** United States boys' clothes during the 1930s

United States Boys' Clothes during the 1930s

Figure 1.--These two brothers in the early 1930s wear a sailor suit and a knicker suit. The younger brother wears a beret and note the old style buttons on the shorts. The cap worn by the older boy was a very common style during the period.

There were not a lot of new fashions appearing in the 1930s, perhaps because the Great Depressin following the 1929 stock market crash caused many families to retrench. Several fashions, however, evolved during the decade and the fround work was set for the American boy's big leap to long trousers in the 1940s. The standard for boys was that younger boys wore short pants and older boys wore knickers. Once boys began senior high school they generlly began wearing long pants. Overalls were common for boys of all ages in rural America. Some destinctive 1930s styles were "T"-shirts, leather high top boots (with a pocket for a Scout Knife), leather fleece lined jackets, corduroy knickers and leather aviator helmets with goggles.

Decade Trends

There were major shifts in boys clothing during the 1930s. The flat caps common in thr 1910s and 20s begiun to disappear as headwear started to become less common. Knickers were nearly universal for boys in the in the 1920s and were commonly worn into theie mid-teens, depending on the family. At the beginning of the 1920s, knickers were usuallly worn with long stockings, mostly black long stockings. Bu the end of the 20s we see boys wearing knee socks, often patterned knee socks. And this cobtinued into rge 3o0s. Long stockings did not disappear on the 1930s, but they were much less prevalent and worn by mostly younger boys. Unlike the knee socks they were usually solid colors. light colors like tan/fawn had become popular. Throughout the 1930s there was a slow, bur steady deckine in the popularity of knickers. More boys began began wearing long opants. And by the end of the 30s, not only ere mamy boys wearing long pants, but the boys wearing knickers were ommonly wore them with ankle socks rather than knee socks. It was very common at the beeginning of the decade for younger boys to wear various kinds of short pants outfits such as sailor suits and the older boys knickers. But the end of the decade this was becoming less common with the older boys wearing long pants. We continue to see younger boys wearing shorts, but after the eraly 30s, rarely with the ornamental buttons assiociated with knee pants. Knee socjs were commonkly worn with shiorts, at the behinning of the decase, but much less coimmoinky by the end if the decade. Mistly we see ankle socks. Sailor suits had declined signifivantly in populalrity, but we still see a few.


The standard headwear for boys in the 1930s was the flat cap. Younger boys might wer berets. A few boys had baseball caps. Thre were also winter caps with ear flaps. A popular novelty cap style was leather aviator helmets with goggles. Outwardly American men's clothing had changed only subtly during 1930s. Men and older boys wore suits with wider shoulders and more double-breasted suits. Boys wore both single and double breasted suits. School age boys mostly wore knicker suits. Younger boys might wear short pants suits. American boys commonly wore knickers in the 1930s. At the beginnng of the 1930s the knickers buckled at the knee. Most boys by the 1930s were wearing knickers that buckled below the knee. A new style of knickers appeared in the mid-1930s. Velvet Fauntleroy suits had not entirely disappeared for boys. Sailor suits were once one of the most popular outfits worn by boys. They were still worn in the 1930s, but were much less common than before World I or even the 1920s. Once virtually every by had a sailor suit. "T"-shirts are one of the most popular garments worn by boys. Virtually every boy had colorful striped "T"-shirts. The signal the arrival of new more casual styles. Kneesocks had replaced the long stockings worn by previous generations of American boys. Boys wearing knickers mostly wore them with kneesocks. They were almost always patterened knee socks, especially argyles. Basic information about garments worn in the 1930s by American boys is as follows:


There were still many fashion conventions concerning childrens clothes in the 1930s. These conventions were associated with both age and gender. There was some variation such as region and social class which affected these conventions. We note changes here so we substantial differences from both the 1920s and 40s. Boys in the 1930s commonly wore knickers, often with brightly patterned knee socks. Younger boys might wear short pants. Here social class was a factor and not just age. Boys from well to do families were more likely to wear short pants than boys from working-class families. Older boys might wear long pants. Long stocks were still worn, especially by younger boys. Most boys wore shoes. We begin to see quite a few boys wearing tennis shoes, but generally not to school. A few boys wore sandals, but mostly younger boys during the summer. Girls still mostly wore dresses, but we see some some girls wear rompers for school gym classes and summer camps. We also see some girls wearing short pants, but it was not yet particularly common. Girls commonly wore sandals.


Boys dressed differently depending on the occassion. Here thre were both dressup and casual occassions. Ooutfits varies a good bit depending on these two circumnstances. Boys wore suits and ties commonly when dressing up, but ther were fewer dressup occassions. And some boys might just wear a dress shirt and tie rather than asuit whn dressing up. There were a wide rnge of casual outfits, especially for the summer. This depending somewhat on age. Some outfit ha a kind of crossover usage such as sailor suits. There were fewer dressup occassioins han earlier in the decade. Boys wore short pants, knickers, and long pants for both dressup anbd casual occassions. Here age was more imporyant than the iccassion. Girls still wore mosly dresses even for casual wear. They would have a special party dress when dressing up. Girls might have summer frocks for play or wore just wore older resses. We do see some casul garmnents being win incluing rimpes and shor, but dresses wer more common. Anther category of clothing usage was school wear. Most children got a brand new set of clothes for each svchool year. Suits and tis were no longer very coimmon at schol, but nether did childrn where casual clothes very commonly. Boys did not yet wear jeans to school anb we see fewer boys in rural areas wearing overalls, especiallu by the end of the decade.

The Scouts

American Cubbing was introduced in 1930 so that younger boys could participate. The English-style peaked cap was adopted, but the rest of the American uniform was entirely different and a blue and gold color combination adopted. Exploring and Rovering programs were authorized for older Scouts in 1933. The Order of the Arrow program was approved in 1934. Scouts answered President Roosevelt's request in 1934 to collect food and clothing for needy. Scouts celebrated the Silver Jubilee of Scouting in 1935. The 1935 National Jamboree cancelled due to epidemic of infantile paralysis. BSA membership passes 1 million in 1935. The first National Jamboree, Washington, D.C. in 1937 and attendance exceeded 27,000. Air Scouting was added to the BSA program in 1939.American Scouts and Cubs primarily wore knickers. Some Scouts wore short pants and knee socks for camp, but primarily wore knickers for most Scout activities. Some Cubs wore short pants, but primarily like the Scouts they wore knickers.

Figure 2.--Most American boys wore knickers. Some older boys wore short pants during the winter, but they tended to wear knee-length shorts. The decision by the parents was not usually based on rhe season.

Demographics: Rural/Urban Differences

The 1930s was the last decade in which there were major differences betweem rural and urban children in America. The rural economy expereinced depression conditions in the 1920s. And the Great Depression not only hit industrial America, but rural America as well which was in serious difficulty even before stock market ceash (1929). The Depression of the 1930s meant that fashion continued to be on hold during the decade. Many parents did not have the money for fashionable clothes. People who lose their homes and farms are not to concerned about fashion. The differences between rural and urban rapidly disappeared during and after World War II (1940s). A combination of factors were involved, the need to expand agricultural production during the War, New Deal programs, rural electification (an especially important New Deal program), government price supports, an expanding economy, school consolidation, television, migration to urban areas and the end of share cropping, improved transport, and other factors. Some of the same factors that moved city residents into the suburbs help connect the rural population more fully with the national mainstream.

Social Class Differences

There were very substantial social class differences in dress throughout the 19th century. This continued into the early-20th century. At the time, clothing took up more of family income than is the case today. This was a function of high relative production and low working-class incomes. This gap gradually narrowed in the 19th century as mass production lowered costs, Ameican industrialized, and became more and more urbanized. And this process continued in the early29th century. Here major stepd here Henry Fords's $5.00 a day income, aonsiderabke anout in the 1910s and the economic boom of he roaring 20s. Social-class diiferences had not disappeared, but they were far less pronunced than in the 19th century. The Depression of the 1930s arrested this trend because so many fathers lost their jobs and family income declined. Even so socila class diiferrnces persisted, especilly in rural areas. Ovwealls still dominated in rural areas. In urban areas boys were not yet wearung jeans let alone ovralls. Another difference was obviously that higher income people could affotd or expensive, fashionable clothes. And children from higher income families did not wear patched clothing. Except for the very poor on rural areas, pathcjing was no longer very common, except for the knnes of long pants. Boys very commonly tore their pants at the knee while playing. It was so coomon that knee patches were marketed. Perhaps the most coom difference was that short pants were more common among hidher income families. We are not entirely sure why this difference develoed. Before World War, kneepants were worn by boys of all social classes. After the War this difference developed in he 1920s and continued into thev 1930s. We think hat higher income Americans may have bee more influenced by European fashions.


The 1930s in America was dominated by the Great Depression. This affected the life style of many Americans. Many families had trouble affording the basic necesities, food and shelter, let along fashionable clothes. The trend toward casual clothes continued. The inability to afford clothes may have been a factor here. Boys continued to dress more casually. We see boys wearing "T"-shirts and sneakers. Boys still commonly wore kickers at the beginning of the decade, although fewer older boys than in the 1920s. We also see more boys wearing knee socks with knickers rather than long stockings. We note knickers going out of style by the end of the decade. More boys were wearing long pants, including younger boys. Younger boys wore shorts. They were also more common in the South and with more affluent families. Boys in the country commonly wore overalls. Girls mostly wore dresses. We do see girls in gym class and camp wearing rompers or shorts. Overalls in rural areas were common.

Country Differences

There was substantial differences between American and European fshions in the 1930s, especially boys fashions. There was considerable similarity in the 19th century and even after the turn of the 20th century in the 1900s there was substantial similarity. This began to change in the 1910s and in the 1930s there were very substantial differences. You can usually identify American children by the way theu dressed. The same is true of the larger Europen countries.


The first hint of a new generation of textile fibers occurred in 1938 when DuPont announced the invention of nylon. The following year the company introduced nylon at the New York World's Fair. Initial production was limited, but stockings and underwear made of nylon sold well until the entry of the United States into World War II during 1941 when the new fiber was diverted to military use. Rayon also appeared in the 1930s and we see it being used in items such as suspenders.


A great deal of information on clothing can be obtained through clothing catalogs, sewing patterns, fashion magazines, and newspaper and magazine adverisements. Of course the two best sources of information are the Sears and Wards catalogs, but a variety of other publications carried images as well as a great deal of information about the garments. The publications with the most detailed ad cooy are discussions of the fashions and garmnents are by far the most useful.


More advertisements can be noted in the 1930s adverisements. We can begin to see dvertisers tiloring the clothing to the target market. The United States and the rest of the world were plunged into the Great Depression during the 1930s. We are not yet sure, however, just how advertising was affected. We have begun to develop some information on the fashions displayed in period advertising. Eton collars in America by the 1930s have almost dissappeared, but younger boys might wear what Americans referred to as Eton suits. These sometimes appear in ads aimed at higher-income clientelle. Sailor suits are still seen, but much less common than earlier. We no longer see kneepants in the 1930s. Most of the American ads we note show younger boys wearing short pants and older boys wearing knickers. Here there is some variation. By the end of the decade we begin to see boys pictured in long pants, especially older boys. Another major shift is in hosiery. Long stockings are still quite common in the early 1930s. By the end of the decade boys are mostly showm wearing kneesocks and ankle socks. Swimsuits are still pictured as including a kind of tank top.

Individual American Schools: 1930s

School portraits since American children generally did not wear uniforms can provide a great deal of useful information. We see private school boys still wearing coats and ties, but this was no longer very common at public schools. Boys were dressing increasingly casually for school, especially by the end of the decade. Knickers were still quite common at the beginning of the decade, but much less so by the end. Some primary boys wore short pants, especially the younger boys. This varied a good bit regionally and by social class. Knee socks were becoming less common for boys. Overalls were still worn in fural areas. Almost all of the girls wear dresses, often will puffed sleeves. Some girls wears skirts with blouses that had puffed sleeves.. Some children still came to school barefoot. Holderness School (1930)

Individual Boys

We do not have very many personal contribtions from readrs for the 1930s. We have collected a few accounts from HBC readers during the 1930s. Sadly we have just lost one of our most generous and knowledgeable readers, Charles, to help tell us about the 1930s. We are adding some family snaphors ans well as well as biographies and literary pieces. We still see flat caps, although they were no longer dominant anf had largely disappared by the late-30s. Button-on outfits were ppular for school-age boys. Knickers which dominated the 1910s and 20s are still very important in the 30s, especially the early-30s. Most boys recall wearing knickers. Knickers were commonly worn in the 1920s and continued to be worn in the 1930s, although fewer older boys wore them. Corduroy knockers were common for school wear. Here social class, seasonal, and regional factors were also involved. And families varied as to age and fashion conventions. There were substantial regional differeces. One reader rembers feeling out of place wearing short pants in kindergarden. Oher readers remember wearing short pats to kindergarden and elementary (primary) school. This was more common in the South than North. One reader recalls wearing short pants for Cubs,but the knicker uniform was more common as they were for Scouting. Jeans were not yet veryimportant. We see youngr boy wearing short panrs. Older boys mightwear them during the summer and lng pants become oncrasingly importan. Boys commonly wore knee socks with knickers and long stocings were declining n populrity. Ankle socjswere becoming increasingly popular. Boys mostly wore leather shoes, but sneakers were becoming more popular for casual wear after school. Many boys wore kneesocks, but long stockings were also worn.


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Created: December 26, 1998
Last update: 11:30 PM 6/17/2020