Figure 1.--The caption to this phptograph in a television anthology reas, "And here he is, the one and only Beaver Cleaver--cap, bow tie, knee socks, shorts, and that endearingly bewildered look as if a flying saucer had deposited him from another galaxy and he's saying to us all: 'Gee, what am I susposed to do now?" This episode, 'Beaver's Short Pants,' was aired December 13, 1957.
American boys Beaver's age were wearing "T" shirts and jeans and for school might wear a flannel shirt. Some boys in the mid-1950s, however, might still be dressed up in a short pants suit for formal occasions or for church on Sunday. The numbers
were declining but there were still some. The most common short pants suit was black worn with black socks. Generally speaking it was boys from affluent families that were most likely to wear them. This was especially in the northeastern states did wear them. Boys in some private schools wore them, but certainly not boys in public schools.
Leave It to Beaver was one of the most popular sitcoms on American TV for several years during the 1950s. Millions of boys watched it. Beaver and Wally's mon and dad became the standard against which children measured their parents. I watched the show as a boy of about 14 yyears of age. HBC that this show suggesting that someting was dreadfully wrong about wearing short pants suits must have affected the thinking of many boys. Walt Disney's emensely popular Mickey Mouse Club ran a serial at about the same time--Spin and Marty in which a boy showed up at summer camp in a limousine and short pants suit. Again the inference was that that there was something wrong with a boy wearing a short pants suit and kneesocks.
When mom goes away, Beaver's old fashioned aunt decides to outfit him in a short pants suit. She would have liked to have done the same to Wally, but figures that he is a lost cause. Problems then arise in school where Beaver is teased. In the booknform it is at Sunday School where tyhe teasing takes place.
Jerry Mathers was born June 2nd, 1948. This would have made him 9, going on 10 years old when they dressed him in this short pants suit for the filming of that episode. The HBC contributor who provided this scan reports that this was just about the age he was when he graduated from short pants suits.
HBC a readers have the following comments about Beaver's suit
The peaked cap was an upper-class fashion for boys wearing short pants suits. Beaver's cap, however, does not look right. The crown part is too large.
HBC can't rell much about the shirt.
One HBC contributor reports, "I have an observation about this outfit. Somehow, the bow tie Jerry is wearing makes him look much younger than 9 years old. The regular ties
that British schoolboys wore with their short pants suits still made them look like little boys rather than little men, but didn't appear as juvenile as the bow tie does.
Beaver's suit is a black or navy blue suit. These conservative suits were quite common, especially among affluent families in America. This contrasts with Britain where grey suits were more common. Notice the narrow lapels which were fashionable at the time.
I believe that Beaver's short pants were regular shorts and not suspender shorts. The conventions for short pants varied widely in America during the mid-1950s. Boys in the northeast did not commonly weaar them, especially to go to school. Some private schools has short pants uniforms. Some boys played in long pants but had a short pants uniform for dresswear. This was declining but still prevalent to some extent. Boys in California and the south were more likely to wear shorts as play clothes. The standard short pants suit was the black jacket and shorts as Beaver was wearing. This would have been the one chosen for boys from conservative, established families in America.
The kneesocks almost caused Beaver more problems than the short pants. One boy in the episode asked Beaver why he was wearing "girls' socks". Notice that they are not proper turn-over-top socks, but rather the pull up type girls normally wore in America and often marketed as "children's" kneesocks. HBC believes that Beaver wears the type of kneesocks that girls commonly wore probably because they were much more readily available. One HBC contributor believes that proper boys' knee socks were probably not avaialble from the studio's wardrobe. On one hand, you could say costuming and
the crew for the TV show might think, "Who's going to notice the difference?", but they were aware of the difference and scripted the show as such, with Judy or Larry's unwelcome remarks about the stockings. Maybe this was done to "add insult to injury" in Beaver's
case! An HBC contributor reports that he was only 5 near the very end of 1957, but reports that knee socks for boys were around, and for some years later, judging from ads. HBC notes that better men's and boys' wear clothing stores and upscale department stores in the 1950s did carry proper kneesocks for boys. Many moms, however, just brought what was readily available when purchasing for younger boys. Manufacturers often packaged these socks as "chilodrens" kneesocks even though most were bought for girls. Some boys even wound up wearing cable-knit kneesocks.
HBC can't make out whether or not these are lace up shoes. One HBC contributor reports that they are slip on shoes.
Other TV shows or movies made about this time show what boys in America as well as other countries were wearing during the mid-1950s.
This Ameican film was made in France. The American boy appears in a jacket and jeans, identical to the clothes Beaver usually wore. He exchanges clothes with a French, who wears short pants and a beret. Almost all of te French boys in the film wear short pants.
Walt Disney's emensely popular Mickey Mouse Club ran a serial at about the same time as Leave It To Beaver--Spin and Marty in which a boy showed up at summer camp in a limousine and short pants suit. He wore a black short pants suit and knee socks. He even had a butler! The other boys at the camp were agast. But they were realtively gentle with him and he was soon wearing jeans as well.
The school uniform at an American private school about the same same time is depicted in Toy Tiger. The boys all wore black short pants suits and kneesocks. Tim Hovey plays a boy at the school who gets himself in trouble with the other boys for braging about a dad he dosn't have.
Images from the dancing schools American boys were sent to in the 1950s often show boys in the black short pants suit that Beaver wore. It was a rite of passage for American boys from affluent families to go to dancing school to learn social dancing. The boys generally hated it and the girks loved it. The boys distaste was because they had to dress up and waste a perfectly good afternoon in uncomfortable clothes and prancing about with girls. Not all boys wore short pants suits to these classes, but many did. One has to wonder if the boys attending dancing school in short pants suits thought when they saw the Beaver episode.