*** English boys clothes : 20th century

English Boys' Clothes: 20th Century

English 20th centuty boys clothes
Figure 1.--The pinafore was primarily a guirls' garment. At the turn of the 29thcentyry, however, small English boys, like these village children, still were dressed in pinafores.

English boys clothing went through very substantial changes during the 20th centuries. Many of the styles and changes in England proved very influential in other countries. The formal Victorian styles of the late-19th century continued into the Edwardian era of the early-20th century. We see a range of cap styles. Boys wears shifted from the Fauntleroy suits to more restraibed styles. Kilt suits disappear. We still see Eton collars. Many boys wore knickers and long stockings. Knee pants or long sgort pants began to appear before World War I (1914-18), influenced by the new Boy Scout movement. There were major changes during and after the War. We begin to see far grearter infornality and pracgicality than was common before the War. Short pants became standard for boys. They were still commonly worn with suit with suit jackets or blazers in the inter-war years. This was often because boys wore blazers or suits to school. Peaked caps became very cimmon, usually a boy's school cap. Working-class boys continued to have very limited wardrobes. Schoolwear was often his dress up outfit. Closed-toe sandals become standard for schoolwear. After World War II Continental styles were influential. Especially after the 1960s, informal styles often originating in America became increasingly common. We se boys increasingly wearing long pants. Shirt pants and knee socks become less common. Trainers also become popular. By the end of the decade, except in school uniforms, English boys had adopted the kind of pan-European style of highly informal, casual clothing. Baseball caps become popular. Short panrs were mostly casual summer wear. Shorts began to become long and baggy by the end of the century.

Edwardian/World War I Era (1900-18)

The Edwardian Era was much shorter than the Victorian Era. The Edwardian Era stricly speaking is from Queen Victoria's death in 901 to King Edwards's death in 1910, but more useful is to simply view it from the new century to the beginning of World War I in 1914. For organizational convience, we have included the World war I era as well, as the fashion changes were especially notable after the War. The Edwardian Era is perhaps the most idealized eras in English history, perhaps because it seemed so "golden" in comparison to the horrors of World War I. Many of the fashions of the late Victorian era such as boy dresses, kilts, sailor suits, Fauntleroy suits, and Eton collars continued into the Edwardian Era. Major changes, however, ocurred during this era. While little boys in the early Edwardian Era wore dresses, they were increasinglybstyled differently than those worn by their sisters. This custom, however, changed during the 1910s and World War I Era. By the 1920s it had become rare to dress even very little boys in dresses. Sailor suits were worn throughout the Edwardian era, but by increasingly younger boys. Kilt suits were worn at the beginning of the era, but by the 1920s only Highland outfits were worn and not the kilt or skirted suits once so popular. Fauntleroy velvet suits were still popular for party wear, butblace collars were giving way to ruffled collars and kneepants for short pants. Some boys would wear white kneesocks or stockings and strap shoes. New fashions such as romers for little boys appeared. Tunics were worn with wide, white collars and floppy bows. Knee pants and long stockings went out of style and were replaced with knickers and short pants worn with kneesocks.

English sailor suits
Figure 2.--Two English boys in the 1920s. One wears his school uniform, notice the cap. The younger boy wears a clssiic white sailors suit complte with wide-brimmed hat.

Inter-War Period (1919-1939)

Many of the clothing styles we think of concerning English boys' clothes were worn during this period, roughly between the two wars (1918-39). The clothes worn by English boys were strongly influenced by social class and age. Wealthy boys were raised at home, with the aid of nannies and governesses. They were often dressed in very juveiles clothes like smocks, rompers, and kilts. Even sailor suits had in England become primarily at outfit worn by very young boys. (Sailor suits were, however, still worn by some older boys in Germany and other continental countries.) Strap shoes were common. Previously younger boys were dressed in Fauntleroy suits, but this generally had gone out of style in the early 1920s, except for special occasions. Once a boy from an affluent family reached about 8 years, he was packed off to a private boarding school. At that point he was generally dressed in cap, blazer, tie, shorts, and knee socks. Any boy arriving at school in more juvenile looking clothes would be teased by the other boys. Thus the age of 8 years was a major diving point in boys' clothing styles. English boys of more modest circumstance would be more likely to wear shorts and knee socks ar an earlier age and would be lesslikely to wear smocks and rompers, although some romper suits were available for very young boys.

World War II (1939-45)

World War II had a profound, if delayed, impact on boys' fashions in England, as it did in America. This is not unusual, as wars and social upheaval often affect fashion. The impact, however, was slower to be felt because of the strained finances of most families, and rationing which continued for years after the war. The esentially traditional approach to fashion of the British also delayed changes. The British during the Second World War, had to institute a major rationing program. Not only food but also clothing was rationed, as supplies of every kind were so scarce. To ensure that resources were not wasted, the Board of Trade strictly controlled what was manufactured (for example, men's jackets could not be double-breasted, lapels could not be wide). As part of this, it was forbidden to manufacture long trousers in boys' sizes. Clearly a given amount of cloth could make more pairs of shorts than of longs. Clothing was one of the items rationed. For many of us outside the U.K., it is this period that we often think about when we think of English children's clothes--perhaps becaise of the publicity about England during the War, including many films and television shows. Another factor that has to be considered is the number of displaced children and children who lost one or both parents. This was quite different than World Wat I because of the bombing of English cities resulted in substantial civilian casulties.

Figure 3.--Knit sweaters were popular in the 1950s and 60s. A nice warm swetater felt good in the chilly English weather.

Post War Period (1945-69)

Boys fashions appeared to change little in the post World War II period, but beneath the surface very significant changes were beginning. The lack of change imediately after the War was in part this was due to the difficult economic straits faced by Britain as a consequence of the sacrifices and massive costs of the War. Rationing continued for years after the War, into the 1950s. Many families were hard put to meet basic needs which left little time or money for fashionable boys' clothes. I also have read that in some cases during the War as well as the immediate post-War times when military service was still compulsory, that because a young man would soon be drafted and would at that point be supplied with full uniform, he continued to wear short trousers after leaving school for the few months of civilian work until the call-up came. It was not felt worthwhile at that point to spend money on a long-trouser suit that would get so little use. This was especially true because of the difficult financial conditions. A new suit for only a few months was a luxury that many British families could not afford. A similar condition pervailed in Germany and other European countries during the late 1940s and earky 50s when quite old boys would still be wearing short pants suits. Styles finally began to change by the mid-1950s. The most notable changes were the declining popularity of school caps and the a shift toward long pants suits. Many schools comtinued to require short pants school uniform. Even state secondary schools often required shorts for the junior boys. Some private schools requited then even for the older boys. Short pants suits became less and less common. While British boys coomonly wore blazers and ties to school, many boys rarely dressed up for other occasions. Church attendance, for example, was much less common than in America. As a result, many boys did not have a dress up suit. Short pants were still commonly worn in the 1960s, but by increasingly younger boys. By the end of the decade it was rare to see an older boy wearing short pants suits with knee socks, except at a few mostly private schools. Even the Scouts, but not the cubs, following the popular trend switched to long pants in 1969.

English school shorts
Figure 4.--Grey school shorts in the 1970s and 80s were styled like continental shorts, shorter than British boys had traditionally worn.

Late 20th Century (1970-99)

English boys clothes changed remarkably during the late 20th century. In many ways the destinctive styles worn by English boys gradually gave way to the more universal fashions popular with European and American boys. There was a major change in the attitude towards boys' clothing in Britain during the 1970s. The effect of the late-1960s revolution in youth thinking allied to a change in the perception of young people by the adults of the time led to a less prescriptive dress sense. Boys began asking for all kinds of new fashions. Parents began to give increasing importance to what boys wanted. Income levels were rising, and families had coinsiderable discressionable income. Contributors mention all sorts of ludicrous styles, such as purple loon pants. Tank tops were also the 'in' thing together with 'woodies' which were fairly normal looking shoes except for the multi-ply wooden soles. The 1970s were a particularly weird time for fashion and perhaps we should be grateful for the punk revolution in the late 1970s which, if nothing else, took stupidity in clothing to the ultimate limits. Boys when not required by school or Cubs to wear shorts, generally liked to wear jeans which by the 1970s were becoming widely popular. Sweatpants appeared in the 1980s and proven a big hit with boys. Jogging pants with elastic on the cuffs were popular in the 1980s. Many American styles such as T-shirts, sweatshirts, baseball caps, and sports gear with football team logos made their debut in the 1980s and proved very popular. Boys commonly wore baggy 'T' shirts with bright long sleeved shirt over the top. School sandals were still commonly worn in the 1970s, but gradually became less popular. The style also changed with the 'T' straps becoming thicker so that they looked like shoes. Sneakers became very popular, epecially by the 1980s. Some boys in the late-1980s liked to wear Kickers shoes--a bit like deck shoes. Scouts had gone to long trousers in 1969. Many schools had uniforms. Primary schools were becoming less formal. Fewer schools were rquiring short pants. We see sweatshirts beginning go replace sweaters. We see a contunuing trend toward casual clothing in the 1990s. English styles were becoming virtully indistinguiable from pan-Eurpean styles wxcpt for school wear. T-shirts Shorts were populr summerwear and began increasingly long. Jeans also were commonly worn. We continue to see jogging pants, but they were much less populr by the end of the decade. Boys in the 1990s no longer liked them saying they looked awful and were uncomfortable. Boys in the wore combat trousers, but the popularity had declined by the end of the decade. We see all kinds of jackets for fall and weater. We se sweaters, but sweatshirts continued to increase in popularity. Ski-type jackets were popular duung the winter. Girls also wore ki0type jsckets, but often in brighter colors. Boys mostly wore ankel socks, but girls might wear knee soicks or tights during the winter. e see various colors including whiute. We see more and more sneakers. Boys school uniform became increasingly informal in the 1990s, except for the shidt to long trousers. Almost all boys wore long pants to school. Even in elementary schools long pants were commonly worn. A few elementary schools continued to require shorts, mostly Church of England schools and private schools. With few exceptions, only the younger boys were required to wear shorts.


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Created: 3:18 PM 11/22/2013
Last updated: 3:18 PM 11/22/2013