American Mail Order Catalogs with Boys Clothings: 1939

Figure 1.-Scruggs, a St. Louis, Missouri store, issued a fall catalog for back to school. THis page offered overcoats, raincoats, suits and different pants. Some of these items would be back-to-school clothes, but the Eton suits look a little dressy for school.

American mail order catalogs offer a very useful time line on changing fashion trends. Suits had become less common, especiallyfor school. Boys wore colored collared shirts. T-shiets were popular in the summer. Knickers were still worn, but declining in popularity. Long pants were becoming increasingly common. Younger boys still wore short pants, especially in the summer. Long pants were becoming increasingly popular. Knee socks and long stickings were declinung in popularity. Boys were increasingly wearing ankle socks. We notice a variety of footwear, but low-cut leather oxfords were standard for boys.

Toddler Clothes

Jackets and Coats

We notice boys wearing both coats and jackets in 1939. Coats were longer and more forml. They were also called top coats. Many boys at the time did not have overcoats. It was mote formal outerwear which might be worn over a suit. Overcoats were worn over suits. School wear had become more informal during the 1930s. Boys by the 1930s were more commonly wearing jackets. All boys had jackets which varid greatly. There were light jackets for cool days and heavy jckets for the winter. The heavy winter jackets ere sometines called coats. Many boys wore informal jackets rather than suit coats. These jackets varied. Some were light wight while others were heavy jackets suitable for all but the coldest weather. There were also sets offered with informal jackets and knickers. Corduroy was a very popular material and used for some jackets. We also notice raincoats. for rainy days. Umbrellad might do for girls, but were not to practical for boys.

Scruggs coats and jackets

Scruggs, a St. Louis, Missouri store, issued a fall catalog for back to school for grde school boys (figure 1). It included coats and jackets. There was an overcoat for dresswear. It is shown being worn over a suit. The overcoat ad short pants Eton suits suggest to us that Scruggs was a somewhat higher end department store. Scruggs also offered a zippered jacket. It may be corduroy given the illustration, but that is not specified. Hardwearing corduroy was popular for schoolwear. Denim was not yet a major fabric. And there is a raincoat with a matching rain cap. This was a popular raincoat style which was worn for several decades. The catlog had some limited ad copy providing detailsabout the different grments.

Sears corduroy jacket sets with knickers

Sears offered this informal jacket in 1939-40. It was described as a Cossack style. It was as a set with matching fully lined knickers. The knickers had knit weave leg closings. These sets were seen as school outfits. One style was available in sizes 6-14 years. A similar set was mnade for boys 8-16. Both were done in corduroy.


A range of suit types were offered for boys. Younger boys might wear Eton short pants suits. There were also short pants, knicker, and long pants suits for older boys in both single and double reasted styles. Many had belted backs. Kicker suits were still commonly offered, but long pants suits were more and more cmmon. Some companies offered suits with two pairs of pants, one knickers and the other other "longlies". Norfolk suits were nomlonger popuar.

Sears Knickers Suits

Sears offered a range of knickers suits done in all wool as well as wool blends with rayon and cotton. The materials included herringbone and casshmere. There were both sinngle and double breasted styles. One suit also had a pair of lng pans as well, referred to as "longies". The sizes ranged from 6 to 7 years. Colors included blue, browm. gray, and green. The knickers were lined, but apparently not the long pants.

Scruggs Eton suits

Scruggs, a St. Louis, Missouri store, issued a fall catalog for back to school. It had short pants Eton suits for boys 3/5-10 years of age along with other garmenets. Eton suits meant jackets without lapels. The illustration shows them being worn bith with and without Eton collars. They were done in both flannel and worsted. Even though this was a fall catalig, short pabts sre still featured prominntly. The Eton suits were offered in different grades with substantial price price differentials. Some had matching peaked caps. While this was a fall catalog which included back-to school outfits, Eton suits seems too dressy for schoolwear. While boys in the 1910s and even the early-20s might wear suits to school, this was no longer common by the 1930s.



We see American boys wearing a range of pnts in 1939. Knickers had been widely worn by American boys, nearly universal. They were common for teengers in the 1910s and even 20s, but by the 1930s were declining in popularity and worn mistly by pre-teens, especially elementary (primary) school boys. Catalogs which once prominately featured knickers now mostly offered many other options, incluing short pants and long pants. Knickers by 1939 becoming less common. This is clearly shown in the photographic record. Some boys wore short pants in the warmer weather, but long pants were becoming increasingly common for boys of all ages. We still see knickers, but they were no longer dominant. We also continue to see knickers in catalogs. Sears even had a full page spread in their Winter 1939-40 catalog along with other pages with short and long pants. The Sruggs ad here is primarily focused on the jackets, but mostly offered short pants and no knickers (figure 1). We no longer see many extensive offerings of knickers in the 1940s.

Sears knickers: Southeners

The caption for this Winter 1939-40 page was 'Southerners Like Sears Knickers'. Presumably this shows that there were regional differences in the Sears mailings. There were quite a few choices for the knickers. They all had various age ranges. Some were just for boys up to 10 years, but some were available for teenagers up to 17 years of age meaning high schoolers. We see no evience of boys that age wearing knickers in the photograpjic record in 1939. Although there were many knickers to chose from, they all look rather much the sane wiyh the elasticize knit leg closing rather thn the buckle closures vommn in the 1920s. The only basic differece e see are the self-belts some of the knickers have as well as latex backs and refular waists. Other than that the basic difference seems to be the material. Sears Four Star beand featurs water repellant corduroy, latex back waists, all around self belt, and diagonal patterns. Many of the offerings have latex back waitbands which Sears says, "Always fit perfevtly, 'give' with the bid, prevent flying shirt tails. At the time, boys were expected to tuck in their shirt tails. We see blue, brown, green, and grey, many done in patterens. We see cassimere, cheviot, corduroy, mixed blends, and something Sears calls Tweeduroy.


Boys in 1939 still wore a wide range of hosiery, although fashions were changing. Kneesocks had for the most part replaced long stockings for knickers by 1939. 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. Note the image here of a boy wearing knickers with patterned kneesocks (figure 1). A few boys wearing short pants might still wear long stockings during the cooler months, but they were probably mostly worn with long pants. More Wards and Sears still offered a variety of long stockings and stocking supporters for both boys and girls in 1939.


Quickee Union Suits for Children

These short-legged, short-sleeved union suits for both boys and girls were designed to simplify dressing by having no buttons at all. They stretch in such a way that they can be put on and taken off without the use of any buttons. Even the seat is constructed with stretch elastic so that they open and snap back into place. These were clearly designed for younger children who would have trouble with buttons. They do not appear to have been very practical because repeated washings would make the garments loose much of their elasticity so that they would become baggy. This innovation did not really catch on and seems to have been dropped within a few years. Note that in the same advertisement, two-piece underwear for children is also being advertised. Union suits for children were still being made up through the 1940s and into the 1950s. But by the late 1940s their popularity was in rapid decline. [Image not yet loaded] Partial text: “No Buttons or Fasteners on Tu-Way Switch Quickees Union Suits. Features that Make Life Easier for Mothers: Economical, Sagless Drop-seat; Streamlined Appearance; Perfect Comfort; Soft Fabric; Free Booklet”


We note a wide variety of footwear in 1939. Standard footwear for boys were brown leather low-cut oxfords. They were worn for dressing up, school, and even for play by many boys. Black shoes werealso worn, but brown shades were much morecoomon. High tops had generally disappeared excdept for prescgol boys. These were usually dome in white. Girls had similar styles of brown oxfords, but also wore strap shoes. One and two-strap dhoes were common, but we do see multiple straps sandals in catalogs. Sears offered a five-strap Roman sandal, we think for younger girls. They were not very common though, we do not see them in the photographic record and we have a fairly extensive archive of Ameicam photographs. . Strap shoes were much less common for boys, but worn by some younger boys. Saddle shoes were worn by boys and girls. Sneakers commonly called tennis shoes were common for casual wear, but only worn to schools by boys from lower-income families. We do not see opn-toe sandals, but mostly girls wore closed-toe sandals.


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Created: May 20, 2000
Last updated: 6:42 PM 10/2/2017