American Mail Order Catalogs with Boys Clothings: 1931

Figure 1.--Sears in its 1931 Fall-Wuinter catalog offered a range of dress and work shirts in patterns and plain collars. They seem to have unsuually narrow size ranges.

American mail order catalogs offer a very useful time line on changing fashion trends. There were no major new fashions introduced in the 1930s, but several long-running trends were observeable. They were well documented in the catalogs. We have no detailed information on 1931 catalogs and advertisements at this time. We do have a few catalog pages and have begun to develop some information. We note a variety of patterned and plain colored shirts. Knickers were still very common. We note a page for long stockings. American children still commonly wore long stockings even during the Spring and Summer. We note a page in the Sears Spring-Summer catalog Sears catalog devoted entirely to long stockings. We also note kneesocks. We are not sure how kneesocks and long stockings compare in popularity. We do note that there are many more different types of lonf stockings offered which is usually a sign of popularity. The underwear boys wore was undergoing substantial changes in the ealy 1930s. We do note a Sears page for summer underwear.

Toddler Clothes


We notice boys wearing a range of patterened and plain colored shirts. Note the Sears shirts here are long-sleeved garments even though the page is from the Spring-Summer catalog. Boys and men still wore mostly long-sleeved shirts, rolling the sleeves up in warm weather. This meant the same shirts could be worn in both seasons. We note short sleeve shirts and blouses for younger boys in the 1930s, but older boys and men mostly wore long-sleeve shirts. We do note some short sleeve shirts such as Polo shirts.

Sears Spring and Summer shirts

These shirts were offered in the Sears Spring and Summer, 1931 catalog, p. 135. The garments here are referred to as "shirts" rather than as "waists" or "blouses" which means that, at least in most cases, they have ordinary shirt tails like men's shirts. But a few models are made in "coat style" (without tails). Most of these shirts are for boys up to the age of 14 1/2. One model is for boys up to 10 years of age. The ad also offers boys' suspenders in two styles. These have 32 inch elastic web straps, which means that they would fit almost all teenagers as well as younger boys. The straps, of course, are adjustable. General Heading of Advertisement: "Last Year's Prices! Fast Colors--Genuine Broadcloth" Several of the shirts here were not named by Sears. These were all long-sleeved shirts despite the fact they were for Spring-Summer.

Sears Polo shirts

Sears offered Polo shirts in its Spring-Summer 1931 catalogs. The design is little different from the modern Polo shirt, especially the collar. The shirt here looks more like a regular shirt with Rugby styling. Note the absence of the logo. These were the only short-sleeved shirts in the Spring-Summer catalog. These Polos were also made for men in adult sizes.



Knickers were still very cimmonly worn by American boys in 1931. It w less common to see high school boys wearing knickers, especially older boys. Knicjers were still, however, very common at primary schools and even worn by younger teenagers. They were just beginning to decline in popularity. Long pants were beginning to become somewhat more common. Younger boys might wear short pants, especially in the summer. We note a manufacter who punblished a promotional commic book, "The Knicker". They made boys' clothes, including Boy Scout uniforms which at the time included knicker-like breeches.


Kneesocks were replacing long stockings for knickers by 1936. Kneesocks were particularly popular and usually done in Argyle and other patterns. An increasing number of boys were wearing ankle socks with long pants Almost all the increasingly younger boys wearing knickers were wearing them with kneesocks. A few boys wearing short pants might still wear long stockings during the cooler month.

Sears long stockings

We note a page for long stockings. American children still commonly wore long stockings even during the Spring and Summer. We note a page in the Sears Spring-Summer catalog Sears catalog devoted entirely to long stockings. In this Sears Spring and Summer advertisement (p. 277) for boys' and girls' long stockings, we notice how common it was for children to wear over-the-knee hosiery even during the summer months. This was done, of course, more for style and formality than for warmth. Most boys 16 years old or younger wore either short pants or knickers. Patterned knee socks were often worn with knickers, but these tended to fall down. And many mothers insisted on the neater and less sporty look of boys wearing plain colored long stockings under their knickers or short pants, especially for dress occasions. Another interesting feature here: Some of these stockings are said to be suitable for turning the tops down so that they become knee-length stockings. Turn-over-top socks was the term in England for the kneesocks that were long enough to be cuffed at the top. There was apparently pressure on the part of boys to get permission to wear their stockings in this fashion because no hose supporters would then be needed.

Ward's long stockings

We note a rather elaborate page for Long stockings in Ward's Spring and Summer catalog for 1931, p. 76. The extensive variety of long stockings offered here shows that they were still widely worn by school children up to about 14 years of age and even older. Some of these stockings come in size 10 1/2, large enough for a boy of 16 or 17 years. Note the chart for the sizing of children's stockings geared to the sizes of their shoes and divided into two groups--small and large children. Most older boys wore long stockings with knickers--some above-the-knee and some below-the knee, although below-the-knee knickers were becoming more popular by the end of the 1920s. Younger boys and a few older ones wore long stockings with short trousers. The boys in the illustration are wearing black long stockings with knickers in above-the-knee styles. Black is still a very prominent color, especially for boys, but shades of brown and tan were almost equally--perhaps even more--popular by 1931.

Sears kneesocks

We also note kneesocks. We are not sure how kneesocks and long stockings compare in popularity. We do note that there are many more different types of lonf stockings offered which is usually a sign of popularity. The ad here for kneesocks appeared in the Sears Spring And Summer Catalog for 1931, p. 272. Americans refer to these socks today as kneesocks. The term used by Sears at the time was knee-length hose. Note that the socks are long enough to be cuffed at the knee. The British refer to these socks as turn-over-top socks. This Sears catalog also offered long stockings. The long stockings were offered in a greater variety, but not in the patterns kneesocks were dine in. The kneesocks here are advertised as equally suitable for boys and girls. The larger patterns are designed for boys. The smaller patterns are equally for girls and boys. These socks are perhaps best known at the time as being worn with knickers. Some boys also wore wear them with short pants. Girls wore them with skirts. Notice that the kneesocks were done in bold patterns and colors. We are not sure that kneesocks were done in these patterns. We see European boys wearing mostly solid-colored kneesocks. Here we do not see any solid-colored kneesocks offered. This is interesting becuse long=stockings were almost always dine in solid colors. Also note that these kneesocks are all the turn-over-top style and that the pattern on the cuff is different although coordinated with the pattern on the rest of the sock.


Boys wsimwear was becoming more modern. The pants were quite short, but there were still tops. These were done in various ways, but the basic idea was to cover a boy's nipples which were still considered inproper to show.

Jantzen swimwear

We note a one-piece bathing suit for boys offered by Jantzen. It was still not considered proper for boys to go swimming with bare chests. This attitude was changing. Some swim suits of the period had detachable tops. This one-piece Jantzen model imitates the style of Olympic swimmers of the period. It was offered Boys' Life, the Boy Scout magazine (May 1931, p. 40).


The underwear American boys wore was undergoing substantial changes in the early-1930s. Many boys continued to wear older styles of underwear, but modern-looking styles were becoming available. We continue to see summer abnd winter styles of underwear. We see Sears offering some of these new styles. As children still wore long stockings we still see underwaists and other types of support garments like waist union suits.

Sears summer underwear

We note a Sears page for summer underwear. This is a very useful Sears ad (Spring and Summer catalog, p. 287) illustrating the wide variety of boys' summer underwear in 1931. Here we see the new sleeveless knit undershirts worn with broadcloth striped shorts that button in front with three buttons. We also see various types of summer union suits for boys, all with short legs. One model is made of mesh fabric (cf. the Porosknit ads in the 1910s) and is sleeveless, another is a slip-on style with no buttons except at the shoulder, and still another is a BVD style of union suit (sleeveless) with buttons all the way down the front (a junior version of adult men's underwear). Two styles of knit union suits with short legs are also illustrated, one with short sleeves and one sleeveless. In addition Sears also had a knitted summer waist union suit (sleeveless with short legs) with reinforcing straps, waist buttons, and metal pin tubes for fastening hose supporters. Although the new two-piece summer underwear for boys was just beginning to be an option, the dominant style (as shown by the greater number of styles offered) was still the union suit, either in a knitted or non-knitted version. The age levels for most of these union suits depend on chest measurement from 24 to 34 inches. Notice that we have the precursors of modern boxers, but there are not yet any briefs offered. They were being introduced by Jockey and not yet available through Sears.

Ward's garter waists

Ward's had an ad for garter waists from the Spring and Summer catalog for 1931, p. 90. Garter waists are still a prominently advertised item even in the summer. Many mothers seem to have insisted on long stockings for boys and girls for reasons of formality. Boys wore long stockings with short pants but could also wear them with knickers for a smoother and more dressy look than that produced by the sporty patterned knee socks, which had a way of falling down. The sizes are for boys and girls from 2 to 12 years. The adjustable shoulder garters are made in three lengths to accommodate children, misses (older teenage girls) and adult women.


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Created: 4:25 AM 10/24/2004
Last updated: 4:23 AM 1/23/2011