** suspender shorts -- America United States

Suspender Shorts: America

Figure 1.--These American boys enjoy a ice cream on a warm summer day during July 1941. One boy wears coveralls. The younger brother weaers his suspender shorts crossed at the front. Source: Library of Congress

We are most familiar with suspender shorts as an American style because HBC has a larger archive of American imsges. The stule was actually much more common in Europe. We begin to see them about the 1930s. They were not one of the more popular style of shorts, but were commonly worn by younger boys for both play and dress. The boys here in 1941 wear suspender shorts and biboveralls as a kind of play outfit. We also note American boys in the 1940 wearing dressy outfirs, such as two brothers dressing up for Christmas in 1940.. Most younger boys wore them in the 1930s and 40s. Button-on styling seems to have been more important than suspender styling. A Sears catalog in 1941, shows only one pair os suspender shorts among quite a number of shirts and long sets. Suspender shorts were sill worn to some extent in the early 50s, but they were much less common than in the 1940s. This was especially true of dress shots, such as the ones worn with Eton suits. Shorts with suspenders of the same material as the the shorts were still worn. The suspenders were attached to the shorts or buttoned on. These were generally dressier shorts rather than the ones for play. They became less common during the decade, probably because dressy shorts were less commonly worn. A HBC reader writes, "I don't think that suspender shorts were very common in America during the 1950s. I've looked at a lot of school pictures and family snapshots on the web, and the last examples of suspender shorts worn as an item of daily wear by a boy above toddlerhood was in the late 40s in a first or second grade class in Florida. I didn't wear them beyond the age of 2, and my New Jersey cousins last wore them at 3 or 4 when gussied up for a Christmas photo. Clearly they had become a nostalgia item that mother inflicted on boys too young to object when they wanted to make them look precious. The fact that Dennis the Menace's friend Joey wore them was an anachronism that more reflected 40s styles than 50s styles, much the same as Dennis' overalls."


Suspender shorts were short pants with straps to hold up the pants done in the same material as the shorts. Proper suspender short pants were purchased already sewn to the waistline at the back and crossed to the shoulders. Some we not sewn to the back, but this was unusual in American manufactured shorts. They then fell straight down and were buttoned to the waistine at the front. There may be exceptions, especially with home sewing, but this is how almost all store-bought suspender shorts were done. This was a pratical device. Unless the straps were crossed, they too easily fell off the shoulders, a real problem for active boys. We occassionally see the straps crossed at the front, but this was a nother's trick to fit the shorts to a ounger boy. This was not how suspender shorts were meant to be worn. And the suspender shorts worn as part of suits always had the susopender straps crossed at the back and not the front. Studio portraits almost always show only the front, but amateur photograophy and the snapshot are much more varied so we have some views of the back.


Younger American boys commonly wore pants with suspenders in the mid-20th century, but we see clip on suspenders more than proper suspender shorts. Wearing clip on suspenders with shorts and long pants was very common in America at the time, although only the younger boys commonly wore the shorts.


We think suspender shorts were commonly worn woth short pants suits, although not always worn with the suit jacket. We think thet were almost universal with the junior Eton suits that were popular in America. We think they were less common for the regulkar short pants suit worn by somewhat older boys. We see a TV-boy in the 1950s wearing shorts done in a suit-like material even though the boy wears a "T"-shirt (figure 1). We see 6-year old Joey Luft, Judy Garland's son wearing suspender sgorts appearing on stage with his mother at New York's Carnegie Hall (1961). We see boys wearing suspender shorts without suit jackets, but we think this was often just the mother's choice for the boys involved not to put on their suit jackets. This was most common during the summer.


Suspender shorts were much more common in Europe. In America you do not commonly see school-age boys wearing them, except perhaps the very early-primary years. We see older boys weating suspender shorts in Europe. The age factor was in part a practical matter. Younger boys did not have waists. Thus there was nothing to hold up their pants. Suspenders appeared in the 19th century, well before suspende pants. Having the suspender straps already attached, siplified mother's job of dressing the boys and as they got older to dress themselves. Thus we see mostly pre-school boys wearing suspender shorts. In America you do not commonly see school-age boys wearing them, except perhaps the very early-primary years.

Stand-alone Versions

Many of the suspender shorts we see noys wearing were shorts dome as opart of suits, such as the sgorts for juvenil Etin suits. Buying stand alone suspender shorts as we see in Europe was not as common, We do see some susopenered offered as part of shorts sets in catalogs that became ppopular in the 1940s, but button-on shorts seem much more common for these sets. We are assesing popularity as how commonly we see a garment in the photographic record. That would not work for many countries for which we have only a few images, but we have a very substantial American archive. And we just do not see many Amerian boys wearing suspender shorts. At least that is our preliminary assessment. We do, however, note some boys wearing elasticizesd clip-on suspenders with shorts. We see quite a few examoles of this in the 1950s.

Social Class

Here social class was a factor. Boys from well-to-do families were much less likely to wear short pants suits with suspender shorts.


Short pants are basically a 20th century phenomenon. We see knee pants in the 19th century, but they were very long, at first well below the knee. We do not see short pants in America until the 20th century. And they did not have the corative knee hem buttons. Thus we do not see suspender shorts until the 20th century, primarily the 1920s. We do not other forms of suspender pants as well. Boys most commonly wore button on pants in the lart-19th and early 20th century. They buttoned on to blouses, waists, or stocking supporters. We do see older boys and adult wearing suspenders, but not suspender pants, meaning attached not elaruvized straps. We are not entirely sure about the chronology yet, especially the 1910s. We definitely see American boys wearing suspender pants in the 1920s. Suspender pants were worn through the 1950s. This began to change in the 1950s, however, as play shorts with eleastisized waists became popular. Suspender shprts declined througout the rest of the century. But were still done for hott psnts suits won by younger boy--mostly the junior Eton suits. They were also done to be worn with blouses for dressy occassioins, but this was for biys from well-to-do families and primrily special occassions, not everyday wear.


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Created: July 13, 1998
Last updated: 7:54 PM 3/29/2020