American Boyhood Clothes: 1940s-50s

I was born in 1938 and was 12 in 1950, roughly the period I am writing about. I don't know if many people had the kind of social mobility that my family had. My father was a veteran on disability and it was the government that insisted that we move into a ranch style house in the upper middle class neighborhood -- which bordered on the upper upper class neighborhoods on the West side of Worcester, Massachusetts.

American children of all social classes in 1950 dressed almost alike, in jeans and (usually) white T-shirts. There were no T-shirts with logos on them, at least that I can recall. There were, however, some minor differences.


When I moved from a working class neighborhood to a lower middle class neighborhood in 1948 I was struck by the one obvious difference: poor boys wore sneakers while lower middle class boys wore shoes. The shoes were impractical but they wore them, even when playing baseball. At least in Worcester, Massachusetts. Then, in 1949, I moved to an upper middle class neighborhood. Dress was similar to the working class and lower middle class neighborhoods except that the boys wore mocasins instead of either sneakers or shoes. I know that the movies show American boys at the time all wearing sneakers, but in my experience that wasn't the case with my experience.

Most sneakers then were black Keds. I think some of the older boys in the upper middle class neighborhood wore white tennis shoes 1n 1949, much like the tennis shoes of today. I am almost certain that the older (teen age) girls wore them. In the working class neighborhood it was the black Keds. You may be right about changing from shoes to sneakers after school. I do remember boys playing ball in leather shoes in the lower middle class neighborhood. I am pretty sure that none of the upper middle class boys ever wore those black sneakers

Dress Clothes

A lot of the family photographs we took were of us all dressed up in our best clothes. I'll have to check the photograph albumn.

Short Pants

I recall one other interesting difference between the different neighborhoods we lived in. Most of the time all boys in Worcester in 1949 wore jeans and a white T-shirt when not in school. But sometimes the upper middle class boys on the West side wore shorts. They were made of sturdy material and not far different from the kinds of shorts boys wear now. The boys in the working class neighborhood would never wear shorts. They would have called them "short pants" rather than "shorts" and seen them as juvenile or even sissified.


There were other differences in terminology between the two neighborhoods. A few years later, in 1954, teen age boys took to wearing chino pants in addition to jeans. On the West side they were called "chinos," while on the working class East side they were called "suntans."

Christopher Wagner

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Last updated: June 12, 1998