** United States boys clothes: garments -- types of short pants

United States Short Pants: Types

Figure 1.--This is an ad for Easter telegrams--Western Union Bunnygrams (1957). I don't where the ad appeared--it looks like a magazine advertisement. Lucille Ball is the actress featured. At the time she had the most popular TV show in the country--'I Love Lucy'. The little boy is Keith Thibodeaux who played Little Ricky on the show. Keith is wearing suspender shorts. They were probably part of a short pants suit, but here he wears a "T"-shirt. Younger pre-school boys commonly wore shorts pants in the 1950s, but suspender shorts were not very common except as the shorts that went with short pants suits. We do not see buttons here, the attachmment seems to be inside the waistline. We are not sure the straps were paet of the shorts. There seems to be difference in color.

American boys wore short pants for both dress up occassions and for casual and play clothes. Thus a variety of different types of shorts emerged over time. Short pants were initially boys clothes and the detinction between casual and pants were not common as it is today. This has varied over time. Boys in the early 20th century did not have the extensive wardrobes common today. Boys from families with modest income might have a good pair of pants and use an older pair for play. After World War I it becomes more common to see play clothes advertized. Casual shorts were readuly available in the 1930s. For small boys short sleeve shirt and short sets that looked coordinated were popular. This included button-on shorts. The popularity of dress and play shorts varied over time. Some boys in the 1950s, for example, had jeans for play and short pants suits for dressing up. By the 1960s, however, short pants became increasing a caual or play garment. Boys might till wear shorts for dresy summer occassions, but this became less common. A variety of specific styles appeared. Older boys might wear Bermuda shorts. Another popular style appearing in the 1950s was shortalls. Younger boys often wore simple boxer shorts. Camps shorts appeared in the late 1950s. Various styles of althetic shorts began to become popular in the lae 60s, influenced by the growing popularity of both basketball and soccer. The introduction of cutoffs and the increasing popularity of soccer and bnasketball (sports with short pants uniforms) were important factors in making short pants increasingly popular in America. American boys by the 1980s commonly wore shorts as casual wear, elementary boys would even wear them to school. Quite short styles were popular. The casual shorts, walks shorts or camp shorts generally came a little above the knee.

Athletic Shorts

Atletic shorts appeared with the popularity of basketball. Some were done with a satin-like finish. They were not, however, worn for casual wear off the basketball court, probably because modt boys at the time wore knickers rather than short pants. A new generation of althetic shorts began to become popular in the late-60s. Again sports were the origin, both basketball and soccer. And this time the styles became popular for casual and plasy wear.

Bermuda Shorts

Some Americans visited Bermuda in the 1920s and 30s. Many Americans served on Bermuda during World War II. After the War Bermuda became enormously popular as a tourist designation for Americans. HBC first notes them in America during the 1950s when magazine adds appeared for adults as informal dress wear for men as worn with knee socks and sports jackets. The fashion, however, never caught on for adults. While HBC notes this in the 1950s, it is likely that the fashion forst appeared after World War II in the late 1940s. Many American servicemen were stationed on the Island during the War. American college boys began wearing Bermudas in the 1950s as casual wear and younger boys soon followed suit. Acceptance was somewhat regional. They first appeared in the Northeast and I think California. There was considerable resistance in the Heartland (especially Midwest). An Illinois boy recalls being rather experimental when he wore them in 1955. Bermudas were the first short pants worn buy older American boys and helped to lead the way for the gradual acceptance of shorts as popular casual wear for boys in the 1970s. as the casual style for boys caught on. Older American boys until the 1970s continued the Bermuda-style, cut at just above the knee until the 1970s.

Bib-front Shorts

Bib-front shorts as finally developed were essentially a type of suspendder shorts with a little fabric added in front to make a bib. The style presumably developed from overalls which appeared in the mid-19th century, but boys only began wearing in the early-20th century. At least we do not see bib-front shorts until after boys began wearing overalls (about 1908-09). This can be seen in 1900s school portaits. Overalls existed much earlier, but for decades were not commonly worn by boys. This can be sen in the school portrait taken in the 19th century. We first see primarily low-income boys from rural areas wearing overalls. Coveralls were developed by Levi Straus for more asffluent families. As short pants became popular after World War I in the 1920s we begin to see bib-front short pants, primarily for pre-school boys. The bib had the advantage of protecting the boy's shirt when eating. From the beginning it was a type of playwear and a practical choice as the bib protected the child's shirt. And they were done in easily washable fabrics like denim.

Bike Shorts

Bike shoer are also know cycling shorts and several other names including knicks. They tend to be lonish short to a little over the knee, altough there is some variation here. )The key characteristic is that they are skin-tight shorts, more like legwear. They are designed to provide improve comfort as well as efficiency while cycling. There are several advantges to these shorts. The most obvious is reduced wind resistance and increased aerodynamic efficiency. Thy also protect the skin against the constant friction of the legs against the bicycle seat or frame.

Boxer Shorts

Younger boys often wore simple boxer shorts. They were simple and practical. They vwere also inexpensive. Boxer shorets were done in many colors. Most of the boys we have noted wearing boxer shorts are American. We know they were worn in America, but usage was somewhat regional. In some areas, especially the South, boys did wear shorts. We notice boys wearing these boxer shorts from about the late 1940s through the early 60s. They were mostly worn by younger American boys. The popular style for boys up to about 12 was boxer shorts. They were a summer play style in America, often worn with stripped T-shirts. We have rarely noticed this style in other countries. Notice how the American boys here have tucked their shirts into their shorts. This was very common at the time. A HBC reader writes, "This photo brings back memories. This is the type of shorts that I remember wearing when I was about 5 or 6 years old (late 1950's). Younger boys wore boxers for play or everyday wear for years after this photo was taken. I remember wearing shoes and socks like these boys, too. The boxer shorts that I remember were brown. Boxers were a good choice for small boys. There were no cumbersome, restrictive belts, and they were very light weight for active warm weather play. Although this looks a little dressed up, I'd wear them for play, just as these boys. I think you're right, that this photo dates from the 1950's. By the early 1960's small boys would wear sneakers or running shoes and crew socks with their boxer shorts. You wouldn't see boys much older than six wearing boxers for play. Blue jeans (longs), walk shorts or camp shorts would be more likely for boys 6 - 12. By the 1970's it seemed that this style of shorts was not so common. Boys and even young men were wearing what I call gym shorts, the kind I associate with physical education classes in school. These shorts have an elasticized waist band and are generally rather short. In the early 1970's boys generally wore tube socks, long white athletic socks that reach almost to the knee. These socks usually had colored bands at the top. There were shorts from the mid- and late-1980's called jams that also had elasticized waist bands and draw strings. These shorts seem like a descendant of boxer shorts. And shorts by the brand name, Joe Boxer, are popular with boys and young men today. Through the years it seems as though this casual style has grown in popularity. Also, older boys and young men are as likely as small boys to wear this style. HBC has discussed that shorts became more widely accepted in the United States when they were more marketed as casual, rather than dress clothes.

Button-on Shorts

We see quite a number of American boys wearing button-on shorts during the inter-War era (1920s-30s and into the 40s). Button-on styles were not novel. They appeard with the skeleton suits worn in the early-19th century. Short opants were, howwever, relatively new in the 1920s. Earlier boy wore knee pants. Short pants are especiallynassociated with nutton-on styling because older boys wearing jnickers and long pants did not need the button-sttyling to hold up their pants. HBC is most familiar with American boys wearing button-on shorts. This does not mean, however that the style was most prevalent in the United States. Like other styles like suspender pants, HBC's greater access to American sources may give a misleading view. We do infact believe that button-on styles were widely worn in many European countries, but at this time have few details on which countries and the styles and chronologies involved in these countries. Other options such as suspender pants, suspenders themselves, and H-bar shorts seem more popular in Europe than America. It is not always easy to spot button-on shorts. Many were done with self-belts to cober the buttons. The self-belts were for the most part decorative. It was the buttons which held up the shorts. We are not entirely sure why the belts were added, but because school-age boys were wearing these shorts, we suspect that some of the older boys did not like the idea of wearing button-on shorts. whichb were seen as a juvnile style. Perhaps readers will know more about this. Button-on shorts had to be dold as sets with the shirts, otherwise the buttons on the shirs might not be in the right placce to fit into the button holes in the shorts. Thus the colors were often coordinated.

Cabana Set

A cabana set is a two-piece beachwear ensemble for men and boys consisting of loosely fitting short pants or swim suit and a matching short-sleeved shirt some times called a jacket. As far as we know, this is an American style. Cabana sets are commonly done in bright tropical floral patterns and are most assoiated with vacations in Florida and Hawaii. The term comes from cabana meaning a beach hur, commonly with a thatched roof. The priginal spanosh (cabna�) means cabin, but apparently was picked up by tourists in the Caribbean, probably Americans in Cuba, to mean a beach hut that vacationers rent. Beach shops were also doine as cabana offering cold drinks and snacks. We are not sure when these sets were first offered, but supect it was the 1930s. They seem especially popular in the 1950s as many families in the Northeast began after the War to take Florida vacations. Some boys at the time didn;t normally wear shorts, but some how found them acceptable as vacation wear. Cabana sets were reintroduced in the 1980s as Jams. I do not know any real difference between the two except that some cabana sets were done with swim suits (or shorts that could be worn as swim suits) rather than short pants.

Camp Shorts

Camps shorts appeared in the late-1950s. This was a distinctly American style. Camp shorts appear to have been primarily an American style. They were almost certainly developed in America, but I am not sure who introduced them. I can recall first seeing them in the early 1960s, but am unsure precisely when they first appeared. Camp shorts were very popular among American boys during the 1960s and 70s and even into the 1980s. They were an important feature in American catalogs such as Sears and Wards. The Sears camp shorts were made in the United States. the boy here, for example, is wearing Sears camp shorts. A reader writes, "This is a pair of Sears camp shorts, I would say in the late 70s or early 80s. Notice the metal utilty clip it is mounted on the right hip belt loop sears is the only manufacture that put the clip in that postion. All other camp shorts had the clip mounted on a belt loop on the left front side or right front side. Sears also had the back patch pocket on the right hip as the photograph here shows. I had several pair like this myself in the late 70s and early 80s. I think Sears made that change in the mid 70s as Sears camp shorts prior to that had two back patch pockets. Why they changed to the one back pocket style I don't know. It could have been just a slight style change or they elimanated the one pocket as a cost cutting measure. HBC has not noted them being worn extensively in other countries to any great extent. Camp shorts were a type of casual short pants." American boys did wear them to camp, but they were alo commonly worn for play and other casual wear at home. Primary-age boys commonly wore them to school in the 1970s and 80s.

Cargo Shorts

Cargo shorts which evolved from camp shorts are very popular in California in the early 2000s. The style is found on khaki cotton twill, cord, nylon, and blue jean shorts. A California reader reports that in 2001 that cargo shorts were the most popular style of short pants. They vary in length from above the knee to halfway down the shin. They are popular with men as well as boys, although most men don't like the longer lengths.

Casual and Play Shorts

The popularity of dress and play shorts varied over time. Some boys in the 1950s, for example, had jeans for play and short pants suits for dressing up. By the 1960s, however, short pants became increasing a caual or play garment. Several different types developed over time. Boys might till wear shorts for dresy summer occassions, but this became less common. A variety of specific styles appeared. The introduction of cutoffs and the increasing popularity of soccer and basketball (sports with short pants uniforms) were important factors in making short pants increasingly popular in America. American boys by the 1980s commonly wore shorts as casual wear, elementary boys would even wear them to school. Quite short styles were popular. The casual shorts, walks shorts or camp shorts generally came a little above the knee.

Cord Shorts

Unlike England and France, corduroy was not commonly used for short pants, until relatively recently. In the 1920s the fabric was commonly worn in America by boys. They were a popilar fabric for boys' knickers and knicker suits. American boys commonly wore cordoroy knickers to school in the 1920s and 30s in much the same way jeans are now worn. hey were generally considered cold-weather pants. Corduroy shorts did appear in America during the 1970s-80s. Cord shorts were virtually unknown in the United States until Ocean Pacific (OP) introduced a line of brightly colored cord shorts. They first appeared in California. They were cut much shorter than the cord shorts once worn by English boys and were not lined. They were first popular during the 1970s in Califonia and reached the east coast by the 1980s. Both boys and girls wore them. One reader reports, "My 8th grade crush, Jill, in 1979 wore these. I loved the way they looked. I myself had 10 pair in different colors. They were almost year round clothes in Tucson." [Andy] They were commonly worn with T-shirts and tunbe socks with colorful bands. We have also seen shortalls cone in corfuroy. Cord shorts declined in popularity during the 1990s when longer, baggy shorts became stylish.


I believe "cutoffs" were primarily an American style. Interestingly, jean shorts other than cuit-offs were not popular in America. Just the opposite was true in Europe, Boys there did not wear cut-offs, but jean shorts were very popular in the 1960s and 70s. Many American boys in the 1960s still shyed away from wearing short pants. At the time shorts were still considered dressy clothes. Many American boys in the 1940s and 50s might wear jeans to play in, but a short pants suit when he dressed up. I can't say I have definitive proof, but I think cutoffs became popular because they were a way for thrifty mothers to extend the useful life of jeans. But also as they were "cutoffs" they were more acceptable to boys who refused to dress up in short pants. "Cutoffs" were clearly casual clothes, theoretically jeans and other pants with the legs cut off. Boys were apparently willing to wear shorts that were cut down from jeans, but did not like the idea of actual purchased short pants. There was a aura of scruffy, casual wear that made them acceptable. Most "cutoffs" by the 1970s, however, were purchased new with the legs already cut off and with destinctive frayed hems. They were actual short pants that were made to look like they were not. The most popular material was denim, both regular dark blie denim and stone washed faded denim. They were available in other materials as well. I believe "cutoffs" were primarily an American style. This style was very popular in the late 1960s and 70s, but declined in popularity during the 1980s. The style is no longer commonly seen.

Jamaican Shorts


HBC has noted a style that was popular for a time in the early 1980s. Boys wore shorts and casual shirts in loud patterns. Boys had worn louch patterened shirts before, but not usually shorts in loud patterns. These outfits wwere called "jams". I'm not sure just why they were called jams. A HBC reader recalls them coming in a wide variety of colors and patterns. The style appears to have first appeared in California and spread east. This matching sporty outfit appears to be an outfit that a boy might only wear on holiday or to a beach, but it was actually typical of what you might have seen back then worn anywhere. American boys tended to wear jams and other contemprary shorts with atletic kneesocks, referred to at the time as kneesocks pulled up to the knee. Mostly, the knee socks then had colored rings at the top, but there were also solid white ones.

Jean Shorts

Jean shorts were worn in many different countries other than the United States. They first appeared in the United States where standard jeans first appeared. While basic long pants jeans were fairly standard around the world. There were differences, however, with jean shorts in different countries. Interestingly while British boys did not commonly wear standard long pants jeans, little boys did wear jean shorts. They were also worn in France and Germany as well as other continental countries. These shorts were usually cut quite briefly, shorter than jen shorts in America. The time-line for jean shorts in foreign countries is more complicated. I'm not sure when they appeared, but they were being worn by the 1970s. Jean shorts were especially popular in Japan, although few mother bought regular long pants jeans for their sons. In none of these countries outside the United States were cut-offs commonly worn.

Knit Shorts

W e do not think that knit shorts were very popular in America, other than for babies. That is my initial assessment, our American readrs may have further comments.

Scout Shorts

Unlike boys in other countries, American Scouts wore knickers rather than short pants. Even so there were official Boy Scout shorts. American Scouts wore them at camp and at Jamborees. I have no details at this time about the stylistic details. It was not until the 1950s that large groups of Scouts would venture onto streets in them. One troop was among the first to embrace short pants in the 1930s and was readily recognized (and jeered and respected) as the "short pants troop" even into the late 1940s and early 1950s. The BSA in the 1950s began a program of promoting short pants for Scouting, especially during the sumer. They were required wear at all National Jamborees and many camps. Scout shorts in the 1950s had pants with buttoned flap pockets and red piping, similar to Cub shorts only in different colors. The shorts by the 1960s had ordinary slit pockets, I am not sure when the change was made. Scout shorts still had button flys in the 1950s and I believe the early 1960s, but witched to zippers suring the decade. Scouts in the 1970s began wearing shorts much more commonly in the 1970s. The olive green shorts were replaced with brown shorts with patch pockets as part of the major uniform change in 1981. The same stylistic changes were made in Scout long pants as well. These are the shorts still worn. The only changes have been in the leng of the shorts, the length following fashion trends.

Self-belted Shorts

Self-belted shorts were a popular style of short pants for several years. These were shorts with belt loops. They came with a cloth belt done in the same color and material as the actual shorts. Some were done as button-on shorts. I'm not sure when they first appeared. It might have been the late 1920s. I know they were a common style in the 1930s and 40s. We also see them into the 1950s. We see both play shorts as well as dressy short pants masde with self belts. My mom bought me two pairs for camp in 1954 when I was about 11 years old. They were commonly offered in catalogs. We note them with shorts sets. I'm not sure about the age range, I think it was primarily about age 4-12 years. I believe that some camp shorts in the 1950s and 60s were offered with self-belts. I think this was primarily an American style. I'm less aware of these shorts being worn in other countries. I have not yet noted them in Europe.

Short Sets

After World War I it becomes more common to see play clothes advertized. We see both dressy and casual shorts. The dressy shorts were made in a heavier material. The play shorts were mostly cotton, wash shorts. These shorts were mostly sold in sets, because the shirt top had to be made to button on to the shorts. If you bought them separately the buttons might or might not fit just where the button holes were. Casual shorts were readily available in the 1930s. And some of gthe play suits, especially the sailor styles might do for many occassiins which formerly required more formal dress. For small boys short sleeve shirt and short pants sold as sets that looked coordinated were popular. This included button-on shorts and self-belted shorts. The self-belted shorts were at first mostly button-on shorts. A good example is a McCalls one-piece and two-piece shorts set in 1930. We have also archived short sets offered in varius catalogs during the 1920-40s. Beginning in the 1940s we begin to see shorts sets that were not button-on shorts. An example is Sears money savers in 1941. By the end of the decade the button-on sets are no longer very common.


Another popular style of short pants was shortalls. They appeared in the 1950s, but with some ealier antecedents . Shortalls are a one-piece short pants garmet worn by small boys in the 1960s-70s. It was based on the word overalls (the original name for jeans), but with short rather than long pants. Levi Straus came out with a version of its jeans for children in the 1920s. The shortalls appearing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, however, were not made of denim and disd not have bib fronts. I have no information about who first made shortalls or when they first appeatred, but it does appear to have been the early 1950s. Shortalls were popularized by President Kennedy's son John when he was dressed in them during the early 1960s. We see shortalls in Eurpe as well, but they were primaroly popular in America They are almost a specificalkly an American style given the popularity in Amerixa during the 1950s and 60s. We still see quite a few in the 1970s, but they gradually disappeared as bib-front shorts became more stanfard. A mahor differentce was that bib-front shorts did not have the material back kije shortalls. An importance difference was that shortalls were both a play garment and a dressy garment for younger boys. This was ot the case for bibfront shorts. which were almost exclusively a play garment.

Suit Pants

American boys wore short pants for both dress up occassions and for casual and play clothes. Thus a variety of different types of shorts emerged over time. Short pants were initially boys clothes and the detinction between casual and pants were not common as it is today. This has varied over time. Boys in the early 20th century did not have the extensive wardrobes common today. Boys from families with modest income might have a good pair of pants and use an older pair for play. The pants originally often came from a suit. Short pants suits, however, were not as common as other types.

Suspender Shorts

Suspender shorts were short pants with straps done in the same material as the shorts. Proper suspender short pants were sewn to the waistline at the back and crossed to the shoulders. They then buttoned to the waistine at the front. Younger American boys commonly wore pants with suspenders in the mid-20th century, but we see clip on suspenders more than proper suspender shorts. We think suspender shorts were primarily for short pants suits, although not always worn with the suit jacket. Notice the shorts sewn here are done in a suit-like material even though the boy wears a "T"-shirt (figure 1). Buying stand alone suspender shorts was not as common, but we do se some offered as part of shorts sets in catalogs. Wearing clip on suspenders with shorts and long pants was very common in America at the time, although only the younger boys commonly wore the shorts. Here social class was a factor. Boys from well-to-do families were much less likely to wear short pants suits with suspender shorts. We see boys wearing suspender shorts without suit jackets, but we think this was often just the mother's choice for the boys involved not to put on their suit jackets. This was most common during the summer. Suspender shorts were much more common in Europe. In America you do not commonly see school-age boys wearing them, except perhaps the very early-primary years.

Tennis Shorts

Walk Shorts


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Created: 8:54 PM 11/27/2010
Last updated: 11:20 AM 1/10/2019