Canada: 1950s-60s Boys' Clothing

I grew up in extreme southwestern Ontario, Canada. In the late 1950s and early '60s short pants were considered "sissy" even though or perhaps because we were often forced to wear them. Even in the summer, shorts were considered alright only in the back yard or, at the very most, around the neighbourhood. A bathing suit was considered okay, but shorts were just for little boys. I remember that, when sent to the barber for my monthly crewcut one hot summer afternoon, I insisted on putting on long jeans before I would go.

Proper Attie

Part of the problem was that short pants, particularly with long, woolen knee socks, were considered "proper" boy's attire on more formal occasions. We wore shorts and socks to Cubs and Scouts. We had to wear our scouting uniforms at school in mid-February for the celebration of Lord Baden-Powell's birthday. Until I was 7 years old, I was dressed as were many others my age, winter and summer, in a blue blazer, tie, grey shorts and knee socks for Sunday School, parties, outings to plays or the symphony, for family gatherings or just to go out to dinner. When we turned 8 years, we could choose to wear long pants in the winter, if we liked, but shorts returned at Easter and stayed until October until we turned 12 years. My elder brothers both jumped at the chance of wearing grown-up clothes. But I didn't mind having bare knees and, since my best friend was still wearing them, I decided to stay in shorts for another year. My mother, however, took my decision as permanent and I stayed in shorts until my 12th birthday. I wasn't the only kid my age freezing through the winter, but we were a rare breed.


The strange thing was that, after grade 3, we were not allowed to wear shorts to school except during Baden-Powell Week. Many of my friends' parents were from Germany or Austria and these friends would appear in very short lederhosen in the summer much to our amusement. In grade 6, the mother of one such friend--she spoke little English--sent him to school dressed that way one hot afternoon. He was sent home to change but mother sent him back still in shorts, but this time with knee socks. It was the end of recess when he arrived. We had lined up to go in when the bell rang but were told to wait. In a few minutes the principal came out and Hans was punished just for wearing shorts!

School Changes

Things changed rapidly after that. That very spring the local newspaper carried a front page story complete with photos about local university students wearing cut-offs! Scandalous! The next year they began to encourage us to wear shorts for gym. (We were suitably reluctant.) In grade 8, we were actually given permission--The principal called an assembly to tell us!--to wear shorts in the hot weather. But only the boys. I always thought it strange that so much psychic energy was wasted on the proper length of boys' trousers or the length of boys' hair. (That fight followed shortly.)

Cubs and Scouts

Cubs and Scouts wore navy blue woolen shorts one inch above the knee, held up with a brown leather belt, and navy knee socks with dark green cuffs, turned down an inch below the knee. We had elastic garters with dark green tabs that hung down to keep them up. Cubs wore long-sleeved woolen rugby jerseys in dark green and kerchiefs tied with leather woggles. The cap was a typically English schoolboy cap. Scouts wore heavy cotton shirts in dark green and again a kerchief. The hat was broad-brimmed mountie style. Hair was to be neatly combed. Many boys would take their headgear to the barber and have him crop the hair up to the edge of the hat crewcut style. Other boys (me, for example) simply got crewcuts or "brushcuts" as we called them. Shortly after I was done with Scouting (late 1960s), the cub uniform changed to grey and long trousers became an ever more popular option.

Cuurent Fashions

Nowadays, my sons insist on wearing shorts everywhere from the first nice day in spring. The one insists on shoulder-length hair and his older brother has an extra-short crewcut. I think I prefer them to make up their own minds on such non-essentials. I do like to see them dressed neatly, but it isn't a moral issue.


Christopher Wagner

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Created: February 2, 2001
Last updated: February 2, 2001