*** United States boys clothes: garments--pants trousers

United States Boys' Clothes: Garments--Pants

Ameican knee pants
Figure 1.--American boys during the laste 19th and early 20th century commonly wore kneepants with dark long stockings. This unidentified btother and sister look to have been photographed during the 1890s.

American boys have worn a wide variety of pants, including knee breeches, kneepants. knickers, short pants, and long pants. The were the basic types of pants worn by boys, but there were stylistic differents over time. Kneepans were worn at different lengths. Knickers were of varying fullness. Short pants were worn at different lenths. Long pants were also worn at different lengths and with or without cuffs. Some elements like suspension, belt loops, pleating, flies, and pockets were elements in different kinds of pants. The popularity and conventions for wearing these different styles of pants has varied over time. There have also been regional and social class differences. Fashionable styles in Europe and America were quite similar during the 19th century. We note differences developing in the 20th century, especially after World War I.


The popularity and conventions for wearing these different styles of pants has varied over time. Different types iof pants dominated during specific periods. During some periods various types were worn optionally. Age conventions were particularly important during some periods. Lneebreeches were worn in the 18th century. A range of different pants types were worn in the 19th century. Long pants appeared first and latter kneepants and knickers. Short pants appeared in the 20th century, but for many years were not popular with many boys. Knickers were much more common until World War II (1941-45). Knee breeches, kneepants, amd knickers have for the most part disappeared. Modern boys wear either short or long pants.

Pants Types

American boys have worn a wide variety of pants, including knee breeches, kneepants. knickers, short pants, and long pants. We have begun to collect basic images on eacxh of these different types of pants. Some are still worn by boys while others have now largely disappeared. Knee breeches were commonly worn in America throughout the 18th century. While knickers are an English creation, probably no where were they more widely worn than in America. HBC begins to notice knickers in America during the 1870s, but they did not become popular as a boys' garment until after the turn of the 20th century. American boys began wearing kneepants after the mid-19th century. We see younger boys wearing kneepants in the 1860s, but the fashion did not become widespread for even older boys until the 1890s. Younger boys commonly wore bloomer bloomer knickers. They were most common with garments like tunics, especially from the late 1890s through the eraly 1920s. Short pants first appeared in the 1900s, primarily as a European export, especially British. They did not prove as popular in America as in Europe. Some young boys wore them, but most older boys insisted on knickers. Long pants in American towns and cities rapidly replaced knee breeches for boys in the early 19th century, although it took longer for men to make the transition.



American boys at different ages have worn a wide variety of pants and trousers. The syles and conventions have varied substantially over time. Younger boys in the 19th century often did not wears pants, but a variety of skirted outfits, incluing dresses, skirts, and kilts. They commonly wore pantalettes with these garments. The age of breaching varied. Boys mostly wore long pants in the early 19th century. We see younger boys after breeching wearing bloomer knickers at mid-century. Gradually knee pants became more common. Knee pants were very common for boys by the 1880s. Older boys mostly wore long pants, although by the 1890s we see some teenagers wearing kneepant. Tunics became popular at the turn-of-the 20th century and boys wore them with bloomer knickers. Most boys wore knickers in the 1910s, including teenagers. After World War I we no longer commonly see boys wearing dresses. Many younger boys wore short pants, but knickers were more common for school age children. Knickers continued to be popular in the 1930s, but teenagers commonly wore long pants. After World War II we see increasingly casul styles. Jens became very popular with younger boys and were widely adopted by teen agers in the 1950s. Most boys wore long pants, but in the 1960s short pants began to become popular for casual summer wear. Shorts wee at first worn by younger boys, but teenagers began wearing them as well.


We do not yet have much information about trouser patterns in the early 19th century. The images we have found suggest that trousrs were mostly solid colors. We notice boys wearing pants with very bold patterns in the mid-19th century. Solid colored suits seem more common in the 1860s, but we do notice some boys with pattern pants, often worn with solid-colored jackets. Pants often had patterns in the late 19th century, but they were generally rather muted. Often they are so muted that they are difficult to make out in photographs. They seem to be mostly a kind of plaid with very muted colors. Thus vintage clothing is useful here. These muted patterns continued into the early20th century. The pants seem to be solid colors, but are often muted patterns. Many boys wore corduroy jnickers in the 1920s and 30s which obly had the standard vertical cord paterns. After World War II boys increasingly wore jeans and slacks without patterns. Suits might have paterns, but increasingly sold-colors were becoming more common. We note stripped and checked pants in the 1970s, but this was more of a fad and did not last long.


A importan elment of pants was how to hold them up. Various types of pants had features specifically designed for suspension like belt loops. There were various ways for a boy to suspend his trousers. Younger boys had a range of options, depemnding on his age and the types of pants he was wearing. Younger boys might wear a bodice, such as those worn with bloomer knickers. Underwaistrs were also used to hold up pants as well as long stockings. Button on clothing was another option. There were also suspender pans--although this was not as popular in America as it was in Europe. Related options here were bib-front and h-bar pants. Shortalls were another option. Some pants had elasticised waiss which were referred to as boxers. There were pants such as camp shorts which often had partially elasticized waists. Comparable long-alls were not as popular. Older boys might wear suspenders or belts. The various options varied in popularity over time.


Pants and trousers were not in the 19th century seasonal garments. Most boys unless from well-to-do famils did not have extensive wardrobes. Bous did not wear long pants in the winter and knee onts in the summer. The tyoe of pants depebded primarily on age. Younger boys wore shortened-lngth pants, knee pants in the second half of the 19th century and knickers and short pants in the early-20th century. These boys did not shift tolong pants during the winter, but hosiery might change. Many boys went bare foot during the summer, but usually wore long stockings when wearing shoes. American boys shited to knickers in the 1910s, but the conventions for knickers were the same as those for knee pants. Hosiety becme more diverse after World War I (1914-18), but jnickers continued to be stndard. Youngr boys wore short panrs. Gradually the choice of pants became a seasonal. The 1930s was the last decade that boys wore short pants or knickers all year round. And evem in the 30s we see boys shifting to long pants during the winter. Short pants bybthe 1940s were becoming casul seasonal wear, but this varied from family to famly. We still ee some boys drssing up with short pants suits into the 1960s. Here social class was a factor. The primary factor in deciding the types of pants by the 1970s was seaonality. Boys wore long pnts in the inter, but then short pants were worn by many boys for casual wear durung the summer.


Strangely given modern standards, younger boys in the 19th century might wear dresses and other skirted garmnts garments, but girls never wore pants. This did not begin to change to any extent until after World War I in the 1920s. we are not entirely sure of just what brought this change about after centuries of wearing only skirted garments. The most obvious development was WorLd War with its bringing practicality to the fore and women entering the factory work force in unprecedent numbers. We also note younger children, both bys anf girls, being dressed in rompers. The Girl Scouts may have been a factor, especially summer camping. Girls at camp were more likely to weqr pants, at first romprs and shorts. For whatever reason, we begin to see girls wearing pants in the 1920s and 30s, especialy the 30s. But this was mostly in casual situations, like playing around the house and at summer camps. We do not see girls commonly wearing pants to school. One might recall Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird set in the 1930s having to wear a dress to school. Now it was not all that common for a girl to only wear pants at home, but Scout had a brother and had lost her mother. But it certainly was the case that few girls showed up at school wearing pants. And the few examples we see are a low income rural schools. World War II had an even greater impact on American life. Women again entered the factory work force and in much larger numbers than in World War I. Again practicalitty came into play. You even begin to see Holloywood startlets wearing pants, albeit glamerous ones. Only in the 1960s, however, do we see girls commonly wearing pants. We see girls beginning to wearing them to school, but not yet to church. Here American girls led the way for a trend that would be followed in other countries. Gradually in the 20th century it became popular for girls to wear boys' styles like shorts and jeans. There was no reciprosity here. In sharp contrast to the 19th century, boys' did not wear girls' styles.

Regional and Social Class Differences

There have also been regional and social class differences concerning the pants worn by American boys.

Differences with Europe

Fashionable styles in Europe and America were quite similar during the 19th century. We note some differences with hosiery, but the pants thenselves seem similar. We note differences developing in the 20th century, especially after World War I (1914-18). Of course this is somewhat complicated by the fact that there were difference among European countries. Interestingly we see American and European styles begin to coverge afyer World War II, especially in the 1970s.


Some elements like suspension, belt loops, pleating, flies, and pockets were elements in different kinds of pants. Cuffs were mostly for long pants, but we hacve noted them on shorts as well.


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Created: April 17, 2001
Last updated: 8:08 AM 7/20/2017