United States Boys' Clothes: World War II and the Post War Period (1941-69)--Pants and Social Differences in Movies

Figure 1.--This poster shows Tim Hoey wear a blazer as his school uniform. Actually the boys wore black short pants suits.

Many period movies showed boys during the post-World War II era (1945-69) wearing short pants suits. Usually they were boys from affluent families or attending private schools. Often the children just have small parts. Much rarer are the films in which the boys in short pants suits have major roles. In part this was because films about boys rarely dealt with boys from rich comfortable families. By the 1970s, however, American boys are almost never seem in short pamts suits.

Aunty Mame

Aunty Mame of course begins in 1929 and primarily is set in the 1930s. Patrick comes from a wealthy family. Mame is also wealthy--although she loses her first fortune in the Depression. At the very end of the movie we see Patrick's son who attends a private school and wears a black short pants suit with kneesocks. I'm not sure about the year, but presumably would be the early 1950s.

Merry Andrew

A HBC reader reports, "There was another movie, titled Merry Andrew, from the 1950's era, staring Danny Kaye, where he played a teacher in an exclusive boys school, and all the boys wore short pants uniform suits thruout the movie. I seem to remember a scene where he was going on a school sponsored bike ride with the boys, and each boy was dressed in an all white outfit with short pants and white knee socks.

My Reputation (1946)

A 1946 Barbara Stanwyck film, "My Reputation" (sounds suitably "purple" doesn't it?) comes to mind. Barbara portrays a wealthy Eastern lady with two sons, about 12 and 14/15, who wear long pants suits and ties throughout the film. In "My Reputation" Barbara Stanwyck's character falls for an Army officer, played by George Brent. The town gossips spread rumors about their relationship, and their vile talk eventually reaches the two boys. Barbara Stanwyck plays her role quite effectively, torn between her devotion to her family and her love for George Brent. For Barbara this is a very different role; she usually played rather headstrong characters, such as Martha Ivers. The boys are played by Scotty Beckett, a "graduate" of the Our Gang series, in which he played Spanky's best pal, and Bobby Cooper, who had roles in Little Men (as Adolphus) and Strange Voyage. When Reputation was filmed, Scotty was a young looking 16. I haven't come across any biographical info about Bobby Cooper, but he played in Reputation a character of about 12 or so. The boys wear long pants throughout that film.

Toy Tigers

Tim Hovey goes to an American boarding run by two kind-heated, but dottery head masters--in fact the only masters. The uniform is proper gray short pants, black knee socks, and black blazers with caps. He is only seven, but most of the other boys look to be about 10-13. Most of the film is set at the schools with the boys in their uniforms. This is one of the best films with American boys in school uniform. The school is depicted rather unrealistically. The boys are referred to as "Mister" so and so. For punishment they write lines such as "Young gentlemen do not fight." Staff stand around to serve dinner. Interestingly when the boys go camping they switch to scout uniforms with long pants and their school cap. An advertising man substitutes for his imaginary father. One American film comes to mind with boys wearing school uniforms--Toy Tiger. It stars Laraine Day and Jeff Chandler in the lead roles, along with a young star named Tim Hovey, the main juvenile character of this film. The youngster's mom is a busy career-woman, a widowed ad agency exec (Laraine Day). He attends a boys' prep school directed by two brothers, portrayed by Richard Haydn and Cecil Kellaway. The young star, a bit envious that the other boys have dads, has created a fictional father who has astonishing adventures all over the world--a ploy that also explains why he never visits. Our hero goes to great lengths to keep up this charade, until one day he goes too far in a verbal sparring match with a rival and announces that his dad WILL SO visit him at the school. With a group of boys from the school watching him from a distance, he picks out a stranger (Jeff Chandler) from the bus and pretends to be the town's official "greeter". To the boys it appears that his dad has indeed arrived for a visit. In a coincidence only Hollywood could make believable, the stranger happens to work for his mom. By film's end, they are indeed a happily family, as Ms. Day and Mr. Chandler wed. In the film the boys wear dark blue blazers, white shirts, blue ties, gray shorts, blue knee socks, and blue peaked caps.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: February 20, 2001
Last updated: February 21, 2001