europe, but once the CDV became popular (1860s), we can follow country trends in cisiderable detail. Shortened length knee pants suit trends have varied from country to country and over time. There were also social class differences which varid somewhat in each country. Trends in Britain, France, and Germany were especially inflential. These countries had large, inflential clothing industries. We believe that Brtish trends were especially inflential in Amerca, but there were differences. The style was slower to gain popularity in America tha Erope, but evetually it became more popular in America than Europe. We see European boys wearing bloomer knickers as well as knee pants. In America, it wa mostly knee pants, at least in the 19th century. As knee pants became stadard in America, the were almst universal, at least in European countries. We even see older American boys wearing knee pants suits. Canadian boys tended to follow American trends, especially by the very late-19th century,. There were also differences among European countries.

Chronology

We begin to see boys wearing knee pants suits in the mid-19th century. At first knee pasnts were not a very apt description because they were often cut well below the knee, often at calf level. We not only see straight-leg knee pants, but bloomer knickers at this time. The two styles competed with each other. They were worn by younger boys at first, especially boys in fashionable, well-to-do city families (1850s). We see many more examples as knee pants became increasingly popular for younger boys (1860s). Trends varied somewhat from country to country. American suits generally followed European trends, except that knee pants were much more popular than bloomer knickers in America. The first major American split from Europe was the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit (1889s). This was a reflection of the massive economic expansion and ikncreasingly wealth og the United States. Almost all American boys wore their Fauntleroy suits with knee pants while in Europe we see many boys wearing bloomer knickets. Quite a few British boarding schools had uniforms with knickers rathers than knee pants. Until the 1890s we see mostly yonger boys wearing knee pants to about age 8-10 years. This changed dramatically (1890s). This change varied from country to country. It was especially dramatic in America where by the end of the decade we see even older teenagers wearing knee pants. The same trend occurred in Europe, although we do not see boys as old as in American wearing knee pants suits. This same trend continued after the turn of the 20th century. Most boys wore knee pants suits, although we see European boys wearing knicker suits as well. Then all of a sudden American boys behan weraring knicker suits rather than knee pants suits (1910s). The change was not as dramatic in Europe where knee pants suits were not as universal as as in Ameerca. Knicker suits were not as widespead in ERurope as in Amnerica. We still see knee pants suits in the 1910s. After World War I, younger boys including younger teenagers in Europe tended to wear short pants suits, but many boys had a formal knee pants suits, especually on the continent. Sime teenagers began wearing knicker suits for a few years before graduating to long pants suits, but this varied from country to country. Knee pants suits gradually disappeared, although the time line varied from country to country. We no longer see knee pants by the World War II era (1940s)

Garments


Accompanying Clothes

The accompanying clothes worn with knee pants besides the actual suit items were mostly the hosiery and footwear. Here there were both important chronological and country differences. We see boys wearing long stockings with knee pants in the 19th century. Girls also wore long stockings although with skirted garments. There were some differences among countries. American children almost always wore long stockings, except when going barefoot. We see some younger European children wearing socks with knee pants and dresses, atlhough there were country differenes. The situation changed after the yurm of the century. Anerican children still wore knee pants suits, but shifted to knickers by the 1910s. They continued to war long stickings. Knee pants continued to be worn in Europe, although this varied from country to country. We see some European children wearing socks rather than long stokings even before the turn of thecentury. We note young chilren waring socks even in the mid-19th century, but as we near the turn-of-the 20th century we see older children wearing socks. We do not see this in merica where children cintinued to wear long stockings. We note knee pants worn with high-top shoes in th19th and early 20th century. This was virtully univeral in America. We do not begin to see low-cut shoes until the 1920s by which time we no longer see knee pants. In Europe we also see high-top shoes with knee pants in the 19th century. They were not vrtually universal as was the case in Aamerica. We see for example both high-top and low-cut shoes in England. The prevalence of knee pants also varied by country. We no longer see knee pants suits in Britain to any extent, boys wore short pants suits. On the Continent it was a little different. We see short poants suits on the Continent, but we also see knee pants suits, which we believe were commonly worn for formal occassions. With these suits boys wore both socks and long stockings.knee socks, this varied both seasonally and for formality. We coninue to see this into the 1930s for formal occassion even as short pants were becoming standard.

Fabric


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Created: 1:18 AM 11/19/2007
Last updated: 2:50 AM 5/18/2016