I grew up in the 1950s and early 60s in a good middle class suburb of London.
My family was four in all. My father was an engineer and was often away visiting sites and companies. My mother was a housewife, who was at home to look after me and my sister and my father. My sister was a couple of years younger than me. We had a comfortable middle class existence. My parents owned their own home and we had a car.
By my observations the wearing of lederhosen by boys was not common but neither was it rare. The first time that I saw lederhosen being worn was at our local, open-air swimming pool. I was about 7 or so and was with my father, I saw two boys, about my age, being led out by their father. I can remember seeing that they had strange looking shorts on and no shirts. I can still see the leather braces with the cross bar and the rather full looking shorts that looked to me rather greasy. I asked my father what they were wearing and he told me that they were leather shorts, he then added, jokingly, weather I
would like a pair. I did not reply, as I had not really taken in what I had seen.
About a year later when I was coming home from school with my friend we were crossing a local park and I saw a family walking, mother, father, daughter and a boy wearing black leather shorts with braces. He had a white shirt with long sleeves. The shorts were what I now know those to be commonly worn by German boys, the shorts looked very new, a little stiff and no scuffs. This was a very brief occurrence and so I was not able to take in all the detail. He was unhappy and crying, I watched his mother put her hand into his front pocket and take out a handkerchief and wipe his eyes. I've often wondered if he was crying because he was having to wear lederhosen. After they had passed I said to my friend, "Did you see that boy? His shorts were made of leather." He did not answer, even when I asked him again later. This was the first time that I had time to look at a pair of lederhosen and
to start take in what they looked like. The experience left me a little
disturbed, I found the idea of wearing leather shorts very strange, but I forgot about it after a few days.
A year passed and I had glimpses of boys in lederhosen, but nothing long enough to satisfy my curiosity or spark off my desire. I was at school, a boy turned up wearing fall front lederhosen, braces with buckles and a cross bar. They looked brand new they were a light sand colour suede, the braces were mid-brown leather. He got a lot of attention from the other children and a lot of unkind comments. He wore them for several days and then stopped. I think that he must have pleaded with his mother to let him attend school wearing normal shorts. I think that his mother was German as he was called Wolfgang. While he was at the school I was able to absorb some of the details of his lederhosen. When my mother came to collect me that afternoon I pointed out Wolfgang to her and said that I liked his shorts, she made some remark and let the matter drop. However I was very disappointed, I had hoped that by pointing out Wolfgang's lederhosen that my mother would agree to get me a pair. That night I was very unhappy and cried in bed.
A few more months passed, it was the beginning of the summer and my aunt came to visit for one of her regular stays, she was my mother's younger sister and worked abroad somewhere for the United Nations. She bought me a present--to my surprise a brand new pair of lederhosen. I was ecstatic when she got them out of the bag. I can remember the occasion in great detail even now. My mother said that she had written to her sister and asked her to me a pair. I wanted to try them on as soon as possible, but my mother made me go and change and put on a clean white short sleeved shirt.
I was now ready, my aunt buttoned on the braces and adjusted the lacing at the back that takes in the waist. She explained that she had bought them large so that I could grow into them. She undid the front and I could see that there were two buttons that kept the shorts together behind the front flap. I stepped into the lederhosen, making sure that the braces did not cross, pulled them up and pulled the leather straps of the braces over my shoulders. I found the buttons stiff to do up at first, so my aunt helped me with them. In fact because of the loose fit I did not need to undo the buttons while getting into and out of my new shorts. My aunt then adjusted the buckles to get the lederhosen the right height. She said that as they were a bit big they should be pulled up high. I shall never forget the sensation of first walking around wearing them. I then put my hands into the leather pockets and pushed down, the feeling of the braces
and cross bar pulling against my body was great. I have often seen in real life and photograph's a boy with both hands in his lederhosen pockets pushing down.
The pair that she had got me were black nappa leather, with
black leather braces, with a cross bar and the usual bone oval depicting a deer. They had wonderful smell of brand new leather. My aunt told me that she had them made for me and that they should last a long time or at least until I grew out of them. She also said that she had the legs made a little longer as the lederhosen worn by German children often had very short legs, too short she thought.
The reaction of my immediate family was various, my mother and aunt loved me in them, my younger sister was not sure, my father said that they were good for me to play in. Friends of my mother said they liked them and that I looked charming. Some even said that they would like to get their children to wear them but thought they would have trouble persuading them.
I then went out to play with my friends and got their reaction to my new shorts, I got some jeering and some admiration. After a while it was accepted that I wore them and no more comments were made. I did sometimes notice startled looks by some adults or other children on the street. It seemed to be the braces that caught people's attention. If I was out and about with a sweatshirt over the braces very few people even glanced at me.
The school mentioned, where I saw Wolfgang, was a Catholic primary school. Primary schools in England take children from 5 to 11 years maximum, boys and girls. It was small and local to where we lived. Uniforms were not compulsory, a blazer was available if the parent wanted or could afford it. I only wore the lederhosen at home never to school. I think that my mother realised that, although there was no uniform at my school, that I might be bullied or got at for wearing, what a lot of people considered to be a bizarre garment.
As soon as I got home from school I changed into my lederhosen for everyday
wear and play. In summer I wore them with a shirt or tee shirt, sandals and no socks. In winter I wore them with a sweater, jacket and knee socks with black shoes. I never wore a tie my mother said it "looked daft". At that time it was usual for boys under 12 or so to wear shorts all year round, even though it was cold. I can remember seeing boys in shorts in bitter, cold weather, certainly up to the 1970s. Outside of school these were the only shorts that I wore. My shirts were usually short sleeves with an open neck. Sometimes my mother would get me to wear a long sleeve shirt with the top button done up. Whatever sort of shirt or top that I wore my mother always made sure that it was either red or white. I did not realise it at the time, but she liked me to wear lederhosen. She used to say how she liked the look of the cross bar braces. How they and the lederhosen with the fall front formed a series of squares, the flap, the area under, the cross bar and the area above it. She always picked red or white for me so as to give the best contrast with the black leather.
Now I was the happy owner of my own lederhosen, I was able to examine them to see how they were constructed and to take in the plethora of detail. I found the detail fascinating; as it was totally different to any other clothes I had worn or seen.
The buttons were held on by leather straps sewn through holes to give them great strength.
I have seen some lederhosen that have had their buttons
The pockets were made of soft leather, as was the waistband, the braces were not lined with felt but a pale leather. The pockets had an oak leaf motif around them in black and not a contrasting colour.
The cross bar of the braces was stiff and solid, its purpose my aunt explained was to stop the straps slipping off the shoulders. Unlike
ordinary braces there is no give or elasticity in them, so they cannot be too tight. Although I have seen several instances in real life and in photographs of boys in lederhosen with braces obviously very tight, in fact pulling the seat in. Whether this was done to stop the braces slipping of the shoulder or for another reason I do not know. Lederhosen braces keep in place while standing but easily slip off when sitting. She said that the cross bar had to be as high as possible to help stop it happening. In practice the braces were always slipping off one shoulder or another when you sat down. I have often watched other boys pushing the strap back over the shoulder while seated. The problem, later, I thought was due to the fact that the two back buttons were very close together, if they had been wider apart the braces would have crossed over higher up the back and been better at staying on.
I have also seen them where one of the rear braces has had a slit in
it so that the strap of the other passes through it, thus helping to keep contact with the shoulder. I have never tried this but it strikes me that this will make the shorts more difficult to get on and off. I saw one boy out in the country walking with his parents, he was wearing black lederhosen, with a fall front, but the braces had no cross bar just adjustment buckles. I wondered how he put up with the braces slipping off, but as they walked past I could see that where the braces crossed over there was a stout metal rivet. Presumably this design was an alternative way of solving the slip problem. It seems that the best braces have a stiff cross bar, set high on the chest and that the straps are wide and thick enough not to be too floppy so as to slip.
The legs had cuffs that were sewn on so that they showed the shiny surface out and not the suede inner surface. All the holes for the lacing and the braces had eyelets in them. All the edges were bound with leather edging. I later realised too that the gauge of leather used in my lederhosen was substantially thicker than the ready-made pairs. At the back there is a gusset and lacing so that the shorts waist could be adjusted. The back was very high, so that the two rear buttons and the lacing are more in the small of the back. There is quite a thickness of leather at the front, the flap covers the waistband, which crosses over and closed with two buttons.
Many people have, over the years, asked me if my lederhosen were
comfortable, my reply was always yes. However I think that it is a different form of comfort. When you wear khaki shorts or denim jeans you barely notice them, it is only if you think about it can you feel the cloth against the skin. Lederhosen are different. First of all they are not lined, the leather is thicker and stiffer, far more so than modern fashion garments. However, lederhosen worn with braces are worn loose fitting and after a time they have moulded to the individual wearer's contours. But you are always aware that you have got them on, as you move, walk, stretch over, the braces pull against you, the lederhosen get pulled into place. This is not uncomfortable, the constant reminder of being in lederhosen is part of the
great fun of wearing them.
My first pair of lederhosen lasted for about three years after that I could not squeeze into them. Periodically my mother would adjust the buckles to let out the braces and the lacing at the back. Clearly I needed a new pair.
My aunt came up with my next pair. Not black this time, but light grey leather, that had its shiny surface rubbed to give it a smooth appearance. The came with braces but no cuffs on the legs. The legs were a bit longer and had lacing at the bottom. On the inside of the lacing there was a small piece of leather like the tongue of a shoe. Otherwise they were very similar in design and quality to
my first pair.
My mother made my sister wear my old pair and I thought that she looked
very nice in them. She was not so happy about having to wear my old shorts, however, saying that they smelt and were dirty. This is true I guess the great thing about lederhosen is that you don't wash or clean them. The more battered and dirty they get the better, until there is an overall mellow colour to the leather. This is particularly so with suede shorts, that show dirt more. I did see some boys wearing what were obviously hand me downs of several generations, the overall colour was almost black and they had shinny parts were the hands had been in contact and on the seat.
I was given my last pair of lederhosen at age 14. They were made from dark green nappa leather that had two zips and a belt. I
could still get into them until I was about 20 years old. I still wore them weekends or holidays. I loved them, but would have preferred braces and a fall front, but was aware that these of a more modern design were more suitable for me.
Over the years I have seen many boys and some girls wearing lederhosen in England. Living in London I probably saw a lot more than those living in the provinces did. I lived in a road that had 200 or so houses. In the time that I was there was a boy living opposite used to occasionally wear them, I think that he had German relations or family friends. Further down the road was a boy whose mother was German, he wore them all the time. I suppose it is not surprising that a boy with German connections should not end up being put in lederhosen. However it seems that other boys got theirs when visiting Germany or Austria on holiday or as gifts from relations.
I occasionally spoke to other boys wearing lederhosen and asked how they got them and if they liked them. This was easy enough as I was wearing them myself, so they were happy to talk. One boy had just got a brand new grey pair with dark leather braces, a gift from his grandmother and he was still getting used to them. He was not very happy about wearing them as felt he would be laughed at. I said it would be ok and that they were great as you could not harm them or get into trouble for tearing or making them dirty. Another boy I met was wearing a pair of black, two zip lederhosen with a nice check shirt. He had bought them himself when on an exchange holiday in Germany, he thought they were great. One boy I spoke to while I was out in our local countryside was wearing a pair of brown suede lederhosen with braces, he had been made to wear them while on holiday in Austria, along with his two brothers and sister. They all had to carry on wearing them on their return.
He hated it and found them uncomfortable and embarrassing. His mother would
not listen to his complaints.
Overall I would guess that I saw two boys a week wearing lederhosen, in the summer, around where we lived and visiting other places, particularly at the beach. On one day that I still remember I saw three boys wearing lederhosen in different places. The first was on the train going into London, A boy, about 12, with his mother, his lederhosen were suede, with two zips, belt and braces. They were quite grubby and battered looking so I guessed that they had been passed on to him. I have never worn the combination of braces and a belt. I can see the idea behind it, the boy grows into the shorts until the braces are not needed the belt is then used to support them. My only comment would be that the buttons and gusset at the back would be a low and would be uncomfortable while sitting down, leaning against a chair back. The next boy, about 6, was at the station, he was riding a tricycle and wearing light brown, chunky looking lederhosen, with leather braces, he had on a black tee shirt with a lacing opening, and he seemed to be with his grandmother or older relative. The last was in Kensington High Street. This boy, about 11, was wearing knee length lederhosen, with fall front and braces. At first I thought he was a visitor to England but on passing I heard them talking in English.
Nearly all the lederhosen that I have seen in England have been shorts only very rarely have I seen the wearing of knee length ones. Sometimes I would see girls wearing lederhosen, but much less frequently than boys. One stands out in my memory, she was about 12 and was dressed in grey nappa, fall front, lederhosen, quite shiny, with matching grey braces and cross bar. The lederhosen had long legs to just above her knee, with the usual lacing. She had a long sleeved red check shirt on, long socks and stout boots. She was running along the street we where visiting.
Later on I discovered that lederhosen were on sale in London, a large department store called Swan & Edgar at London's Piccadilly were selling children's lederhosen until the beginning of the 1970s. A few sports shops also sold children's and adult's lederhosen aiming at those who went walking. In fact one of my adult pair of lederhosen, made of green nappa leather, with two zips came from such a shop. I used to get a magazine called Boys Own in the early-1960s which used to carry an advertisement for lederhosen, made in England. They had a zip fly with strap adjustments on the waist but the quality of the leather and their construction did not match a German pair. I did see a few boys wearing them.
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