*** above the knee knickers

above the knee knickers
Figure 1.--This American boy appears to be wearing above the knickers, with what looks like a sailor suit.

Above-the-Knee Knickers

Knickers were intially pants buckling below the knee. They were not initially intended for little boys who were normally outfitted n dresses. Outfits for somewhat older boys could be worn with a variety of outfits. Tunics were worn throughout much of the 19th century. Younger boys might wear them with pantalettes or when pantalettes went out of style in the 1870s, with knickers. Other outfits such as sailor suits, Russian blouses, and Buster Brown outfits could be worn with knickers or knicker-like bloomers. As these outfits were mostly for younger boys, by the late 19th century, they were often worn with above the knee knickers and long stockings. As the turn of the century children might wear them with ankle socks or go without stockings. After the turn of the century, knee socks became more common.

American Style

Knickers were paticularly popular boys' wear in America. Mothers in the 1910s and 1920s considered them the appropriate outfit for boys. Most mothers believed that knickers should be worn buckled above the knee with long stockings. This was both a type of knicker pants worn for both dress and formal occassions. Mostly American boys wore long stovkings for dress occassions, although by the late 1910s some boys were wearing kneesocks as well. Boys for casual might not wear socks or stockings at all. We have less infornmation on Europe, but do not at this time have any indication that above-the-knee knickers were widely worn in Europe. We have seen images of younger boys wearing above the knee bloomer (elasticised) above the knee knickers, but we have not noted proper knickers with button or buckle leg closures being worn above the knee in Europe. This may be, however, simply because we do not have adequate information.


We had thought that above-the-knee-knickers were essentially the same as below-the-knee-knickers only worn differently, meaning buckled above the knee. A HBC reader believes that not all knickers had button and buckle closures. Here he is not talking about the bloomer knickers worn with tunic suits, but the regular knickers worn by younger boys. He believes that they were made with elasticized knee hem closures. We can not yet conform this with available photgraphs or catalog items.


The length of the knickers were of less importance when most boys wore long stockings as was common in the late 19th and early 20th centyry. Long stockings began going out of style in the 1910s. By the early 1920s, kneesocks had generally replacecd long stockings. This meant that boys would buckle their knickers above the knee leaving the knee bare when worn with knee socks. This looked almost like the short pants generally (at least in America) worn by little boys. This style persisted only for a brief period in the late 1910s andearly 1920s. A few images during this period show boys wearing kneesocks and above-the-knee knickers. We have only noted American boys wearing above-the-knee knickers with kneesocks and it appears to be an exclusively American style. They may have been worn in other countries as well, but we have not noticed it. This may in part be due to the fact that by the 1920s when kneesocks had become standard wear in Europe, knickers had become a garment worn by older boys and younger boys wore short pants. As a result, most photographs of boys in knickers show them wearing long stockings with knickers or below-the-knee knickers with kneesocks.

above the knee knickers
Figure 2.--This American boy, probably in the early 1920s, wears plus-four knickers in the above the knee style with knee socks approved by his mother. Note the Eton collar.


We notice knickers in the early 20 century, especially the 1910s. American boys mostly wore knee pants before World War I (1914-18). Only after the War did knickers become the dominant type of pants worn by American boys. Some younger boys still wore kneepants after the War, but knickers were much more popular. Many of the knickers in the 1910s 1920s were above-the-knee styles. Probably as mothers were acustomed to knee pants that in the early 1900s were cut at the knee. The cut becomes especially apparent whn the boys wore knee socks rather than long stockings. A good example is an unidentified St. Louis boy in 1922. Boys generally preferred the below the knee style. As a result, by the late 1920s and 1930s most knickers were the below-the-knee style. Many were made so it was up to the boy or his parents as to whether they were worn above the knee.


Understandably the style was not very popular with older boys. They would often leave home with their knickers dutifully buckled above the knees and then rebuckle them below the knees at the first opportunity. Soon manufacturers were making longer knickers designed to be buckled below the knees.


Above the knee knickers were worn as both casual clothes and dress clothes--including suits. We are not entirely sure at this time concerning the comventions associated with above-the-knee knickets.

Special styles

Several special styles were worn with above the knee knickers. One og the most popular were the Buster Brown suits widely worn at the turn of the century. Sailor suits, both sailor knicker suits and sailor tunic suits were also worn with above the knee knickers.


Boys wore knickers through the 1930s or casual wear and to school. These pants were made in many different materials. Corduroy was popular for school and during the winter. Lighter fabrics were more popular in the summer.

Dress wear

Noys also wore above the knee knicker suits. The jackets of these suits were indestinguishable fron below the knee knicker suits. The only difference was the length of the knickers.


As far as we know, manufacturers did not especially make above-the-knee knickers. We think that knickers could be buckled either above or below the knee. We need to confirm this, but we have not yet noted ads for knickers that specified above-the-knee styles. Thus these were regular knickers thst could be worn either way. We belive that mot boys preferred to wear them buckled below the knee because they looked more like longb trousers when worn that way. Some parents did not really care as to weather they were worn below or above the knee, but other parents, we think mostly mothers, preferred that they be buckled above the knee. We do not yet have any period information on this topic. Our assessment is simoply based on the available images.

Stylistic Influences

We note American boys commonly wore kneepants in the late 19th century. Knee pants were much more common than knickers. The wearing knee pants above the knee nevers seems to have been an issue. We have noted kneepants in various lengths. Some were well below the knee. Most were made to be worn at knee level, although actual poprtraits differ because mothers bouth large sizes and boys grew. The point here is, however, that the idea of wearing knickers above the knee does not appear to have come with knee pants. We note that short pants began to become popular after the turn of the 20th century. We wonder if that the appearance of short pants was a factor in causing some parents to insist that boys wear their knickers above the knee. A HBC reader writes, "I think that the wearing of knickers above the knee is curious. It seems to have been most common in the 1910s and 1920s. We think that perhaps conservative parents wanted boys to wear their knickers buckled above the knee as a mark of childhood since adult males had begun wearing knickers as a sporty form of dress on weekends and for country outings but of course always buckled them below the knee. In the 1920s many younger men wore knickers for everything but business occasions and not solely for golf. So some parents, especially mothers, might have felt that it was too grown-up a look for their boys to wear knickers that looked like what their fathers were wearing. In other words, I think it may have been a bit like the custom of making boys wear short trousers until they were in their later teens. I, for instance, was not allowed to wear long trousers until about 15 or 16. There was a distinct feeling before World War II, at least in many families, that boys should not dress like men until they were almost seniors in high school. But, as I recall, it depended a lot on how permissive your parents were. Just a theory, of course."

Boys Wearing Above-the-knee Knickers

We have archived quite a number of images on HBC with boys wearing above the knee knickers. We will gradually link them here.

Florida boy (1922)

Louisana boys (1924)

Texas boy (1926)

Unidentified boy (late 1920s)

Personal Accounts about Knickers

Pittsburg brothers: America in 1906

Boyhood memories

First long pants

Knickers and Shorts: America in the 1930s

Charles: America in the late 1930s and 40s


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Created: August 2, 1998
Last edited: 9:45 PM 2/18/2010