Advertisements Featuring Boys' Clothing: Chronology--The 1920s

Figure 1.--Here we see an Eastman Kodak advertisement from "The Youth's Companion" in 1926. The boy wears knickers with light probably tan long stockings.

We still some boys wearing Eton collars and suits in the 1920s. Yonger boys wore a variety of large collars. Some boys still wore sailor suits, but they were not as common as before World War I. Most of the advertisements that we have found are American. We note some ads from the early 1920s wearing kneepants. Most of the ads, however, show boys wearing knickers. Some ads show American boys wearing short pants, but usually only younger boys. We note English ads which are more likely to show boys wearing short pants.

Hovis Bread (1920s: England)

Hovis is one of the most important breadmakers in Britain. The Twentieth Century has seen a gradual concentration of the UK Flour milling industry - now one of Europe's most modern and efficient. In 1907 there were 1,250 mills but by the 1930s this number had fallen by over a half. Now the UK has about 73 mills compared to France's 754, Italy's 647 and Germany's 540. The Hovis adverisment we have found looks to be from the 1920s.

Kodak Cameras (1921: United States)

Knickers became very common in America during the 1910s, but we still see some boys wearing knee pnts during the early 20s. This photograph appeared in a Kodak ad during 1921. It was in The Ladies Home Journal (September 1921, p. 39). By the 1920s it was mostly younger boys still wearing kneed pants. The boy looks about 8 years old. The boy is shown examining the photographs he has taken with his Kodak camera in 1921. He is sitting at his desk at home with a portfolio of photos, some of which you can see in the upper opening of his desk. The photo appeared as part of an article promoting photography for boys and is really an advertisement for Kodak cameras.

Nivea Seife/Nivea Soap (1924: Germany)

Most of our advertising listings are from magazines and newspapers, primarily because they are the most available and can be dated. There are, however, other forms of advertising. Here we see a kind of card advetisement for Nivea Soap. KIt reads, "Wir maschen uns mit Nivea-Seife." That means something like, "We wash up with Nivea Soap." We think the card came free with the company's soap bars, a little binus for the purchase. Apparently some customers used them as post cards. Here we have one mailed November 18, 1924. The text on the card sounds private, but is not really interesting. Someone used it as a normal personal postcard to a relative.

Jell-O (1924: United States)

Jell-O is one of the best known brand names in the United states. The ad is entitled "The Wedding Present". All kinds of nice presents are pictured, including a silver spoon. The little boy is adding what he thinks would be a nice gift--a box of Jell-O. The boy wears a white tunic suit with bloomer knickers and white strap shoes. One might guess that he was the ring berarer in the wedding. We do not know in what magazine the ad appeared. The quality of the ad suggests one of the mass circulation magazines.

2 in 1 Shoe Kit (1925: United States)

This advertisement from the The Youth's Companion (May 14, 1925, p. 331). The ad is for a shoe-shine kit for boys called "2 in 1" which apparently includes two brushes for shoes--one for applying the polish and another for buffing the shoes after the polish has been put on. The appeal is to thrift as well as to neat appearance since the habit of polishing shoes obviously prolongs their life. So Mother is doubly pleased--by the neat and dressy appearance of her sons' shoes and by the fact that the shoes last longer. There is almost a subterranean military implication in the photograph of the two boys displaying their freshly polished shoes and the mother's approval, "You'' Pass!" The boys, probably about 12 and 14, of course are dressed formally in above-the-knee knicker suits with white shirts and ties, long black stockings, and gleaming Oxford-style shoes.

Lux Soap (1925: United States)

This American Lux soap ad appeared in 1925. The boy wears an English style collar and jacket, but with very American white above the knee knickers. The boy was 7 years old and pictured with his sisters. Boys did wear above the knee knickers with kneesocks in the early 1920s, but long stockings were more common. The Eton collar by 1925 was declining in popularity. Clearly the ad was designed to appeal to mothers with idealized children. Interestingly, the children pictured were those of a cabinent officer whose wife actually endorsed Lux.

Eastman Kodak Cameras (1925: United States)

We note an ad from The Youth's Companion, August 6, 1925, p. 111. This one for the popular Brownie camera, made by Kodak, and illustrating boys in above-the-knee knickers. Two of the boys wear black long stockings while a third boy wears his knickers in below-the-knee style with cuffed knee socks of what looks like light tan. One of the boys is blowing his bugle while a companion takes a snapshot of him and the other boy points laughingly. The setting is obviously rural, but the boys are dressed quite formally (probably for school) with shirts and ties.

Eastman Kodak Cameras (1926: United States)

This Eastman Kodak ad appeared in The Youth's Companion", December 9, 1926, p. 967. The ad illustrates the appeal to boys of Kodak cameras--it's a Christmas present ad. The boy's clothes are typical. This boy who is taking a snapshot out of a window in his home with his new camera wears typical highschool clothes for the year 1926--a white long-sleeved shirt (probably with a tie although we can't be sure), grey worsted knickers with a belt, and grey or tan ribbed long stockings. He looks to be about 15 or 16 years old. The copy reads: "Here's my new Kodak--I told you I'd be lucky this Christmas" Autographic Kodaks, $5.00 up, at your dealers. Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, New York."

Ingersoll Dollar Pen (1926: United States)

An image of the "Our Gang" kids was used for an advertisement in The Youth's Companion. It appeared in the September 2, 1926 number (p. 632). This was just when children would be buying school supplies for their fall classes. The advertisement is of the "Ingersoll Dollar Pen" manufactured by the Chas. H. Ingersoll Dollar Pen Company, 185 Astor Street, Newark, New Jersey. This ad is of considerable historical significance. One interesting aspect of this image is that it is virtually the only adverisement from the early 20th century that we can think of in which a black child was used, other than images presenting racial characteristics in a derisive way. We do not begin to see this again in American main-stream media ads until the late 1960s.

Procter and Gamble Soaps (1926: United States)

Procter and Gamble and other soap and household product mnanufactuers were major advertizers. Here we see a Procter and Gamble ad which appeared in the The Youth's Companion (1926). The ad makes an interesting point about boys' attitudes toward their own clothes as they grow up. We have illustrated here a little-known point about rites of passage in regard to boys' shirts in America during the 1920s.

Mellin's Milk Moddifier (1927: United States)

The second image is for another milk product--"Mellin's Food--A Milk Modifier". This appeared in "The Forecast" for July, 1927 (p. 65). Like Eagle Brand, this product was a substitute for breast milk, although three of the boys in the accompanying illustration are long past breast feeding.

Ivory Soap (1928: United States)

Soap companies were much more prominent in the early 20th century through the days or eatly television (1940s-50s) than is the case today. This wonderful ad from a 1928 Ivory Soap advertisement shows a boy swearing a red short pants sailor suit. The boy even has red hair to match his sailor suit. Undoubtedly he would have been called red. I don't think bright red suits were all that common, although most avilable photographs are black and white images. We have not yet adequately assessed available catalog information. He is depicted in a very modern looking bathroom for 1928.


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Created: 3:52 AM 1/8/2005
Last updated: 5:36 AM 11/27/2008