The strongest memories that I have about the clothes I wore as a boy were
my short pants. My parents insisted on shorts, even when my friends didn't wear them.
As a 12-year old boy finishing elementary school, I never thought I'd dress up in short
pants and knee socks. That was before my dad got a chance to teach at the
Sorbone in Paris. We were soon off to Europe. After a summer of touring
Europe, we settked down in Paris and it was
time for me to begin school. Had it not been for Dad's opportunity to study at the Sorbone
I would never again have worn
shorts for anything other than casual wear, But instead, I, as a
tall, 12-year old American 7th grader, would find myself put back into
short pants that I, as most Americans had come to think of as little
We spent the summer of 1964 touring
Europe (Scandinavia, the Low Countries, and the British Isles)
before settling down in Paris. Every where we went,
I saw European boys in short pants--often strikingly short, sometimes
with knee socks, neckties and jackets. When my parents saw the way
European boys were dressing, I was instantly put back into shorts. Long
pants were banned.
When we finally got to Paris, my parents put me into a public
school near our apartment. The French system differs from the American in
many respects; one of those is that kids do not all advance in lock step.
Given my nearly non-existent French, the school thought it best if I went
into the equivalent of 6th rather than 7th grade, but boys in my class
ranged from 9 to 13. I was neither the oldest nor the tallest, but on the
first day of classes, it was almost the reverse of the situation back in
Laramie--I was one of the few boys in long trousers.
My parents had
relented when I said I wanted to start school in long pants until we found
out what the style of dress in school was for boys my age; I had enough
going against me, hardly speaking the language, and I didn't need to stand
out by being oddly dressed. Long pants in a boy my age and height were not
all that odd, but I was in a distinct minority. So back into shorts I went
until the weather turned colder. I didn't really fight it. The truth was
that although I felt I needed to prove my independence, I genuinely
preferred wearing shorts. Indeed, as I
noticed my classmates--many of them in extremely short lederhosen or
corduroy shorts--I almost asked my parents to buy me shorts like that,
but I could never quite get up the courage to do it.
As the fall wore on and the weather got colder, boy after boy
switched to long pants (usually cords). I did too. My mother just said,
"You'd better wear your cords today. It looks like it's going to be cold."
I wanted to say, "No, I'd rather wear shorts", but I put on the cords
without saying anything. I couldn't help notice, however, that while a
majority of the boys were switching to longs, not all of them were. Many
of them started wearing thick knee socks, but kept right on with shorts.
It didn't seem to have much to do with age either--one boy, at least 13,
always wore the same sweater, grey flannel shorts, and grey knee socks
outfit right through the winter. When it got really bitterly cold after
Christmas, the number of shorts wearers diminished to a handfull, but there
were always at least a few stalwarts.
I was in longs all winter, but in the spring (fairly late in
the spring), mom brought out the short pants again. I was one of the
later converts back to shorts--by
the time I put them back on, I was down to a distinct minority still in
longs. However, a funny thing happened to me--I had shot
up in height over the winter, so that when I put on my shorts again, they
had gotten much shorter and tighter and that I felt embarrassed again--not
so much in school, although I had become the tallest boy in my class.
At school it didn't really make all that much difference. On
the street, however, being so tall and wearing such short shorts I did
feel very self concious. I mentioned this to my mother, but all she could
say is how smart I looked.
That was the last time in my life I ever wore shorts for dress-up
occasions. Even though I felt a bit shy away from school about wearing
such shrort shorts, I still remember how pleasant the air felt--the
sense of it being spring, sitting in class with the windows open and seeing
so many of my classmates in their short pants, many with white
knee socks. I cannot believe that it wasn't better for boys to be in
school dressed this way than the intense aping of adult dress that would
characterize school wear back in the states.
It took me some months before I could speak the
language well enough to have regular conversations or understand what the
other boys were saying. I don't recall ever having a conversation about
clothes with my friends, or ever overhearing one, which doesnt mean it
didn't happen. The boy who sat next to me for a while did wear shorts most
of the year. I do remember when he wore very short
lederhosen with knee
socks one day late in the winter after a few weeks in cords, I asked him if
he wasn't cold, and he just shrugged as if it was a non-issue.
above the most common shortpants style was quite short gray corduroy
shorts. They were not as short as Japanese shorts until quite recently,
which left the entire thigh bare, but they were half to 2/3 of the way
between the knees and the groin. They were most typcally worn with grey
kneesocks, although sometimes particularly in the spring, with white
kneesocks or ankle socks. The other two major styles were lederhosen --
worn very short, usually with knee socks -- and close-to-knee-length navy
shorts, usually worn with ankle socks. I also saw a few English-type longer
grey flannel shorts, worn with knee socks. Longs were gray or navy or
brown cords; no jeans.
At school we did not wear coat and tie or suit. Shorts
were most typically worn with sweaters, pullovers or regular shirts in
warmer weather. To my recollection, there was little difference between
the way boys dressed in school or out. If I had seen something similar in
Paris, I probably would have remembered it.
Berets were faily common in France. A few boys did wear those
classic "French blue" school smocks, but to
my recollection, they were more common
in the lower grades.
I do not remember footwear. I think some of the boys wore Enlish-style
school sandals but, as I say, I really
have no recollection. I was not allowed to wear sneakers to school
--either in France or the States--and wore typical brown or black lace
After the year in Paris, we moved to Ticson, where I attended 8th-12th
grades. For details on an American high school, click
Author: Bruce McPherson
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