*** United States boys clothes: personal experiences in the 1940s

United States Boys' Clothes: Individual Experiences in the 1940s

bib-front pants
Figure 1.--These Wisconsin brothers were photographed in bib-overalls and long-sleeve striped "T" shirts about 1946. Notice the "V" symbol one boy was wearing. That may have been the World War II "V" for victory symbol.

Several HBC readers have contributed details on their personal experiences during the 1940s. These have included accounts about hair styles and various clothing styles. Some readers have traveled or gone to school in other countries, providing interesting cross-cultural insights. There are also accounts on buying clothes as well as experiences at school. Several published accounts also add valuable insights on boys wear during the 1940s. We have a variety of contribution from HBC readers desribing both experiences at home and at school. Many boys remember disliking knickers. Some boys wore sailor suits. Quite a few boys were Cub and Boy Scouts. Catholic boys often had some different experiences than Protestant boys. One reader desribes his and those of a friend from Germany.

Short Snipits

Here we have short comments by a number of HBC readers. "I was a boy in the '40s. We wore little double breasted coats. Knickers were still being worn. And during the war much militasry inspired stuff. My favorite outfit as a little boy was a sailor suit. Of course, the ubiquitous Navy blue suit." Joel "I remember those knickers also. Awful things, of nasty brown corduroy. I guess they were a casualty of World War II. I hope nobody ever puts up a monument to them...." Tom Parsons "I hated those knickers. Thinking like a 7-year-old. They looked stupid. In fact I still think they look stupid. I didn't like those cut down "jughead" hats with the buttons all over them either. And there's a bunch of stuff out there today that I don't like--starting with Tommy Hilfiger street trash." Joe

My Brother and I

I can offer not very original experiences of my yourh and clothes which you still might enjoy. I have several distinct memories of childhood clothes. I can remember--this was early 1940s. My pre -school years, e.g. when I wore a sailor suit, were early 1940s. I entered first grade in l945, so my more grown-up youth days were late 40s, e.g. when I was a Cub. I was raised in the northeastern United States. We were a middle class family.

A Philadelphia Boyhood

Let me give you some of my recollections of the clothes my brother and I wore in the early and mid 1940's in suburban Philadelphia. My family was mid-middle class, and I presume my experiences are not unique or different than others of my age.

A Catholic Boyhood

When I was a student at a Catholic parish elementary school, back in Rhode Island in the late 1940s and early 50s, I was an altar-boy, and my best friend Brian was a choir-boy. The Catholic Church did not allow girls to be altar-servers at the time, and likewise there were no women or girls in the parish choir--there were boys for the soprano and alto parts and men for tenor and bass. All the choir members wore floor-length red cassocks in the Roman style--that is, with buttons from the collar to the hem. Over the cassock they wore white surplices with square-yoked necklines; the surplices were mid-thigh length and had wide full sleeves. In addition to the cassock and surplice the boys (but not the men) wore stiff white starched linen (later some kind of plastic/cloth composite) collars and large red satin bows at the throat.


Barbara tells us about her experiences in the 1940s growing up in farm country. I was born into abject poverty and with the exception of my knickers and jodhpurs, I never had any clothing other than hand-me-downs that were nothing but rags. Even our shoes had big holes in the soles. We got cardboard boxes from the local store, drew outlines of our feet, cut them out and inserted them inside. Everybody wore what they had.

A Sailor Suit

I may have been the one of the last sailor suit wearers. I remember having one in the mid 1940s just before kindergarden. It was white and i believe the material was silk. I remember questioning Mom about it but acceptd it since my uncles were in the navy and wore whites too. The issue of the non-military material was apparently resolved. As far as the rest of the outfit there was no hat, a whistle on a lanyard that I never was able to make work and white laced shoes. I probably would have been wearing strap shoes if there wasn't some sort of concern about my feet needing extra support. My hair at that time was a mass of ringlets but "never below my ears" according to Mom.

One Room School

I was born in 1939. I can remember a bit about my early years and when I started school in New York state during 1944. We eventually moved to Pennsylvania. I particuilarly recall a blue wool sailor suit mother bought for me. It was kind of like my dress outfit as I didn't have a suit. I wore it a few times to school.

Our Gang (1948)

I was born in Peroria, Illinois (1945). Peroria was seen as the quiensentuial Mid-Western American town. There was a Vaudeville saying, "Will it play in Peroria?" This meant that if a Peroria audience will laff at a joke or enjoy an act, it will work anyehere in America. Here we all are in the summer of 1948 taken in my front yard. We are wearing typical pre-school clothing. That is me, the bashful one. I was 3 years old. I am with the neighborhood gang of kids who all played together. Dad took the snapshot. I wish I could go back and visit for a day. What fun we had.

My German Friend and I

I was raised in America, where I was born in 1940. Until the end of that decade, the old custom of dressing boys in short pants was still a vogue to be seen where I lived, though it was by then a rapidly disappearing fashion. My mother prefered me in short pants, especially the shorter style that younger boys wore at time. I didn't mind although I began to feel a little self-conscious as I got older. When I was 10 a boy from Germany came to my school, being of a war refugee family who were what then was ignominiously called "D.P.'s" (Displaced Persons). His folks were quite traditional and this resulted in his being dressed in lederhosen of the briefly cuffed style, this fashion still being the customary dress for German boys then.

Wisconsin Brothers (1940s and early 50s)

A HBC reader has provided us some images of her brother-in-laws family. There were three boys born in 1941, 1943 and 1945. Their father is a Lutheran pastor in rural Wisconsin. The boys were commonly dressed in similar outfits, sometimes idential garments. Available images show the boys were photographed in bib-overalls and long-sleeve striped "T" shirts as young boys and then in colorful sweaters at a slightly older age.

Dennis: Jeans, Jeans, Jeans (1940s-50s)

I was born in 1943 in Washington, D.C. and raised there except for a year in Idaho and a year in Alabama. I don't really rember what I wore as a small child, but I can see from the photographs that it was often shorts. My mother liked short pants for boys. Both my older brother and I wore shorts. Mercifully I mised those dreadful knickers that my brother, who was several years older, wore. I wore sailor suits and during the summer a kind of shortall affair with a bib front, but without a shirt. I must say that I didn't think that my account was particularly intetresting. I have received, however, questions from European HBC readers. One HBC reader writes, "I think you are underestimating the fascination that America holds for Europeans. Far from finding it a dull story, I am interested in some clues and parallels it seems to provide."


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Created: March 12, 1998
Last updated: 12:44 AM 3/13/2013