American Boys' Clothes: Personal Experiences in the 1960s

Figure 1.--This poor image shows Tristan in the black short pants suit comlete with knee socks that he wore.

This unidentified boy was from Princeton, New Jersey going to a family reunion in 1959. He was 9 years old and wore a short pants suit with kneesocks. The boy's name was Tristram Coffin. Formany of the photographs he did not have his suit jacket on, but wore short pants and kneesocks. This is one example how a boy from an affluent American family might dress in the 1950s.

American Boys in the 1950s

Several HBC readers have asked me about American boys in the 1950s and 1960s. At the time most American boys lived in "T" shirts with big colored stripes, jeans, and Keds (sneakers). In the fall for school we would switch to flannel shirts and flannel lined jeans or cords. But it was virtually all long pants, even for relatively younger boys. There were some exceptions. Hopefully some of our American HBC contributors can help flesh this out.
The South: Boys in the South might wear play shorts at early elementary age, but not to school. I remember the common style as being called boxer shorts. One HBC contributor tells me that even in Hawaii boys didn't wear short pants to school.
California: I think shorts were also more common in California than in the rest of the country.
Wealthy: Wealthy or even moderately affluent parents were much more likely to dress their sons in shortpants and kneesocks. This was especially true if they went to a private school with a uniform requirement. It was also true for dress occasions such as church, theater, parties, weddings, and country club events. Even less affluent middle-class parents might dress younger boys in short pants suits for church, but it was much more common as you went up the economic ladder. Those families with connections to England would be especially likely to dress their sons in shorts and send them to exclusive private schools with a short pants uniform requirement.
Immigrants: Recent European immigrants were also more likely to dress their sons in the short pants suits that boys, even older boys, commonly wore in Europe. English families might be the most likely in this regard, but I have heard similar reports from Irish, Italian, German, Greek, Polish, and other European immigrants. (Not so much from the French because there was relatively limited immigration from France.)

Figure 2.--Tristan on a stage with his father. He wears a white shirt, dark shorts, and white kneesocks.

Clothing Styles

A United States magazine in the late 1950s or early 1960s published an article about a boy showing a variety of daily activities. His father was a university professor. The boy looks to be about 10 or 11 years old. Interestingly in all the photographs, although many are poor quality, the boy wears short pants and knee socks. Usually he is wearing a suit, although he often remove the tie and jacket during the day. Even for play, however, he wears checkered shorts and white kneesocks. Now this would have not been so unusual in the 1970s when the fashion of wearing sport shorts with white, athletic knee socks appeared. This boy, however, is not wearing athletic kneesocks, but proper kneesocks--although it is hard to make out in the photograph. Wearing dark kneesocks wkth short pants was becoming particularly less common by the 1960s. Wearing white knees would have been particularly rare--either for dress wear or play wear. Perhaps his mother knowing he was to be photograph insisted that he dress formally.

Figure 3.--Kneesocks for boys were becoming much less common for American boys in the 1960s. Tristan seems to have always wore them.

Social Class

The boy's clothes seems somewhat unusual for the average American boy in the 1950s or 60s, especially by the time they were 10 or 11. As mentioned above, however, boys from affluent families or from families like college professors who moved in affluent circles, it was not quite so unusual. My experiences of T shirts and jeans do not mean that some boys, like the one pictured here, were not dressed more stylishly in suits that were more common in England and Europe. This seems to have been much more common for boys from affluent American families, perhps going to private schools, many with school uniforms.


The article was about a 9-year-old boy named Tristram Coffin, and his trip to a family reunion with his dad, David Coffin, who was at the time a professor at Princeton University, in New Jersey. As I remember, the article had a whole series of pictures of "Tris" dressed in all sorts of outfits, all of which featured short pants, and always knee socks. The article mentioned that the Coffin family held these reunions, and that they made a real big deal out of them. You'll notice that even when Tris was running in a field, like one of the more casual pictures, he still wore short pants with white knee socks. When surveying the chairs and tables after arriving at the formal dinner for the family, he was all decked out in his short pants suit with tie, jacket, and knee socks.


Figure 4.--Tristan appears to be wearing white sneakers with his kneesocks.

Actual Article

I don't have the complete article or text. A HBC contributor has provided some recollections from memory. I seem to remember another picture that for some reason I didn't save, probably because it was a group picture and the people were small in the picture. I remember that Tris was the only boy who was wearing a short pants suit, and he wasn't the youngest one there either. You can see from the pictures that heapparantly wasn't self concious about dressing in short pants and knee socks, even being older. I also wish that I could remember the specific magazine and date, so I could try to track down a good copy from some archives.

Figure 5.--Tristan plays in checkered short pants and white kneesocks. White kneesocks were not commonly worn by American boys in the 1960s.

Related HBC pages

The 1940s-50s: Sneakers and jeans
The 1950s: Beaver Goes Shopping
The 1950s: Jeans, Jeans, Jeans
The 1960s: School in America and France
The 1960s: Traveling in Europe
The 1960s: The Beautiful People
The 1960s: Mothers Buy Clothes


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Created: November 12, 1998
Last updated: October 3, 2003