An American Elementary School, Early 1930s

Figure 1.--One boy here wears a short pants sailor suit with kneesocks. He appears to be the captain in this class project. The other boy on the left wears button on shorts with long stockings.

A group of younger children, probably second are third graders are seen recreating a passenger ship. Almost all the boys wear short pants. A few of the boys have come to school in sailor suits. Several wear sailor suits. One boy wears button-on shorts and long stockings. Suits and ties are not common. Unfortunately the photograph is undated, but probably was taken about 1933.

The Photograph

Unfortunately the entire photograph was unusable, but certain cropped sections of the photograph give a good idea of the styles bein worn.


The photograph was undated. Given the styles worn, HBC would estimate the late 1920s or early 30s. HBC believes that the early 1930s is more likely than the late 1920s. A good estimate would be 1933 or 1934, but could be off by a few years. Another reason I think that the photograph is a 1930s class is that the child in figure 1 holds a monoplane and not a biplane.


The children are younger elementary children. Some of the children look to be second graders or 7 year olds. Some of the children look a bit younger, perhaps first grader nor 6 years olds.

Figure 2.--One boy in this photograph wears a white shirt and dark sellf-belted shorts and kneesocks. Note the stripe on the kneesocks. The other boy wears an Eton suit with long stockings.


The children are shown wearing quite a wide range of clothing, providing a fascinating inventory of the clothing styles worn by younger American boys.

Boys in the 1930s did wear white sailor caps. While popular, these white caps they were by no means universal. They were rarely worn by girls. The children are all wearing them in this photograph because of the class ship project. The wide-brimmed sailor hats and flat-topped sailor caps were no longer fashionable in the 1930s.


Many of the boys wear white shirts. Only two wear ties. Most boys wear their collars unbuttoned. On boys wears a button-on shirt that buttons onto his shorts thus not requiring a belt. Another boys wears his white shirt with color edging.


Very few of the boys are wearing suits and ties. HBC notes two boys with ties. One boy wears what looks like an Eton suit, worn with long stockings and an open collar tie.

Sailor suit

The boy playing the captain wears a very smart sailor suit. He is the only boy wearing a sailor suit. Younger boys in the 1930s still wore sailor suits. They were less common in the 1930s than the 1920s, but still worn. The sailor suit the boy wears is not a costume. Perhaps he was chosen to be the captain because he had such a nice sailor suit.

Button-on shorts

Younger boys up to about 10 years old might wear button-on short pants during the 1930s. They were shirt and shorts sets. The shirts had buttons which fit into button holes at the waist. This was considered more suitable than belts for younger boys. Another option was suspender shorts.

Figure 3.--This part of the photograph is obscured by labeling. One boy, however can be seen in a white shirt with color highlights and short pants worn with long stockings.

Self-belt shorts

A popular style of short pants in the 1930s and 40s was ones which came with a self-belt. Thuis meant a belt made in the same color and material as the shorts.


The boys in the photographs wear both kneesocks and long stockings. Two boys wear black or dark blue kneesocks. Long stockings with short pants appear to be particularly common. So as not to confuse our British readers, long stockings does not refer to kneesocks, but rather long over the knee stockings held up by stocking supporters worn around the waist or over the shoulders. The long stockings appear to be a light brown or fawn color. Both kneesocks and long stockings declined sharply in popularity during the 1940s. Long stockings were already declining rapidly in popularity during the 1930s, but did not finally dusappear until the late 1940s.

Personal Account

A HBC contributor who attended school in the 1930s write, "I wore only shorts all thrrough elementary school until I started Jr. High School in 1939. I did have two sailor suits, one navy blue and one all white. When I reached the age of 10, I received two pairs of knickers as my birthday present. I wore them almost every day for about 6-10 months when I grew out of them. I was an early bloomer and I was unable to get into my knickers. Mother cut off the lower portion of the knickers and they became shorts again." Bill

Additional Information

Related Links: Careful this will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but both sites are highly recommended.

Apertures Press International Project: Pictures at schools in different countries and a book on British schools
Apertures Press New Zealand E-book: New book on New Zealand schools in progress
School Uniform Web SiteInformative review of British school uniforms with some excellent photographs
Boys' Preparatory SchoolsLovely photographic essay of British preparatory schools during the 1980s containing over 200 color and black and white photographs.

Christopher Wagner

Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
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Created: March 25, 2000
Last updated: March 25, 2000