*** boys clothing: depictions in U.S. television shows

National Television Indutries: United States

Figure 1.--TYhis was my introduction to television at about the samne time. Onkly our TV screen was much smaller. A 16 inch screem was larger than what most people had. Radio was still big. The ctor on ythe sctreen is Willim Boyd. He played Hopalong Cassidy. I tuned roiund as dining room dcreen a got out my trusty six-shooter capn pistol like the boy here as well as cowboy boots.

Television was ready to be lauched in the early 1940s, but was delayed by World War II. Significant programing did not begin until the late 1940s and large numbers of Americans did not buy TV sets until the early 50s. Our first one had a magnifying glass over the picture tibe to inbcrease the picture size. Early TV shows in the late 1940s and early 50s oftem had boys dressed in short pants. By the mid-1950s, however, the main characters on series virtually never appeared in short pants. Blue jeans were the order of the day. At first boys appearing on TV shows like quiz shows or in the audience on mainstays like 'Howdy Doody' dressed very formally. An excellent view of post-war boys clothing in America is available in: 'Dennis the Menace' (1950s), 'Lassie' (1950s-60s), 'Leave it to Beaver' (1950s), 'My Three Sons' (1960s), the 'Andy Grifith Show' (1960s), 'Silver Spoon' (1970s), 'The Brady Brunch' (1970s), ??? (1980s), 'Dave's World' (1990s), 'Home Improvement' (1990s), 'Malcomn in the Middle' (2000s). We stress that we are only listing some of the best programs here, but all pertinent programs are listed in the alphabetical section. The interesting thing about these shows is that people all over the world has seen them while American viewers have seen few foreign programs. This list is a preliminary cut. Do let us know if you would like to suggest another program be added.


Television was introduced to Americans at the New York World's Fair (1939). The sme was goiing on in Britin and Germany at the time. A whole new industry wold have developed at the time. But of course, the orld War II was erupting. Television was sidelined, but importanbt rechnolical nadvances were underway as proto-television screens wee built in large numbers. Vast resources were devited to electonics creatng techology thart wouud assist the televsion industry after the War. The War ended (1945). The 1940swas still the Golden Age of radio. I can recall listening to radio programs like 'Amos and Andy," "'Fiber McGee abd Molly," "Gangbusters." "The long Ranger", and others before we got our first TV set. TV existed, but few people had them, and mist big srarts stayed in radio. This only really changed at the end of the 1940s. Wiih increased programming, and the post-War economic boom, people began to buy television sets which first were very expensive. Early television sets were both large and bulky, ften pieces of fyrniture. The analog circuits were complicated and made of vacuum tubes. The RCA CT-100 color TV set used an amazing 36 vacuum tubes. And when one blew, you had to call the TV repairment. The first screens, however, were very small. I recall our first set had a mnufying glas over tge screen. TV quickly became America’s favorite source of entertainment and all at home. Only about 20 percent of American homes had a TV set (1950), but by the end of the decade, some 90 percent of homes had TV sets (1960). Even more imoressive, a few had more than one set and color TV had appeared (1960). The number of TV stations, channels, and programs all grew to meet the voracious demnd. Although comsidered primitive by today's standards, this first decade is commonly described as the Golden Age of television. Television was dominated by three networks (ABC CBS, and NBC). CBS and NBC--the two surviving radio networks were the most important. ABC was a new comer, greatly ided by getting Disney programming. There were also unaffliated local stantion. So for the most part there were four choices avalable to Americans. Programming was at first limited. There was at first no daytime prigramming. Local statis began daytime TV and then oicjked up networknorigramming later inb the day. Many stations began when the kids came home from school. "Howdy Doody" was an early favorite as was "Hopalong Cassidy"which you see here (figure 1). And there was no late-night programming, but this wsas just the beginning.

Major Programs

Here are the programs that HBC believe provide the best depictions of the clothes worn by Americam boys.

(The) Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (US, 1952-66)

This low-key ABC sho began on the radio with actors for the boys. When it came to TV Davidand Ricky were used and wera bit hit. Ricky of ourse became a major rock style, to the constrnation of some family oriented viewers who saw rock and roll as morally offensive. Interestingly, Ricky was one of the very few child TV stars that had important show busines careers after televiion and the only one with an important music career.

(The) Andy Grifith Show (US, 1960-68)

Oppy (Ron Howard) was great little actor, especially when he was younger. He was always impeccably well behaved. He sometimes had important roles. He and his friends always wore long pants, almost always jeans. One of Oppie's friends was ?? Thiboux?, who had played Little Ricky on "I Love Lucy". He never had any significant roles, but him and Oppie became good friends. The only reference I remember to clothing in a plot was when Aunt Bee told Oppie that she had mended his knickers which she called his baseball pants. Oppie looked at her in a disgusted manner and insisted that they weren't knickers. Latter Helen Crump, Andy' girl friend and Oppy's teacher, wanted to take a picture. Aunt Bee gushes "Oh, doesn't he look adorable in his costume. Helen agrees, but the camera swings to Andy in his umpire uniform. Then Aunt Bee grabs Oppy who doesn't want to come over to have his picture taken. "Oh, no Aunt Bee! I don't want to," he protests as she drags him over. Oppie reminds me of the way I used to dress as a boy, striped "t" shirt, dungarees, and Keds. After a few years Barnie left the show, but it was never as good. Later continued as "Mayberry RFD" without Andy and Oppie.

(The) Brady Brunch - (US, 1969-74)

Perhaps the most recogziable TV show showcasing American kids during the 1970s was the Brady Bunch. It was about two previously married parents with three kids each. One of the last of those old style, fun around the house shows, with well scrubbed, polite children. The three boys are very . Greg (Barry Willians) was a bit old except that first year, but the younger two were just right: Bobby (Mike Lookinland) and Peter (Christopher Knight). Very little of special interest, because they never wore shorts--even to play in. The girls, however, often wore extremely short skirts. There were only a few interesting episodes touching upon clothing. Crush: I liked one episode where Peter is forced to go to a girl's birthday part. One of the girls there has a crush on Peter and takes him by the arm as soon as he arrives. In some of the early scenes the girls looked very attractive in short party dresses and Mary Janes--it was the minny skirt era. Cindy's class: About the only boy I ever saw in shorts was a boy in Cindy's class during one of the earlier episodes. The boy was involved in a play with her. At a rehearsal he was wearing grey dress shorts. He was quite young, I'd say 7 or 8. Fauntleroy: There is one scene with Fauntleroy suits, one of the girls fantasize about a perfect marriage and child. In her dreams Bobby appears in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. Lady doctor: Another scene was when the mother hears Peter screaming upstairs. She had called her doctor to treat him and he was aghast to find a lady doctor was about to examine him. When she went upstairs, Peter had a look of horror on his face and was clutching the covers over him. Pie fight: Snow white: The only The Brady Bunch episode I saw where all the kids are in short pants is when they are wearing costumes for a backyard production of 'Snow White'. The shorts have halters to make them look like lederhosen. Sunflower girls: In another episode, Peter appears in a Sunflower Girls uniform (Girl Scout type organization). I think he was demonstrating why Marcia shouldn't be a Scout.

Dave's World (US, 1990s)

'Dave's World' was the first American TV sitcom in which boys appeared with the long below-the-knee baggy shorts. The interaction between the oldr and younger brother was well done.

Dennis the Menace - (US, 1959-63)

Dennis (Jay North) usually wears bib front overalls. On a few rare occasions he appears in a suit, but not short pants even though he started the series at about 6-years of age and often appeared n a short pants suit in the comic. In the cartoon Dennis' mother dresses him up in a jacket with short pants for church and other occasions. One more example how child stars on television in the 1950s and 60s were never pictured in short pants. The series was popular, but I think it never approached the telling insights into childhood that "Leave It to Beaver" attained. Jay was bit to old for the part by the end of the series. Rather disappointing. I never remember seeing any even mildly interesting episodes when I watched it as a boy. But I did see one very episode while it was playing as reruns. Mr. Wilson has a nightmare where he is in school with the children. The boys are all geniuses and wearing very black short pant suits with knee socks. (Typical as the few boys wearing shorts and knee socks on TV were usually in swank private schools or rich, incorrigible children.) Mr. Wilson can't match them, but he is dressed just like them in shorts. You can see Joey's suit. Dennis is, however, wearing a cap and gown and it is not clear what he is wearing. In another episode he wore basketball shorts. They were the short cut style, which reminds one of how basketball shorts have changed. They are now so long and baggy. In another episode, Dennis winds up baby sitting for a visiting French boy, Michel (Petit Michel). Michel is a personable little chap about 9 years old. He wears a very smart short pants suit complete with cap and knee socks.

(The) Farmer's Daughter - (1963-65)

A reader tellsus, "There was a show in the 1960s called 'The Farmer's Daughter' which I did not see mentioned in the HBC TV section. It started in 1963 and I think lasted 2 seasons. It starred Inger Stevens and William Windom. Stevens is a maid in a senators household. The senator had 2 sons, one around 12 years old, the other about 8 years. In one episode, a visiting extremely nerdy European prince who is about 12 years old stays with the family. He wears short pants and knee socks with a sweater. This episode took place during the first season."

Home Improvement - (1990s)

A television handyman proves to be a klutz at home as he continues to deal with any problem by upping the wattage/voltage, horsepower, pressure, etc. If that wasn't enough for the long-suffering wife, she has three active boys. The boys Mark, Brad, and Randy (Zachery Ty Bryan, Taran Smith, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas) are all pre-teens at the beginning of the run. In some episodes they hardly appear, but in others they are pictured throughout. To match their father they are usually pictured as standard American kids loving sports and hating culture. The older one seems to have many of the smarty-TV-type kid comments. While the younger one has goody-goody lines. In one episode they scream, with their father, upon hearing opera. In another, however, the little one is enthusiastic about going to the ballet, but his brothers tease him. They always wear longs. Why is it that American TV continues to keep boys in longs even though they so commonly wear shorts now adays? I have only seen one of them wear shorts briefly in one episode. Another boy was shown in out takes right before taping in shorts, but I have never seem him wear shorts in the show. Interestingly, it was when Randy was with his girl friend and his younger brothers were spying on him in the back yard. Apparently the boys caused a lot of trouble on the set, always being underfoot. So the studio hired a trainer for them. In one shot she was putting them through their paces running and exercising. The two older ones wore shorts, but the younger one wore longs. The studio also banned candy from the set to tone them down a bit, the boys complained about that.

Howdy Doody - (1950s)

Lassie - (1950s-60s)

One of the longest running TV adventure show was Lassie. It was first telcast in 1954 and continued through 1971. The central story of this series was the relationship between a boy and his faithful dog collie--Lassie. Over such a long period the show went through two child cactors (Tommy Rettig and Jon Provost) and an unknown number of Lassies. Lassie, although a major prime-time program of the time, it is rarely seen in sindication, in sharp contrast to other contemporary programs with much shorter runs. As the show lasted for such a long time, you would think it would be a showcase for changing boys' fashions, but the costuming seems stuck in the late 1950s. The main character Heff and then Timmy as well as their friends always seems to wear a colored shirt, jeans with a cuff, and keds. Timmy always wore long pants jeans. The only time HBC knows that a boy on Lassie wore short pants was when Timmy's family hosted a boy from England. Lassie - (US, 1954- ) Rather maudlin show, but the various incarnations had an amazingly long run. Interestingly the show has not done well in syndication. The first master was Jeff (Tommy Rettig), 1954-57-58?. In particular I remember a kind of shout that he an his friends had, "E-Aw-Kee". As Tommy was getting older, he was replaced by Timmy (John Provost) in the third year of the show about 1957?. Typical 1950s presentation of a cohesive family. The boys always wore long pants, usually jeans. The only exceptions I can recall were some nicely mannered foreign boys. Certainlly Lassie's American owners and their friends never wore shorts.

Leave it to Beaver - (1950s)

Beaver and his friends wear "T" shirts. plaid shirts, and jeans. His older brother Wally who after the firstvyears goes to highschool wears slacks. The boys never wear short pants with two exceptions. Aunt Martha who takes care of the boys, unsists that Beaver wear a short panrs suit. Wally in one episode appears in a short pants Scout uniform goung to summer camp. The photograph of Beaver in the linked page is the only still full length picture of Beaver in his shorts suit I've ever seen. A couple of portraits, but nothing of the suit. You know, it's surprising how many "Leave It to Beaver-philes" recall this episode. WTBS about a dozen or so years back ran "Beaver" perennially, and just recently TV Land included this series in its line up. Both networks from time to time have had marathons of Beaver, and other shows, but when it came to a Beaver marathon, you could always depend on "Beaver's Short Pants" to be included.

Malcomn in the Middle - (US, 2000- )

This Fox sitcom has proven quite popular. It deals with a family of three boys, Malcomb of course is the middle boy. Some of the promotional bits on TV seem humerous. I haven't, however, watched it so can't say much about it yet. Hopefully our HBC readers can provide some information. It does realistically provide information on contemporary American boys' clothing.

My Three Sons - (U.S., The 1960s-70s)

Long-running family sitcom about a widower and his three sons. The younger boy (Chip) was quite young at the beginning of the series. In the first years when "My Three Sons" was still in black and white (early 1960's), Don Grady, who played the then-middle son Robbie in high school, sometimes wore casual Bermuda shorts on the show. I don't recall any dialogue about it, indicating that this wasn't considered remarkable or out of the ordinary by then--alouth rarrely depicted on television. The boys eventually grow up and an adopted son (Ernie) has to be added so there will be a younger boy on the show. The boys always wore long pants. There were a few episodes that dealt with clothing: 1) A black and white episode when Chip was still young had Robbie in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. He was dressing up for a party and rather embarrassed about it. I didn't see the whole episode, just him leaving after exchanging words with the family. Uncle Charley congratulates himself on not telling him how "goofy" he looks. Chip asks him what he was going to say so he could use it later. Robbie's outfit included a nice sissy hat with a streamer down the back. 2) A color episode has Chip getting upset about the girls playing basketball, so he goes out for the girls hockey team. The coach allows him to play, but he has to wear the uniform--a kilt. There is a scene where Uncle Charlie fits the kilt on him. At the end Chip complains about how rough the girls play. The lastest arrival on My Three Sons was Barry Livingston as Ernie. Barry first played Chip's best friend. As Chip was growing up, there clearly was a need for a younger brother. So Ernoe was adopted. Barruy as Ernie, wore a range of contemporary boy clothes, almost invariably khaki slacks, a plaid short sleeved shirt, and often a light collored sweater. For dress up occasions, black suits (long trousers), white short sleeved shirts, and black ties were his norm. In one episode from the last black and white season Ernie and Chip put on an Hawaiian party for Chip's dad. They both wear long grass skirts and leis. In one episode not long after he's adopted by the Douglases, Ernie, following a school fad, shows up at the breakfast table wearing cut off just above the knee blue jeans. In another episode, in a dream sequence, he appears in jungle gear (pith helmet, bush jacket, knee length khaki shorts, and dark knee socks). And last, in another episode he runs in a track and field event wearing a long sleeved sweat shirt, long shorts, socks and tennis shoes. The other boys wore shorter outfits, more typical of a track event. Perhaps Barry was a little self conscious.

Silver Spoon - (US, 1970s)

Dreadful sitcom, only enlivened with Ricky (Ricky Schroeder). The show ran several years. There were a few episodes dealing with clothing: 1) Ricky dresses up a girl for a party, he handles himself quite nicely, 2) a friend wears white tights and dresses up as Cupid, 3) the boys appear in Scout-type shorts*, 4) Ricky's mother comes to take him a way and brings him a sissy suit, explaining they are lederhosen. Ricky of course wants no part with them. (If only they had made him wear them.) "Later with the hosen," he tells his mother. Dereke (Jason Bateman) played his nemesis in the first few years, as a contrast to sweet little, well behaved Ricky. [*Many American television shows had scenes with Scouts, but did not use actual Scout uniforms. I'm not sure why this was. Perhaps they had to pay a fee to the BSA or perhaps they needed permission from the BSA.]

(The) Wonder Years - (US, 1988-93)

A delightful TV show about boyhood. It depicts a boy growing up in suburbia during the turbulent 1960s. The main character is a delightful 12-yearold, brilliantly played by Fred Savage. He even wears shorts when he is playing with his friends, unusual for American TV kids who very rarely appear in shorts. There is a nice scene where Fred and his whimpy friend Paul are sitting on his bed, both in short pants, reading a facts of life book. The quickly hide it when mom comes into the room. He has a big brother who bullies him and a big sister who is a pre-hippy. It really deals realistically with a boy just passing into adolescence as he is entering junior high school. A real delight to watch. The pilot ended with a very tender kiss between the boy and his first girl friend. By 1991 Fred is definitely growing up. There was a rather scene in a 1992 episode about his American rite of passage--getting his driving license. He had trouble with parallel parking. In his imagination he saw him self as Little Bo Peep, outfitted in a frilly dress, pinafore, long blond curls, and girlish hat.

Unknown title

A reader writes, "I am looking for the name of the show that delt with the theme of A single mother, who have three or four children. Each one of these children father was protrayed as a castout from society.One of the father was gay, one south asian etc.and the mother was trying to start a relationship for herself but could find someone, so she will makeup some excuse for the fathers to come over and babysit while she goes out. After all that do you know the name of this show?"

Alphabetical Pages

Remember the programs here are only those American programs which we believe to be especially important. A much more extensive list of programs from not only America, but other countries as well is available in the HBC alphabetical TV ptogram pages.

Local Programming

Network programing in the early years of television was very limited. There was no morning programming at all. And network programming for kids was limited. So local TV channels created their own programs to supplement the network programming, filling in the hours for which no network programming was available. One of the staples was a kiddy show. Commonly they would invite children as a kind of on-screen audience, much like you see on 'Howdy Doodie'. There would be a peronality around whom the show would be based. And then there would be costumed charcters. Clowns would be possible, but only one of the characters. These local kiddie shows sprung up all over the country and wre common throughout the country. As network programming, including childen's programming expanded, they gradually disappeared. It was much cheaper for the network to create one show and syndicte it rather than for each local station to crete programs.

Seasonal Programming

We note a range of seasonal holiday programming. The most common by far was Christmas. But we also see Fourth of July, Haloween, and Thanksgiving fitting in to the programing. This was true primarily with serial programming like sitcoms. We also see variety shows that were popular through the 1980s having specials especially Christmas. Programs like Perry Commo, Dianna Shore, Andy Willians, and others commonly included children as Christmas is at its heart a family orinted holiday. And thy children were very commonly dressed in their best clothes for the program. Looking at the programs over time we see an interesting view of sahion changes over time. Of course the children we see dressed more fashionably than the children in the average family, but we see some of the fashion trends. At the time of course it was much more common to dress up for special events.


We have primarily used movies and television as a source of information on period fashion. Here they are especially useful when set in contemprary periods. Both movies and television, howver, are much more than this. Both are powerful influences on fashion. Here because of its syndication around the world, American television is particularly important. Some American television programs have have a huge impact on fashion. MTV while a network rather than a program has been especially important. Companies such as FUBU have been especially successful in getting their fashions showcased there. Some of the most influential programs have been "Miami Vice" (1980s), "Beverly Hills 20210", "Melrose Place", "Dynasty" (1981- ), "Allie McBeal", and "Friends" (1994-2003). These programs have had a huge impact on teenage and young adult fashion. We are less sure of programs that have significantly affected children's fashions, but it is a subject that we hope to address.


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Created: March 20, 2000
Last updated: 2:54 AM 6/8/2022