Norman Rockwell: Saturday Evening Post Covers Illustrating Boys' Fashions

Figure 1.--This 1923 Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover was entitled "Summer Vacation" and shows a boy celebrating on the last day of chool. Notice the suspenders, knickers, and bare feet.

Rockwell sold his first cover painting to the Saturday Evening Post in 1916 and ended up doing over 300 more. The early Post covers provide fascinating glimpses of children clothes. Rockwell was fascinated by children and many of the covered addressed their foibles and nicely illustrated their clothing. The Post covers include all areas of Americana, including presidential portraits. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson sat for him for portraits. He also painted other world figures, including Nassar of Egypt and Nehru of India.

A helpful HBC contributor has nicely cataloges the Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cocers with information about boys clothing. He notes that, "I did not try to include every single cover which has a boy in it. For example, "A Day in the Life of a Boy" does not appear, because it, and other covers I haven't put in here, do not show enough costume details to be interesting. I also exclude a few showing boys on the borderline of adulthood wearing clearly adult outfits.

HBC Synopsis

The 1920s was Rockwell's most productive period in ternms of providing Post covers with images of boys' clothing. Knickers continue to dominate boys clothing in the 1920s. Sailor suits and even occasional Fauntleroy style influences are still seen.

The Covers

Here is the details on the covers provided by the HBC contributor. The chronological organization provides a useful time line reflecting fashion chnges and can be compared with the chronological information available on U.S. boys clothing.

January 17, 1920 "Pen Pals"

Boy, dressed in grey buttoned shirt without collar, ragged sweater, knickers, stockings, and work shoes, is working on the umpteenth draft of a letter to his girl. Other versions lie in view.

May 15, 1920 "The Stowaway/Travelling Companions"

A boy is dressed formally in a knickers suit and long stockings. He has a somewhat battered hat (his ticket seems to be tucked in the hatband). He is sitting in a train suit, with a picnic basket on hislap. A puppy is climbing out to the basket. Presumably he is not allowed on the train, but the boy has sneaked him aboard.

June 19, 1920 "Three's Company"

Boy is far from debonair in a knickers suit with cloth belt, approaching girl's front door with flowers in hand, being harrassed by dog. Girl is still smiling, though, seeming to see boy as knight in shining armor.

August 20, 1920 "The Cave of the Winds/Fun Fair"

Girl and boy, on date or probably given the date just attending thge fun fair together. They are rather formally dressed for a fun fair, but formality was still common at the time. They have entered the "Cave of the Winds", a carnival attraction with grates on the floor through which a strong breeze blows upwards. Boy is smiling while wearing his knickers suit, holding onto his hat, since his girl is having much trouble keeping her skirt down!

January 29, 1921 "Mom's Helper"

Boy, wearing a dark grey buttoned shirt, red suspenders, and a white apron, is sitting in kitchen peeling potatoes. His true attention is on his book "The Pirate" which is standing open next to him.

June 4, 1921 "No Swimming"

Perhaps his most famous cover. Three boys are being rousted from the local swimming hole, where swimming is not allowed. They are racing away with their dog, at best, half clothed. One boy is clearly carrying a pair of knickers. This whimsical work comes alive in a dreamy, slow-motion segment showing a group of boys in various stages of dress running past the "No Swimming" sign that stands like a sentinel at their favorite swimming hole.

July 9, 1921 "The Portrait"

Boy in a very nice knickers suit, pocket handkerchief showing, is trying to be good and sit still for his portrait. Problem is, portrait also includes infant sister, sitting on his knee, and acting up.

August 13, 1921 "Distortion"

Young lad in a Norfolk suit with knickers is standing in front of a funhouse mirror and enjoying the reflection.

January 14, 1922. "Stereoscope"

Boy, wearing a checked shirt with Little Lord Fauntlery-style white cuffs and large collar, flowered red tie which seems a cross between an every day tie and a bow tie, and pants which seem to be knee pants with some sort of knee protectors attached, brown knee length stockings, and brown shoes, is looking at stereoscope slides. Boy may be wearing an old fashioned outfit to emphasize that the stereoscope was obsolete by 1922.

April 29, 1922 "The Champ"

Teenager, wearing an athletic shirt with "Champ" on it and white sport shorts, is exercising with barbells in hopes of being like well-muscled man on poster. Boy's knickers are visible under his schoolbooks on his chair, and his socks (worn with athletic shoes) are obviously at least knee length, although rolled or fallen down to his ankles.

June 10, 1922 "A Patient Friend"

Boy, sitting inside doing his homwork in white shirt and what appear to be knickers, stares out window to where his dog is waiting for him.

August 19, 1922 "Ship Ahoy"

Old salt lets young lad look through his telescope. Boy (perhaps 7 or 8) is wearing a white sailor suit with long pants which have the standard flap in front. Boy wears sailor hat, and the cords for the whistle that came with many sailor suits is visible

September 9, 1922 "The Rivals"

Two lads, one clearly wealthy, one middle class, have both arrived to pay their attentions at the front door of the same girl. Rich kid (seen from behind) appears to be wearing some sort of riding gear, but with short white pants and long stockings that extend under them. His rival wears a blue-grey short jacket, eton collar and big blue bow tie with spots, brown (corderoy?) Knickers, stockings, and sneakers.

March 10, 1923 "Puppy Love"

Boy, wearing light shirt, red cardigan, and knickers unbuttoned at the knee, as well as stockings, shoes, and hat, is about to administer a spoonful of medicine to his dog, who doesn't seem well.

June 23, 1923. "Summer Vacation"

Country boy, wearing big straw hat, buttoned shirt, suspenders, knickers unbuttoned at the knee, no stockings or shoes, is turning a cartwheel. His school supplies are visible, as is the slingshot no doubt confiscated earlier in the year and now returned to him.

November 10, 1923 "Lands of Enchantment"

Bookish lad, wearing a dress shirt with a large collar not unlike Peter Pan collar, necktie, and dark knickers, as well as stockings and shoes, is reading a book with other books nearby. An image forms behind him of a knight in armor on horse with his ladye faire, no doubt what the boy is reading about.

April 5, 1924. "Cupid's Visit"

Boy, wearing a long pants outfit with hat nearby, is sitting on ground amoung first signs of spring. Cupid is whispering in boy's ear. He appears receptive.

August 30, 1924

Young lad, perhaps 12, too young then for long pants which he is indeed wearing, is sitting next to a girl, seranading her with an concertina. Boy's outfit seems a bit shabby.

November 8, 1924. "Grand Reception"

Two young lads are accompanying a very large politician in a procession. They are both wearing read coats and hats, much like bellhops do. Underneath, though, you can see the kids' everyday clothing. The pants of one are visible; they are knickers.

April 18, 1925 "The Self Portrait"

Boy has rigged up a camera to take his own picture in the days before camers with automatic delays. He wears his everyday plad knickers, stockings, and shoes, but he has obtained from somewhere a somwhat worn formal coat too large for him and is holding a top hat.

November 21, 1925. "Fumble"

Young lad in football gear tackles another, not only knocking the ball loose, but the leather helmet off his head!

December 5, 1925 "The London Coach"

Dickensian cover. Boy and coachman sit on front seat of London Coach. Difficult to say much about boy's outfit, he is very bundled up, except that it includes long pants, striped stockigns, and a cap and red scarf. Most of Rockwell's cover show case contemportary clothes, but this historically inspired cover was an exception.

April 24, 1926 "The Little Spooners"

Very young boy and girl are sitting together "spooning", a rather obsolete form of courting. They are much too young, and are likely imitating their elders. Boy is wearing a blue-gray work shirt with rolled up sleeves, suspenders, and brown work pants, since they are seen from behind, while seating, hard to tell what length.

June 26, 1926 "First in His Class"

Young lad, standing with diploma in hand and medals on lapel, is having his virtures extolled by schoolmaster. Boy is wearing somewhat old fashioned outfit--jacket has three buttons, buttoning quite near the neck, he wears a large bow tie, and what appear to be shorts, although his stockings go under the shorts. They may be knee pants, though--they seem too high to be knickers.

January 8, 1927. "Back to School"

Young lad, well bundled up, sheds a tear as he looks back at the now-decripit Christmas tree as he carries his school gear out the door. He wears one of those old fashioned hats that had flaps that folded down to cover the ears when desired, a patched coat, mittens, scarf, knickers, stockings, and heavy boots that may be too big for him.

April 16, 1927 "Springtime of 27"

Young lad (looks like the cartwheeling kid) wears a straw hat with a daisy, checked shirt, and ragged jeans as he plays on a flute. Animals dance around him.

June 4, 1927 "The Young Artist"

Teenager paints a heart and "She's My Baby" onto girl's coat. Boy wears a floppy hat, colorful sweater, and plus fours. Socks seem to match sweater, and he wears brown shoes--a Rockwell standard for boys in the 20s.

December 3, 1927 "Christmas 1927"

A benevolent Santa, seen as a giant, holds in his fingers a boy wearing footed pajamas, and they are conversing. How a 100-foot Santa gets down the chimney?

August 3, 1929 "Snagging the Big One"

Young lad, fishing with his Grandpa, who has just pulled in a bigger fish then his grandson has! Boy wears straw hat, and seems to be wearing overalls, but there appears to be provision for the overalls to fasten at knicker length (a little tab with a buttonhole is visible). This was Rockwell's last illustration before the New York Stock Market crash and the onset of the Great Depression.


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Created: January 1, 2000
Last updated: 3:27 AM 1/10/2007