Figure 1.--Larry Mathers played the Beaver. When the began he was a second grader and often wore plaid shirts and blue jeans.
Leave it to Beaver was widely viewed at the time this episode. HBC wonders to what extent in 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.
Some HBC readers have provided their reactions as boys.
I remember destinctly seeing that episode. I was 8 years old at the time. The question of my needeing a new suit had been raised by my mom. I was lobbying for a long pants suit, but mom didn't think I was pld enough. Several of my friends, but not all, at the time wwere wearing long pants suit. My suit was a black Eton suit which I weore with suspender shorts. Mom agreed that I was ready for a proper suit that had a jacket with lapels, but was adament that short pants were appropriate for a boy my age. I remember watching the show with my parents and older sister. I made quite a point of how stupid Beaver looked in his short pants suit. Mom and my sister disagreed with me and said that his friends in the episode were just being silly. Dad didn't say much. I think, however, he may have had a talk with mom. When she took me to the department store to get my suit, she tried to convince me how "smart" a boy my age looked in a short pants suit. However when I kept insisting that I should haveva long pants suit, she caved in with out a big scene. I remember being suprised at the time. Another benefit was that my mother had always insisted I wear a peaked cap matching my suit when we dressed up. I disliked the cap. Not as much as the shorts, but I disdn't like the cap one little bit. With my new suit, she did not but a new cap and no longer insisted I wear the old one.
In college one afternoon two friends who were Beaver afficianados from way back told me this episode had been shown on one of stations that broadcast Beaver in sindication. We were about 20 years old Inwould guess. They gave me the basic plot which was familiar to me. The episode clearly had made an impression on them. One of my friends said he could remember his mom dressing him in a sports jacket, shorts, and (what I'd take now to be) ankle socks. James remembers bering about 9 or years old 10 at the time. Seems like grandparents were coming for a visit. None of us, it seemed, ever had a suit and socks to match the Beaver's, but we had memories of having to dress up (give up comfortable, everyday clothes)against our wills; give up "playtime"; and mind our manners closely for a while. Short pants weren't a problem; just having to look "nice", I think. By this time (college) these were only memories; the discussion didn't last long.
I was 9 or 10, I'd say, the first time that I saw this episode of Beaver. I was
too young to have seen and remembered it when it was first shown, just before I was 5. It was first shown a week before my fifth birthday. I remember being quite interested when I first saw it. I remember watching it alone. I didn't talk to friends about it and don't remember anyone else describing this episode or their reactions. I think because I'd never seen Beaver in shorts in any other episode, his shorts were the biggest difference, but knee socks and what look like a fancy, very dressed up suit also make an impression.
I think I understood Beaver's embarassment because he was dressed so differently from the other children; most children don't want to be conspicuous, especially when they are uncomfortable about their appearance to their friends. At that age I didn't want other kids to think I was different, especially if that difference seemed to say that I'm not as tough and strong as other boys. Boys value anything that reflects power, strength, and activity. And Beaver's suit just did not reflect that image to his friends.
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.
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 momsd and dads, than on the boys themselves. HBC does not, however, have any personal accounts from parents to assess the impact. Information from the boys involved has been easier for HBC to obtain. Infomation from the parents in the 1950s who would now be in their 1980s is proving much more dofficult to obtain.
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 the only series that addressed the topic or the only media. Many of the sit-coms or dramas from this time, whose cast included a boy Beaver's age, have a plot similar to "Beaver Goes Shopping". And invariably the instigator is a visiting aunt or woman housekeeper, old fashioned
and set in her ways. HBC also wonders if the impact was not more important on the parents who saw the show than the boys.