Boys Fashions: The 1920s--Country Trends

Figure 1.--Here we see an American family group in the 1920s. The girls wear dresses. One little boy wears a blouse with button-on short pnts. The older boys wear shoite shirts anbd ties awith knickers and long stockings. The girls wear dresses with both socks and long stockings. .

We have quite a bit of information on the 920s, including trends in several different countries. It was still possible to identiufy where children were from by how they were dressed. This was the case in many European countries, but American boys were especially easy to identify from how they were dressed. This difference from Europe had become apparent in the 1910s when knickers became stadard for American boys. The short pants common in Europe were less popular in America,especdially for older boys. Canadian fashions were similar to America. There were diffences among European countries, but the variation in European and American fashions were pasrticvularly striking.


American boys wore both single and double-breasted suits were worn. The suits for older boys, like those for men, display broad shoulders as boys' and men’s suit jackets did not change greatly. Men’s style changes were not nearly as radical as those for women and girls during the 1920s. Most boys wore their suits with knickers. Some younger boys wore shorts, but knicker suits was the dominante fashion. Even American Boy Scouts wore knickers. A few older American boys wore short trousers, but primarily boys in wealthy with English or other European connections. American boys in the 1920s mostly wore knicker suits. It was quite common at the beginning of the decade to see older highschool boys wearing knickers, but this began tio change toward the end of the decade. Younger boys wore either shorts or knickers. The shorts were mostly longer knee length style. The 1920s were a time of experimentation, as the suit silhouette turned to the natural-shoulder look, and the first sports jacket--the Norfolk, modeled after the hunting suit worn by the Duke of Norfolk in the early 18th century--was produced. This decade also saw the rise and fall of jazz clothing, which had little semblance of balance or respect for the human form, with its inordinately long, tight-fitting jackets and narrow trousers; the cake-eater suit, named for college students who wore this slightly exaggerated copy of the natural-shoulder suit; and the knicker suit, featuring plus-four knickers that fell four inches below the knee. The knitting fever of the war years carried over into civilian life of the 1920s but in soft yarns of lovely colors, in sweaters and caps. Children's clothes were now designed with knee length skirts and shorts, both garments growing shorter and shorter. Boys took to wearing flannel, tweed, and serge suits with shirts and scarfs like those of their elders, topped by the beret and also the peaked cloth cap. Girls' dresses were of gay fabrics with flowered, striped and spotted motif. Boys' pants or trousers through the 1920s had button closures. The BFGoodrich Co. in 1924 registered the name "zipper," although it would be a number of years before this closure was used in any apparel other than overshoes, it would eventually repace buttons. Wealthy Americans still looked to Europe for trend setting fashions, Many wealthy Americans chose English suits for their boys in the new short pants fashion. French fashions often perdominated in setting fashions for younger boys. Fashionable little boy outfits of the 1920s before the Depression might have labeld from Paris fashion houses such as the Magasins du Louvre. Most little girls wore their hair short and boys had their heads cropped as soon as they could convince their mothers. Girls fashions also changed. Small misses wore the beret, the cloche and soft tams. Girls also began wearing short socks, including the younger teen-agers, hence the name of "bobby-soxers." Before the 1920s most well-off families had household help to assist with heavy cleaning and the onerous weekly laundering. Availability of servants decreased in the 1920s as immigration was restricted and more women entered the work force. Such help was needed less as labor-saving conveniences such as electricity and running water came to most homes. Also, vacuum cleaners and electric washing machines were readily available. Even so, the increasing participation of women in the work place and the declining availability of servants for all but the wealthiest families were major factors in the popularity of simpler clothing styles for children as well as adults.






Figure 3.--This is movie star Genevieve Tobin with some of her young fabs. Tobin was an American film star, but here she appears to be on a trip to England. The car and licebnse plate looks English and the boys are dressed more like English than American boys.


There were many chnges in boys clothing fter World War I in the 1920s. The see the same trend toward plainer, more practical clothing that we see in other European countries and Amweica. We no longer see the fancty Fauntleroy styles that we saw before the War. Curiously the sailor suit declined as a major style in cotrast with trends in Frace and Germany. Well-to-do English boys after reaching 8 years of age and sent off to their preparatory schools. While they were only a small fraction of British boys, the boys in prep and public (elite private boarding schools) set the styles for oither boys. This meant by boys about 8 years old and other. The age of 8 uears was abou when boys began prep school and exchanged juvenile clothing and hair styles for more mature styles--often grey suits. Thus styles like sailor suits were generally not worn by older English boys--although it was in England that the sailor suit was first adopted for boys. Boys at the beginning of the decade often wore the basic Eton suit with a stiff white collar. As the decade progressed, colorful bazers and soft collars became an increasingly accepted school uniform. Almost all elementary school boys wore short pants and knee socks. In England shorts remained mostly just above the kneesand often quite baggy. Older boysof 13 or so would wear longs. Some older English boys wore shorts, but primarily as part of a school uniform. All English, as other European scouts wore short pants. We also see school sandals becoming very common.

Figure 4.--French mothers turned to shorter length shorts in the 1920s. One popular dress outfit for formal occassions was the classic Fauntleroy style of the late 1880s.


The boisterous roaring 1920s are referred to in France as "Les années folles". It was a period of enormous social change and no where was this as well illustrated as with clothing and hair styles. Little boys no longer commonly wore dresses. The tunic style that had been so popular was little seen in the 1920s. Boys mostly wore short pants. The length of the shorts became shorter and shorter on the continent, especially for younger boys. Shorts were still generally long at the beginning of the decade, but younger boys were wearing quite short shorts by the end of the decade. French mothers, howeber, did adapt a number of styles for such as modified Fautleroy suits with short shorts, white kneesocks, and strap shoes. French and Italian mothers drew on the Fauntleroy style, but with short pants, white knee socks, and strap shoes for formal dress occasions. But ordinary short pants became the normal dress for boys all over Europe. Some older boys were were wearing thigh-high shorts by the end of the decade. These were suits chosen by parents and not school uniforms. These styles were mostly for little boys, but some older boys wore them for special occasions. Rompers became popular for younger boys, mostly as play garments. It is unknown to what extent such outfits were worn. Most of the photograhps I have seen come from modeled post cards, rather than actual family photographs. Sailor suits continued to be very popular. The major change in French boys clothes was in the trousers. Knee pants and long stockings were still worn in the early 1920s, but by the mid-1920s boys were mostly wearing shortpants and kneesocks. Older boys might wear knickers. French boys in the 1920s were outfitted in the new short pants style. I'm not sure what the boys thoughtbof the new style. Certainly not having to wear long stockings in the summer must have been more comfortable. Boys commonly wore smocks to school, but they began to wear them less commonly when they got home--except for younger boys.

Figure 5.--German boys continued to wear sailor suits in the 1920s, the popularity of the style does not seem to have been affected by the experience of the First World War.


Nowhere was the old social order shaken more profoundely than in Germany. Fashiion changes, however, basically followed the same paterns as in the rest of Europe. German boys adopted the same styles that appeared in other European countries. Short pants for boys became widely worn, although the length stayed at about the knee for most of the decade. Shorts were usually worn with knee socks, although younger boys often wore long over-the-knee stockings during the colder months, a fashion that became quire rare in Britain and America. Sailor suits continued to be a popular style for boys, even younger teenagers, throughoy the decade. In this Germany diverged from Britain and America where the sailor suit became a fashion primarily for younger boys. German boys' fashions changed significantly as was the case in other European countries. Sailor suits continued to be widely worn, but not as commonly in the early 20th century. The rather formal styles before World War I gave way to more casual styles. Sailor caps were still common in the 1920s. We also note another military-syle cap that looks like a peaked army cap. Both styles disappeared very rapidly in the 1930s after the NAZIs seized power. Shirts were worn with wide open collars, a style very popular in the 1920s and 30s. Boys attire changed from kneepants to short pants in the 1920s. Boys especially in the 1920s commonly wore long over-the-knee stockings, both for warmth and formal occassions. A good view of formal boys attire can be seen by looking at the outfits Catholic boys wore for their First Communion. Kneesocks were, however, becoming more common. The shorts tended to be realatevly long in the 1920s and even into the early 30s when the Weimar Republic was seized by the NAZIs. At the same time kneesocks conntinued to be very common. Many boys wore sandals. In some case single bar strap shoes, but English style "T"-strap sandals were also common. Many German boy still had very short even cropped hair cuts in the 1920s.


Sorry, no information available on Italy yet. We have begin to develop information on Italy, but still have limnited informatio on the 1920s. Hopefully our Italian readers can help here. Please let us know if you have any information or images.




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Created: 10:12 PM 8/31/2009
Last updated: 12:11 AM 11/8/2014