* boys clothes during the 1940s : country trends

Boys Clothing During the 1940s: Country Trends


There were major fashion differences between counties in the 1940s. American and European fashions in particular were significantly different. American clothing, including children's clothing, once was significantly influenced by European fashion. This was not the case in the 1940s. Certainly World War II (1939-45) must have been a factor. European fashions of all minds were trucated by the War. Europe did not have much time for fashion in the first half of the decade. But another factor is that American boys just didn't like some of the clothes that European boys were wearing--even if there mothers did. Clothes in many countries were also influenced by military styles. After the War in 1945 many countries like England continued foofd rationing. Other countries like Germany and Italy were so devestated that that there was little money for clothes. Many boys had to continue wearing clothes or wear hand-me-downs that might have been replaced in more prosperous time. While clothing styles differed, especially between America and Europe, some trends were begun in the 1940s although they were not significantly observable until the 1950s in many countries. Styles and customs still varied considerably from country to country. Traditional styled continued in some countries onger than others. Boys in Norway and probably other Scandinavian countries continued to wear knickers and button pants longer than many other countries. Little boys and girls worn long over-the-knee stockings, but they were not popular with the boys.

Figure 1.--The suit jacket had a self belt and three patch pockets. The short pants were lined with citton twill. The suit came in ages 3 to 10 years. Materials were wool cheviot (blue) and wool cassimere (brown and grey).


The Second World War resulted in a marked austerity in dress, due in large part to the restrictions placed on the clothing industry by the War Production Board. After the war, men were ready for another change in their clothing styles, and in 1948 the bold look began to be seen. The thumbnail summary of the 1940s was from knickers to jeans for the American boy. Knickers began to become less popular late in the 1930s. They were still worn in the early 1940s, but for some unknown reason passed from the American boys' wardrobe in the early 1940s--apparently a cauualty of World War II. Younger boys wore short pants. Boys up to 6 or 7 might even wear sailor suits. Most older boys who had worn knickers now wore long pants. Boys who did wear short pants suits often wore ankel socks, except for wealthy or well-to-do families that were more intunded with English fashions. Some consider the post-war 1940s among the best kept secrets of our time. World War II was not an important factor in most boys' lives. Unlike Europeans, American children were far removed from the war, except for day being away. The aftermath of the war was a different matter. The primary influence from it was a huge back to the home movement. Women were to stay home and have babies, support their husbands in their careers and that was all. There was a drastic change in women's clothes. I remember "The New Look" with long skirts and leg of mutton sleeves. Surburbia really took off. Teenagers rejected Boogie Woogie and returned to Big Band sounds. Girls wore strapless taffeta gowns and spectator pumps. The boys all had those jackets with the velvet collars. I have forgotten what they were called. They wore white shirts and the mothers complained a lot about having to iron them. American boys and teenagers virtually lived in their jeans, wearing them every where that they could get away with it--but almost never in high school. Teenage boys wanting to look "cool" wore them low on the hips with the new hair fashion--crew cuts.


World War II put fashion on hold in England during the first half of the decade and rationing continued after theWar. One impact of the War was ashift toward practical clothing. . HBC notices few fashion changes in England during the 1940s. English boys continued to wear short pants suits with knee socks. Clothes were rationed and children were very limited in the clothes they could be obtained. Mothers did their best to get as much wear out of existing clothes. Many children wore hand-me-downs.

Figure 2.--Mode pratique in April 1947 showed French children playing by a pond in matching gingham outfits. The girl wears a dress and the boy a romper suit. The top part of the dress and romper are identical.


Fashion was put on hold in France by first the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 and then the German victory in June 1940. French boys also commonly wore short pants during the 1940s. Liberation in 1944 and the end of the War in 1945 brought an increased interest in fashion. It was some time, however, before families could afford to spend much on children clothes. Most parents were hard pressed to affiord school lothes and at least one nice Sinday outfit. Many French mothers took uop knitting in the 40s to profuce children's clothes and knitear was widely worn by children. Sweaters behan to replace suit coats at school. School smicks were still common. Rompers (barboteuses) were popular for younger boys. The short pants worn by French boys, as was common on the Continent, wore cut shorter than was common in England. Kneesocks swere also not worn as commnly as in England--especially in ther summer. Many boys still wore smocks to school, but by the end of the decade this fashion was clearly not as common as they had been in the 1930s. Romper suits were very popular for younger boys for for play and dress occassions. Young boys might dress up in fancy blouses and short pants. Older boys wore suits. Sailor suits once very common in France, declined significantly in popularity during the 1940s.


The disruptions of the War meant that a lot of families didn't have a lot of money for clothes of any kind. German cities and industry were leveled. Jobs did not exist. People were near the starvation level. As as a result, most families made do with what ever clothes were at hand. Many boys went barefoot. Some teenagers wore their short pants suits longer than they might have if money had been available for a new suit. Quite a number of older German boys wore short pants, even short pants suits in the desperate years following the War.



The Russian peolple suffered gret privation during World War II. Stalin's Non-Agression Pact in August 1939 made him apartner in agression with Hitler. The German invasion in June 1941 wrought a leve of destruction unparalled in modern history. Clothing must have been severly limited, but we have few details.




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Created: January 26, 2001
Last updated: March 4, 2003