* below the knee snickers

Below the Knee Knickers

Figure 1.--Boys of all ages wore knickers buckling above the knees during the 1920s. Generally younger boys wore knickers in the 1930s.

Shotened length pants that appeared in the mid-19th century were generrally cut below the knee. This included the knickerbockers that were worn by adult men for sporting activities. There were also knickers worn by boys. Genertally speaking they were cut at the same length as staight-leg knee pants, below the knee. Knee oants were at first more common than knickers, especially in America. As knickers began to be worn, mosdtly in Europe, the general convention was for knee pants and knickers to be worn at the same lenth. This was at first often at calf level which is what we see mostlt in the 1860s as shortened length pants behan to become more common. This was morly in Europe as after the 1860s, American boys primarily wore knee pants. Gradually the length of both knee pamts and knickers began to shorten, by the 1890s we behin to see actual knee-lengths. After the turn of the century, anjor changes began to take place and for unknown reasons they differed in Europe and America. We see many Eurioean boys, escpecially French boys wearing bloomer knickers. This was less true in Ameriuca exceor for younger boys wearing tunivc outfits. Actual knickers were mich more common in Euroioe than America during the late-19th century. They were commonly worn at knee length. We rarely see knicker in America . until the late 1900s decade when boy suddenly began to werar knickers. Some younger boys boys continued to wear knee oants, but most American boys began wearing knickers--at first abobe the knee knickers (1910s). This gradually changed to below the knee knickers (1920s-30s). American boys also wore short pants, but knickers were much more common. Ciorduroy knickers were espcially commoin for school wear.

Figure 2.--0s.


The chronology of above the knee knickers varies considerably over time and from from country to country. It is fifficult to note any overall trend, in part because countries varied as to the popularity of long pants, knee pants, knickers, and short pants. Country diffences were much more pronounced than in modern times. English boys always wore below the knee knickers, although our information is still realtively limited. We know much more about American knickers. American boys wore below the knee knickers below-the knee knickers when they first appeared to any extent (1860). For the next four decades, we mostly see American boys wearing knee pants and the legth gradually shortened from calf to knee level. This was the length when American boys suddently switched from knee pants to knickers (late-1900s decade). The knickers that appeared at that time were commomnly aboive-the knees jnickers, esopecially for the younger boys. Above the knees knickers were standard (1910s). Below the knee knickers did not begin to dominate until the mid-1920s. Weare less sure about France and the rest of Europe, but we mostkly see below the jnee knickersb ut they were mostly worn by teenage bouys, Most yiungder boys wore short pants. We see a few European boys wering plus fours (1920s), but not vert many. Knickers for the most part passed from the boys' fashion scene in the 1940s. The knickers we see at the time were all bekliw the knees knickers. Some of the American boys who wore knickers in the 1940s hearitly disliked them. I'm less sure how boys in the 1920s and 30s thought about them.


Conventions for wearing knickers varied from country to country. In America where fewer boys wore short pants, knickers were worn by younger boys. American boys in the 1920s might wear knickers during high school or at least the first few years of high school. By the late 1930s and early 1940s boys generally wore knickers in grade school and would get their first long pants suit at least by the time they were 13 or 14. In England by the 1920s they were not commonly worn by younger boys. In France and Germany knickers were worn by older boys who no longer wore shorts and for cold weather winter wear.

National Trends

The knicker fashion in America was a major divergence from British and European fashions for boys. Through much of the 19th century, American dress patterns simply followed those of Europe, with a few exceptions such as Fautleroy and Buster Brown suits. But these, especially the Fautleroy style was adopted by Europeans. With the popularity of knickers in America there developed significant differences between European and American styles. Knickers were not unknown in Euroope where older noys might wear them instead of shorts. They were not, however, worn as widely by European boys as knickers were in America.

Figure 3.--Older English boys like the boys in this 1910 photograph before World War might wear knickers while their younger brother wears shorts. After the World War fewer English boys wore knickers and shorts became more commonly worn.


Knickers appeared in England before the turn of the century. They were extensively worn by older boys in England. The English knickers were close fitting pants that came below the knee. I do not know of above the knee knickers being worn by English boys as they were for some years in America. By the 1910s shorts were becoming more important in England, in part because of the inluence of Lord Baden Powell's Scout movement. English boys by the 1920s more commonly wore shorts although some older English boys wore knickers. Most English boys, however, when they outgrew short pants wore long pants. Knickers in the 1920s and 30s were not nearly as popular in England as in America.


American boys did not begin to wear knickers extensively until the 1910s. Previously kneepants were worn by boys of all ages. Knickers in the 1910s became the major attire worn in America. School-age boys in America between the two world wars wore knicker suits. Littleboys are boys from affluent families might wear shorts. Most boys of any size, especially if they were still in shorts,wanted their knickersas soon as possible. Knickers came to be almost a symbol of American boyhoodas short pants came to symbolize British boyhood. Knickers were also worn in England where they were called "plus fours", referring to the additional cloth required.While worn in England and Europe they were much less common than inAmerica. Asshort pants suit were more common on older boys who at 15 or 16 often were old enough to insist on longs rather than an intermediate knicker suit.

Buckle Styles

Boys initially usually wore their knickers buckled above the knees in the 1910s and 1920s. Youngerboys especially wore them above the knees. Many boys as they got older and began to want long pants would often prefer the more manly styleof buckling them below the knee. Some mothers would insist that their son buckle his knickers above the knee. The boy, however, after leaving the house wouldrebuckle his knickers in the preferred below the knee position. This mother/son struggle of the 1920s was imortalized in the Music Man. The problem was eventually resolved during the 1930s as shorts became more common for younger boys. Knickers for older boys weremade slightly longer and the fashion of buckling them below the knee became accepted.

Figure 4.--This ad shows the styles of knickers and knee pants available for little boys in the 1920s. Different styles were abvailable for older boys. Note the strong influence of the Norfolk jacket style. The above the knee style was still commonly worn in the early 1920s. Also notice the kneepants suit at the back.

Stockings and Socks

It is difficult to know what kind of hosiery knickers ere worn with when gthey first appeared (mid019th century. As they tended yo be worn at calf leve,, long stockings were not required. We note English school biys wearing them with what lookss like kneesocks (late-19th century). American boys mostly wore knee panrs (late 19th centurt). But as lengths became shortr, they ewere worn with long stockinfs. All kinds of stocking supporters arrangements wsere developed. This continued after the turn-of-the 20th cenntury. And when American boys suddenly switched to knickers (late-1910s decade). At the time boys were mostly wearing long stockings with knee panmys, and cintinued doing this with the new knickers. This continued (1910s-20s). This only began to change in the late01920s as knee sovks became increasingly common. Longstickings declined and knee socks became increasingky common (1930s). Lon=g stockings were common in most northern European countries through the first half of the 20th century, bit jnickers were not., And th mostly oldr boys who wore them, commonly wore knee soicks. Many American boys, especially during the summer would wear their knickers with ankel socks (late 1930s). After this t=knickers rapidly weny out of sttyle. .


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Created: August 2, 1998
Last edited: 1:29 AM 12/14/2020