American Mail Order Catalogs with Boys Clothings: 1932

Figure 1.--America's climate is much more severe than much of Western Europe, despite the norther lattitudes. Many American mothers did not think short pants were appropriate boys wear in cold winter weather.

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. Knickers were still worn, but by younger boys and were declining in popularity. Long pants were becoming increasingly common. Younger boys still wore short pants, especially in the summer. Knee socks were commonly worn, usually with Argyle or other patterns. Ankle socks were less common, but increasing in popularity. Some boys wore long stockings, but increasingly younger boys. The light colored tan and brown colors for long stockings were readily apparent in 1932 catalogs. Long stockings were still worn in in 1932, but were declining in popularity. Parents' Magazine has an advertisement for Hickory stocking supporters.

Juvenile Clothing

We note a DuBarry sewing pattern for shortalls. It is one of the earliest item we have found for shortalls, although we are not sure when the term was first used. It is undated, but we believe it was a 1932 pattern. We are unsure about the size range, but the example here is size 6 years.

Play Clothing

We notice a range of play clothing offered in 1932. Play wear were casual styles, incliding shirts and pants, and done in both pre-teen and teen sizes. The Minneapolis Knitting Works offered playwear including swimsuits done in a single strap style. That was a style we do not commonly note in the photographic record. The company also offered underwear to go with the summer playwear.




Knickers were still worn, but by younger boys and were declining in popularity. They were still very common in elementry (primary) schools, but less so in high schools. Long pants were becoming increasingly common. Younger boys still wore short pants, especially in the summer.

Hickory stocking supporters

This advertisement for Hickory stocking supporters appeared in Parents Magazine, March 1932, p. 58. This advertisement for the well-known Hickory hose supporters appealed to mothers to keep their children in long stockings during the chilly March weather rather than letting them go outdoors with bare knees. The boy and girl in the illustration are being pelted with chilly rain, apparently with unprotected knees. The mothers are being advised to protect their boys and girls from the dangers of "rheumatism, arthritis, lung, bone or kidney troubles" by keeping them during the early spring months in long stockings to "prevent unnecessary colds and more serious troubles". The advertisement even appeals to the endorsement of physicians: "Ask your doctor, too." The ad also pushes the point that long stockings should be held "properly and neatly in place", implying that round garters or make-shift devices for holding stockings up should be avoided at all costs. The famous Hickory garters have an "extra strong pin", i.e. a safety-pin that won't bend under the strain of hard tugging, a "rubber cushion" fastener that won't tear or create runs in the stocking, and a buckle that can be easily adjusted for length so that the garter will be neither too loose nor too tight. All the metal parts are "rust-proof," which means that the supporters can be washed if necessary without damaging them. Hickory garters were available in both black and white. The white ones tended to get soiled with heavy use. The ad also makes a point about the quality of the elastic used. It is "Long Life Hickory Elastic" treated with the "New Anti-Oxidant process which prolongs its life and usefulness." "It is pre-shrunk and boil-proof". Note that clothes were still "boiled" in the laundry. The special high-grade elastic used to manufacture supporters can also be bought "by the yard" for various sewing purposes at home. The advertisement advises mothers to accept no substitute product, i.e., a cheaper brand, when buying hose supporters for her boys and girls. The Hickory brand costs 25 cents per pair. If one compares more generic hose supporters advertised in the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs of the same year, one sees that less expensive but presumably less durable brands were also available. Hickory garters were, however, sold by the big mail order houses as well as by more up-scale retail shops.

Support Garments

Children still wore support grments like waists. The primary purpose was to hold up long stockings which were still commonly worn. They were also used to up pants and skirts. Some were combined with union suits--an underwear garment.

Sears waist union suit

Here is a good illustration of the waist union suits that girls and boys wore extensively in 1932. The ad is from the Sears Fall 1932 catalog, p. 348. Waist union suits were popular for winter wear for boys and girls from age 2 to 12. These suits come in three different styles--some with ankle length legs and short sleeves, others with ankle length legs and long sleeves, and still others cut quite briefly with short legs and short sleeves. All the models shown are made of wool or part-wool for winter warmth. And all have the usual tubular strap reinforcements over the shoulders to support garments such as short trousers, skirts, or bloomers, which could be attached to the waist buttons. An additional under-arm reinforcement strap extended to the hips with tape loops at the end so that pin-on supporters for long stockings could be attached.

Sears waist union suit

This ad appeared in the Sears catalog for 1932 (Fall and Winter, p. 271). Waist union suits, which had been introduced during the 1920s, had become very popular with mothers who wanted to buy underwear for their boys and girls that combined the features of a winter union suit with the extra features of an underwaist (a garment that had buttons for attaching skirts and short pants and that also had garter tabs so that supporters for long stockings could be attached). Waist suits were also made in summer styles, but here we have only the winter version. If a waist union suit was not worn, the alternative would be an ordinary union suit (lacking reinforcement straps and garter tabs) over which a separate waist for garters could be worn. Almost all boys in the 1920s and early 1930s wore either short pants or knickers with which long stockings were often worn, although some boys wore knee socks with knickers and therefore didn't need hose supporters.

Sears waist

The term "panty waist" is essentially an alternative term for "underwaist" (worn by both boys and girls), because underwaists had buttons to which panties could be attached as well as supporters for long stockings. Boys and girls sometimes wore underwaists until the age of 12, but boys usually stopped wearing them by the age of 10, and the term, panty-waist, seems to have been reserved for children (at least in the case of boys) of eight or younger, because most boys older than that didn't wear panties. The majority of boys who wore underwaists wore them over union suits, which combined underwear tops and bottoms in a single garment. Very young boys, however, sometimes wore separate underwear shirts and pants (or panties), and the underpants or panties usually buttoned onto a waist. This Sears advertisement from the 1932 Fall catalog (p. 147) shows a young boy, probably aged about four or five, wearing an underwaist to which a cotton "panty" is buttoned. Although the term "panty-waist" is not actually used, the combination of the two garments in a single ad (the "waist" and the "panty") clearly illustrates how the term panty-waist originated.



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.


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Created: 12:21 AM 10/16/2007
Last updated: 1:18 AM 12/13/2010