French Boys Clothes: Post War Era (1945-69)


Figure 1.--Younger French boys after the War often wore suspender shorts or bib shorts when not wearing school smocks.

HBC does not yet have extensive information on Post-war French boys' clothes, but some information is available. In the immediate post-war period, people had little money for clothes, but as the economy began to recover there was an increased interest in clothing and fashion.

Changing Fashion Attitudes

It did not occur to French parents and boys in the 1940s and early 50s that children shuld wear adult styled clothing before age 13-14 years. most parents thought that yonger children should wear recognizably juvenile styles. Boys did not concern themselves much with clothes. They didn't normally discuss clothing styles. There was no such thing as desogner clothes. It was the same for everybody. Younger boys might wear rompers. Boys still wore smocks in rural areas and small towns and short pants in town, both summer and winter. Long trouses were not common. Even in the cold winter months boys wore shorts, most had never worn long pants and were acustomed to it. A French reader growing up in the 1940s-50s tells HBC that he does not remember wearing long pants before age 13-14 years, even though his family was well off and could easily have afforded them. These attitudes began to change and the difference was notable by the 1960s.

Overview

A French reader has provided as overview of French boys' clothes in the post-war era. Many of the trends began in the 1930s. these trends applied to boys all over France. the system, the clothes, the schools were exatly the same from Lille to Marseille; from Brest to Strasbourg. The only major difference was seasonal. Long trousers were more common during the winter in the north and also in the mountain region. Boys in the south of France were much less likely to wear long pants. Neither boys or girls wore tights, but long sockings were very common in the colder winter season. Short pants were not made longer for winter wear, but were rather made of warmer material. Boys from affluent families were dressed in certain ways. They always had short pants with sharp creases, pretty shoes with white or other light-colored socks and matching blouses and shirts. The boys wore smocks less commonly than boys from less affluent families. The hair was not worn very short. Boys from wealthy families were less likely to wear long trousers. During the colder months, younger children would wear a short wool coat called a "manteau baby". Lttle boys wore short cut shorts all year round. Wool garments were common. Sometimes they wore rompers. Winter rompers were commonly made in wool and velvet and made with with long sleeves. They would be worn with a jacket. A French readerbreports that, "The children of this period were rarely ill. Personaly I have never realy been ill during my boyhood. Today boys wear warm clothes during the winter and are always ill."

Styles

Many French mothers in the post-World War II dressing younger boys for special occassions prefered the " ensemble " (outfits) rather than the traditional short pants suit with matching jacket and short pants. The ensemble consisted of short pants, a blouse, a and sometimes a bolero, vest (waistcoat) or a cardigan. For cold winter days both boys and girls would wear a short overcoat called a manteau baby. This style was popular for a wide range of the French population of widely different income levels. Suit jackets stradily declined in popularity after the War, although were still more popular than in America. Boys much less commonly wore suit jackets to school, alhough a few schools were more formal than others. More common were short pants worn with sport shirts. Smocks were still commn in the 1940s and 50s. In cooler weather boys might wear a casual jacket or sweater. Boys did not normaly wear ties except for very formal occassions.

Garments

The garments and styles popular before the War continued in the 1940s after liberation with little change. But the 1950s, however, notable cahnges were observable. Available information on Post-war French boys garments is as follows:

Rompers

Preschool French boys wore rompers with elasticised legs for play. There were also some dress outfits in velvet and other materilas made in the romper style. They were very popular in the 1950s, but declined in popularity during the 1960s.

Pants

Knicker disappeared in France after World War II. They were no longer worn by boys, even during the winter. French boys continued to wear short pants after the war. The style was common well into the 1950s. Many boys still commonly wore shorts, both for play and dress in the early 1960s. Probably about half of French boys still wore shorts until they were 12 or 13 years old. Many of these boys, however, might have long pants for cold weather wear during the winter. Most of the boys wearing shorts wore ankel socks during the summer, some with sandals. Boys rarely wore shorts much past the age of 14. Suspender shorts were popular for younger boys. The shorts came with buttons the straps of the same material could be buttoned on to. Some were sewn on to the shorts. Younger boys might wear a kind of bib-front shorts, especially when not wearing a smock to school. Long pants for boys became more common during the 1950s and by the 1960s even younger boys were wearing them. Suits were still being made with short pants during the 1960s, but just for younger boys--especially by the late 1960s. Many French mothers during the 1960s began to view short pants as winter wear and increasingly bought long plants for winter wear.

Smocks

Smocks were still worn after World War II. Most schools no longer required them, but many mothers considered then idea for school wear to protect their sons clothes. French schools in the late 1940s usually had some boys wearing smocks. They were usually worn with short pants. Boys usually wore them only for school and took them off as soon as they got home. Some stricter mothers might insist that they be worn for play, but this became less common in the 1950s. Smocks were less common in the 1960s, but still worn by many boys. Smocks were still commonly worn in many elementary schools.


Figure 2.--Many French boys still dressed in shorts during the early 1960s. This Jesuit school did not require a uniform. About half the boys were wearing shorts. As it was June and beginning to get warm, the boys are wearing ankel socks and some sandals.

Hair styles

Traditional styles tended to persist longer in many rural areas. One reader tells me that he recalls several references to clothes worn by French boys. One book written by an American anthropoligist, "French Village" (precise citation unavailable), is a study of a French village during the 1950's. He remarks that his neighbor had three boys and they all wore smocks. His 5 year old son at first insisted that they were girls. The youngest boy also had long hair. Apparently it was the custom in that village as late as the 1950s for boys to wear their hair long until they started school at 5 years of age. The boy above started school with his hair uncut because he was to be in a wedding. The parents had to get the permission of the lady school teacher in order to do this.

Many mothers in the immediate Post-war era continued to prefer long hair and curls for very young boys. An author writing immediately after World War II in 1945 or 46 writes about his neigbor. (Sorry but I do not have the reference.) The author of the book spent several years in Paris following the War. She mentions that the little boy living in the next apartment was a "clothes horse" and stood quietly while his grandmother curled his hair and tied it with a blue satin ribbon. (Note: Hairs bows for French boys were much more common in the late 19th and early 20th century.) At the end of her observations on French children she says "French boys wear ribbons in their hair and white gloves to church and as such are very different from the American boys". However, the reader who has provided this reference thinks this was an unwarranted generalization based on just one observation.

School age boys wore short hair cuts similar to those common in Britain and America. There does not appear to have been any distinctive French boys' hair styles.

Shoes

Most boys wore leather Oxford-style shoes. Some boys wore a kind of boot shoe. French boys in the Post-war era also wore sneakers, but they were lesscommon than in America. Sandals were commonly worn during the summer. There were several styles. Most were closed toe sandals with a single strap or "T" bar.


Figure 3.--Many mothers still dressed their boys in smocks after World War II even though most schools did not require them. A kind of boot shoe was popular for boys.

Chronologies

Late 1940s

Berets were less commonly worn than in the 1930s, especially by the late 1940s. Little boys commonly wore rompers. Smocks were still widely worn at school, although most schools no longer required them. Knit wear outfits were popular for younger boys. Knit sweaters were popular fot older boys. Berets were also worn. They were mostly worn with short pants. Some older boys still wore knickers in the early 1940s, but they were little seen by the late 1940s. School age boys mostly wore short pants with ankle socks in the summer and kneesocks in the winter. Even quite old boys might wear shorts. An article from a 1947 issue of La Mode Pratique suggests dressing boys untill 6 years old with a traditional romper or a two pieces outfit. The short pants suit was suggested for older boys.

The 1950s

Boys still wore smocks to school in the early 1950s, but they began to decline in popularity by the late 1950s. Knickers were no longer worn. Berets also disappeared in the 1950s. Short pants were still widely worn, but by the end of the decade they were less common for older boys. Suspender shorts were popular and a new short cut style became fashionable.

The 1960s

French boys stillwore short pants, but it they were being worn by increasingly younger boys. The short cut shorts that appeared in the 1050s were widely worn. Berets were now rarely worn. Jeans became popular with older boys and even yoonger boys wanted them.

Movies

Many French movies in the post-World War II era were noy elaborately costumed. Boys in movies often hust wore their own clothes. Quite a number of movies were made providing all kinds of information about the clothes French boys wore.

Historical Developments

Major changes followed the Paris Student riots in 1968. The students involved were older teenagers and young adults, but the impact in only a few years filtered down to the elementary-age children and younger teenagers. Boys increasinly wanted to wear the long pants and jeans the older boys were wearing.


Figure 4.--French boys in the 1950s wore corduroy shorts for play, school, and scouts.

Displaced Children

A topic that a French reader suggests should be considered is displaced children ("enfants déplacés"). This was a problen throughout Europe, but the problen varied from country to country. In France during World War II and the immediate post-war (baby-boom era), a lot of children left their families in Paris and other cities. They left the city to move in with family or family friends in the country. Some children were cared for in orphanages. The topic does not to be adequately analized. The children were often raised by relative and sometimes did not return to their families for several years. They were thus sometimes raised differently than had they stayed in their parent's home. It often meant that the clothes and education were those of their grandparents. Many children left for only some months other were away for years. Some never returned home. For a child, even a short period seemed like a major part of his life. Some children were anxious to return home. Other children were not happy to come home at all. Sometimes the relatives did not want for the children to return home.

Pierre Jobert

A French illustrator during the 1950s and 60s executed hundreds of drawings of French youth. Some were drawn in the 1930s and 40s, but most were produced in the 1950s and 60s. He draw numerous pictures for Boy Scout literature. He also illustrated many "Signes de pistes" which was most popular in the 1950s and 60s. He illustrated the covers of many books with historical settings, but he also drew to illustrate ordinary activities of French boys.

Movies

HBC has compiled a list of important French films. We have not yet indexed our main film list by chronology so we can list post-war French films, This is something we will eventualy do.

Individual Details

Some information is available on individual experieces in France.
French family: 1880s-90s (The De Lesseps)
French family: 1890s-1900s (The Renoirs)
French family: 1890s-1900s (Paul)
French family: 1890s-1900s (The Zolas)
French boy: 1900s (Jean Daubeville)
French boy and smocks: 1950s-60s
French boyhood: 1960s
American boy in France: 1960s
American boy at French school: 1960s

Sources

Children's Fashion 1860-1910, from Modes de Illustre: It's published by Dover Books, and it may be available in your local library. These are fashion illustrations from a French Magazine, and illustrates European preferences. I believe I recall seeing "Fauntleroy" suits.






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Created: February 20, 1999
Last updated: March 5, 2003