Boys' fashions in the period from World War II through the 1960s. We see the increasing popularity of casual styles. Suits declined substantially in popularity. Suits were less commonly worn as casual styles became increasingly accepted when families moved to the suburbs. One casual style popular in the 1940s and early 50s was an openecked shirt worn with a wide collar that did not button at the neck. Suits changed from large lapels in the 1940s to very narrow lapels in the 1960s. Flashy sports jackets with contrasting fabrics in the 40s and early 50s changed to more conservative styles in the 60s. Madras and searsuckets jackets were popular. Even by the 60s, some younger boys were still wearing them with short pants. Knickers began to become less common by the early 1940s and were not commonly worn by 1945. Major changes wew notable. By the end of the period only very small boys were dressing up in short pants. Two major stalwarts were introduced, jeans and "T"-shirts, staples which are now worn around the world.The "T" shirt becamne a boys' standard, especially striped shirts. Preppy styles like button-down shirts were popular. Boys moved very quickly from short pants and knickers to long pants. Little boys commonly wore shorts, but by the early 1950s most America boys wore long pants, often jeans. Jeans for pre-teen boys might be lined in red plaid flannel. American boys wore jeans in the 1950s, both for play and school. We see shorts at school in thge 1940s, but by the 1950s they were not very common. Jeans were not considered fashionable, however, and many secondary schools did not allow them, although his had begun to change by the late 1960s. The move toward casual clothes was accentuated by the Beatnicks of the 1950s and the Hippies of the 1960s. Both adopted jeans as a kind of uniform of the movement. Shorts were more common in some areas such as the South and California. Also more affluent boys would often have a short pants suit for dress occasions, but rarely for boys over 11 or 12, and even this became increasingly less common in the 1960s. Older boys did generally not wear shorts, even for casual wear in the 1940s-50s, although they began to become more popular for older boys in the 1960s. College boys began wearing Bermuda shorts as casual wear in the 1950s and by the 1960s shorts were being worn by some younger boys as casual wear as well. By the 1960s, however, shorts for casual wear and play began to increase in popularity. Quite a few boys, however, refused to wear short pants. Here there were regional and social class differences. Sneakers were strictly for play in the 1940s, but we begin to see primary boys wearing them to school by the 1960.
Before America enteed World War II (1941-45), there were substantial differences between North and South and between urban and rural America. This gap had begun to close before the War as people in the major cities began to move into the suburbs. People in rural areas began moving into the big industrial cities. Blacks in the rural South joined into this migration. School portraits are a good source of informtion as they are often dated and the locations are indicated.
We still see small rural cools in the 1930s with chuldren wearing iveralls and going barefoot. The war accelerated the processes that were reshaping america abd removing demographic differences. American bgan mobilizing for War in a small way has Hitler and Stalin launced the War (September 1939). Factories closed by the Depression were opened and expanded and new factiries built. There was no longer and unemployment problem. As a result of the War, there was now a labor shortage. And along with this process we see the rural/urban divide and the North south divide rapidly disappearing. After the War wiyh a brrief recession we see large numbers of Americans entering the middle-class and chieving the merican dream. there was a vast movement into the suburbs that expnded out from the cities. By the 1950s, childten can no longer be identified by how they dressed. Children in urban and rural areas dressed alike. Earlier families might have similar dressup cloyhimg, but by the 1950s increasinly common casualwear was also identical. Here telvesion was a actor. No matter where you lived in the United States, families received the same visual images in their livingrooms.
Suits were less commonly worn as casual styles became increasingly accepted as families moved to the suburbs. Suits change from large lapels in the 1940s to very narrow lapels opular in the 1960s.
The Eton suit for little boys gained great popularity during this period. The Eton jacket was a short, collarless jackrt, in various materials. It was usually worn with short grey pants.
Various types of sports jackets gained specia; populatity in the 1950s. Searsucker suits appeared in the 1920s, but became especially popular in the 1950s. Seasucker was a summer material, but was usually worn with long pants. Boys of all ages wore Madras jackets which also became popular in the 1950s. Younger boys often wore them with solid colored blue or grey short pants.
American boys commonly wore a destinctive collar style in the 1940s and early 50s. I do not know a lot about this style, it may have originated in the 1930s. I'm not sure what the collar style was called, but it fold out to create a rather larger collar beginning further down the shirt than other collars. The collar was worn with play clothes, but some boys wore white shirts using this collar with sweaters and sport jackets as well. It was not commonly worn with suits as they required a tie. Boys of all ages wore shirts with this collar.
Knickers began to become less common by the early 1940s and were not commonly worn by 1945. American boys in the 1940s still commonly wore shorts, although not as old boys as in Europe. The shorts for younger boys could be cut briefly, but older boys wore them at knee length. Shorts were not yet regarded as purely summer wear. Some boys would wear shorts even when it was chilly enough for a sweater. Older boys, however, increasingly wanted long pants. American boys by the early 1950s most America boys wore long pants, often
jeans. The increasingly popular jeans were not considered fashionable, however, and many secondary schools did not allow them, although his had begun to change by the late 1960s. Shorts were more common in some areas such as the South and California. Also more affluent boys would often have a short pants suit for dress occasions, but rarely for boys over 11 or 12. Older boys did generally not wear shorts, even for casual wear in the 1940s-50s, although they began to become more popular for older boys in the 1960s. During the 1960's many old the jeans became cutoffs. It was quite popular in California during the summer months for boys of all ages wearing these shorts. Mothers didn't want to sew patches and the became cutoffs. Usually midway and up. I knew some mothers had trouble in cutting the pants and had to re-cut the pants to equal the other side.
Boys in the 1930s had commonly worn kneesocks with knickers. As knickers became less common, boys increasingly wore ankle socks. Commonly
with horizontal stripes. American boys in the 1950s no longer commonly wore kneesocks, especially
for play or school. Some boys who still wore short pants suits did sometimes wear kneessocks, but this became increasingly less common by the 1960sd
American boys mostly wore oxford leather shoes. Very young boys might wear closed-toe sandals.
School age boys, however, did not commonly wear them.
The canvas shoes which appeared in the 1920s reached great popularity in the 1950s. The most popular brand was Keds which were often worn in high-top styles. In the 1960s, many different brands and styles of
Boys in the 1940s wore caps much less commonly than in the 1030s. Mostvcaps in the 1950s were worn during the einter and might have ear flaps. Some novelyu styles like coon-skin hats were popular in the
1950s. By the the 1960s, baseball caps bgan to become increasingly popular, but not yet with teammor company logos as developed in the 1970s.
We notice enormous changes during the post-War era. We see the increasing popularity of casual styles. Suits declined substantially in popularity. The "T" shirt becamne a boys' standard, especially striped shirts. America entered World War II after Pearl Harbor (1941). There were already major fashion changes underwear. Knickers which had been a boys standard were disappearing. The War hasetened a variety of changes. The War had tremendous cinsequences for Anerica and fashion was part of that change. As in World war I, fashion shifted toward casual styles. Pre-War styles like knickers and long stockings rapidly disappeared. Boys increasingly wore long pants. Short pants became increasingly casual summer wear. Overalls rapidly disappeared, alyhough jeans emerged as a major style and girls weven began wearing them.
A HBC reader informs us that he occasioned on our site while researching for a paper on regional clothing styles in the United States. He reports that although our studies of the decades 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s etc were interesting, he found them to be to generalized. He believes that therewere significant reginal differences as well as differences among the children within regions.
HBC quite agrees that there were substantial differencesm between regions. We believe, however that this was most pronounced in the early 20th century. We believe that the combined impact of World War II, move to the suburbs, and television began to significantly impact regional differebces in dress by the late 1950s. Our reader reports that these regional differences, however, were still important in the 1960s. He reports, "I was from Southern California. My wife being from the Northeast tells me that your description
of dress in the 1960's was the same as her experience, not mine. I think the regional aspects are important if not the driver of fashion in the 1960 through the 1980s." HBC certainly agrees that this is a factor that needs to be addressed. There is some discussion of regional trends in HBC's U.S. pages, but we are only at a very preliminary stage of collecting information.
Our HBC reader believes that in most regions during the 1950s and 60s there were three predominate cultures of dress amongst school children, specifically the teenagers. The three cultures inclided: 1) the nerds, 2) the greasers, and 3) the socials. HBC is prone to include social class factors as another important varaiable here. Strangely enough the greaser look has evolved into today's relaxed dress of jeans, t shirts and jewelry of sorts and new individualistic styles. He reports that "In our high school, most dances were the "hop" and informal wear was appropriate (except no jeans). By the late 80s and 90s and to date school fashions are driven by the new categories of student dress. Goths, Hip Hop, surfer, skateboarder and yet again the Nerd and the Socials. It seems the expressive greaser of old, the expressionist of his time has split into many different groups and remains the predominate group." This is another topic that HBC would like to address, but as our reader points out, it appears to be a factor primarily affecting teenagers. Even so, it has all affected younger boys as teenage fashions are ften adoted by the younger boys.
We want to eventually look at American children in general during this period to put the changing fashion trends in context. We want to look into the historiography of
child-rearing and parental advice literature for the period--children in
the post-war/cold war home and family. We also want to approach it from a
standpoint of education (both policy and pedagogy/practice), 1945-65 being
the age of Sputnik, ESEA, Head Start. That would provide information about children in school. Anither topic we want tompersue is the commercialization and merchandizing of childhood in popular culture which covers this period (fads, crazes, toys, games, children's literature, popular culture through television and advertising). In a giant nutshell, that would be children and (popular) culture.
The United States emerged from World War II as the strongest power on eartyh, one of two superpowers. Europe had again been devestated by the War which also reaked great destruction in Asia. The American economy which had sufferd a decade of depression was invigorated by the War and achieved levels of productivity that neither the Germans and Japanese or for that matter the British had believed possible. America was now a largely urban society. The affluence Americans experienced after World War II had a huge impact on the youth culture that had began to exert itself even before the War. Youth continued spending ever increasing time in school. Virtually every child was now finishing primary school and now most were finishing secondary school as well as entering university. Children were increasingly dependent on their parents into their late teens and early 20s. This development had given rise to a youth culture that was affecting fashion and dress. As one academic rreports, "... growing numbers of college-bound young adults created a functional peer-group culture that helped them learn to compete, to cooperate, and to consume in a modern capitalist economy." [Graebner] The new youth culture began to exert itself as never before in American life and culture. There were many other less benign consequences. Newspapers reported on youth "gangs" and "juvenile delinquency" in the larger cities. [Graebner, pp. 11-13.] Thus concern over youth and juvdenile delinquency had given rise to the Boy Scouts and other youth groups in the early 20th century. Many American boys became Cubs and Scouts or participated in other youth groups, especially in the 1940s and 50s. Participation began to decline in the 1960s.
Engelhardt, Tom. The End of Victory Culture.
Erikson. Childhood and Society.
Graebner, William. Coming of Age in Buffalo: Youth and Authority in the Postwar Era (Temple University Press, 1990). Mostly on teenagers.
Gilbert, James. Cycle of Outrage: More on teenagers.
Hawes and Hiner, American Childhood.
Jensen, ed. The Children's Culture Reader: Has some great essays and primary documents.
Kaplan, Linn and Judy Shapiro, ed. Red Diapers: Has memoirs of many "red diaper babies" who grew up in the 50s and 60s.
May, Elaine. Homeward Bound.
Nekola, Charlotte. Dream House, Coming of Age in Mississippi: Memoir of 1950s childhood.
Tuttle, William. Daddys Gone to War.
Tyler May, Elaine, Homeward Bound.
Willard, Mike and Joe Austin, Generations of Youth: collection of essays.
A variety of personal accounts are available and articles are available on this period.
The 1940s: Short snipits
The 1940s: Knickers and shorts
The 1940s: My Brother and I
The 1940s: A sailor suit
The 1940s-50s: Sneakers and jeans
The 1950s: Beaver Goes Shopping
The 1950s: Jeans, Jeans, Jeans
The 1960s: Traveling in Europe
The 1960s: Shorts, jeans, and France
The 1960s: The Beautiful People
The 1960s: Mothers Buy Clothes
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