*** United States boys clothes: personal experiences in the 1950s

United States Boys' Clothes: Individual Experiences (1950s)

Figure 1.--.

The 1950s was the beginning of many modern styles in America. Clothes had for some time become increasingly informal. This process began with World War I and only inreased after World War II. Headwear was becoming less common. We see some boys dressing up with hats. Caps were more common when not wearing suits. "T"-shirts became a fashion main stay. T-shirts were very common, most stroped T-shirts. There were long-sleeve T-shorts for cooler weather. Knickers which had been so common for several decdes were no longer worn. Jeans were inveasingly popular. Many boys recall wearing jeans even in the Summer, but here there were regional and social class variations. Several readers recall wearing jeans and not short pants. Boys of all ages wore them and girls began doing so as well. Primary boys (but not girls) could wear them to school. Secondary boys were generally expected to dress aittle better. Short pants were less common, although this varied regionally. They were mostly worn seaonally. Increasingly shorts became casual Summer wear, but many boys did not even wear them n the Summer. A factor here was the beginning of a demographic shift south which means that boys were experiencing more warm weather. Boys still dessed up in suits for special occassions, but not for school except at a few private schools. Boys mostly wore single-beasted suits. Sports jackets were more common than suits, A blue blazer and grey slacks also became popular. Boys mostly wore long plants. Some younger boys wore short pants suits. Junior Eton suits were popular. Social class was a factor here. Preppy styles were popular. At the end of the decade chino slacks were popular with little belts for some reason on the back. Learher shoes were still very popular. Boys wore sneakers. Keds were especially popular, including high tops, but generally for play rather than school. We do not see boys wearing sanadals to any extent. They were mostly closed-toe sandals and generally worn by girls. Some readers recall suspenders. Parents still had considerable influence about what children wore, but children were increasingly making their preferences known. Our readers have provided insights on these and other trends in their personal experiences.

Sneakers and Jeans (1940s and 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.

James Home and Europe (1950s)

I was born in the early 1950s and by the accident of birth, to a privileged family. There were five of us; our Mother, my two older sisters, one 2.5 and the other 6.5 years older than me, and our live-in Nanny. Our 'father' left when I was 3.5 years old. Our Grandparents, all four, bought us our home in 1952. Our home was previously owned by their (my Mother's parents) very old friends who retired to Florida. Their home was a short block away. We lived about a 1/2 mile from Lake Michigan in a small town called Lake Forest. Mother did not remarry. Nor was she apparently interested in obtaining a husband for the sake of satisfying the social norms of those days. Although Mother had the money and help from our Nanny, plus a very efficient woman, and her husband (The Hopps) who emigrated to the United States from post-World War II Germany. The Hopps were not full-time but were sponsored by my Grandfather and essentially his employees. These people, and everyone that ever touched our family, were treated like family by the most gracious, polite, and generous person I have ever known, my mother. My mother had pressure to get a 'man as head of household' from this incredibly conservative Catholic world in which we lived (though Catholics were a small minority in Lake Forest. Presbyterian was the dominant religion I believe. For whatever reason that was never revealed to me.

Beaver Goes Shopping (1950s)

Here is a synopsis from a Leve it to Beaver episiode that many HBC readers remember from the 1950s. The series is one that has extensively been shown in sindication, although I am not sure about the international distribution. This isn't a personal account, but as the episode dealt specifically with clothing, I thought it useful to include here.

Short Pants (1950s)

Thank you for a unique and reminiscent website! The information in HBC is accurate. The memories shared by others were familiar. In my case my brother, 5 years older than me, teased me relentlessly when I was about 7 years old. As the hot days of summer approached, our mother insisted on white T shirts for us, but long jeans for him, khaki camp shorts for me. I felt like this was a badge of young childhood. In no time, though, I adjusted to them. And brother went off to stay with our grandparents. This was in 1959, and shorts for even adolescent boys were becoming more common.

Dennis: Jeans, Jeans, Jeans (1950s)

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."

Fall Fashions (1955)

While renovating his house, a HBC reader has found an old Montgomery Wards sale catalog that had fallen into a wall. On the cover it says "This Book is in Effect Until October 31, 1955". He scanned the pages of boys' wear. HBC has reviewed the various pages and that assessment is available in our 1955 American catalog section. Readers who want a clearer view can see them at 1955 catalog. Although that era is at the earliest limits of my conscious memory, the clothing depicted is consistent with what I remember, and what family photographs show. I have some photographs of me at the age of three taken in the Summer of 1956 dressed almost exactly as shown in item 'E' on page 28, right down to the extremely deep cuffs in my jeans. I was very cute. Suspender jeans for younger boys was a style that didn't last to the end of the decade. I know this from the fact that I remember being surprised when a boy wore suspender pants to kindergarten in 1958-59.

Classic American Styles (1950-60s)

Your work on HBC is certainly extensive. I'd never before considered how so many influences affect clothing choices. As an instructor in social sciences, I think you have a book waiting to be written. Some of your ideas found in HBC I've applied in my classes. The time span I suggested in this discussion (late 1950's to early 1960's) is most familiar to me. It's a matter of opinion, of course, but this era was also something of a last gasp for traditional styles for the young and the not so young. Many contributors share my wish that classic styles for our young would make a return. Generally, styles never quite return exactly to those of a by-gone era, but instead resemble them with a modern version - fabrics, cut, innovations.

Texas Memories (1950s-60s)

A little background on my memories of school clothes may be of use. I grew up in a southern city of about 125,000-150,000 in population. Following the end of the World War II, the city grew steadily. A core of old families and old money continued to dominate, but postwar expansion and prosperity were ever so slowly changing the balance of power in favor of newer, younger, upwardly mobile families. The baby boom was on, and the prevalent "family-oriented" culture of the time really harmonized with the traditional religious and community values of the South. It was a time and place in which people, certainly the up and coming, and those who wanted to be, took pride in their appearances. A parent could say to a child, "you're not going out in public like that," and expect obedience. For children of upper class and professional families, the pressure to make a good appearance and to do and say the right things was strong. Moreover, the South was and remains the nation's strongest bastion of social conservatism, and this weighs in heavily in understanding our tastes in clothing.

Northeast Memories (1950s-60s)

The great change in American boys clothes was a silent revolution. Knickers disappeared in the 1940's. I was born in 1944 and never saw a kid wearing them--except in comic strips. And by 1950 almost no boys over the age of maybe seven would be caught dead in shorts. But, unlike the changes in boys' hair styles, the Greaser look in the 1950's. The hippie look in the 1960's, very little was made of it.

Military Family (Late 1950s and early 60s)

A HBC reader provides us some details on his boyhood clothing in the late 1950s and early 60s. It is an especially useful account because his father was in the military. Thus the family moved a good bit, giving our reader a look at clothing trends in different arts of the country. He found that in some areas that boys wore mostly jeans, but in other areas short pants were worn. He noted a major change in this regard during the 1960s.

Philadelphia: Short Pants (Late 1960s and early-60s

Mitch tells us, "I was born in Philadelphia in 1951. Short pants were still part of the landscape. Because of the way kids were portrayed wearing them I hated to wear them. On TV and in movies those kids were always shown to be sissies or spoiled brats. Every now and then I 'd be forced to wear them.T his always caused an argument with my mother. The HBC article on short pants was very informative. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s and because of the negative portrayals I hated wearing those outfits. I remember some, what I considered now to be humorous arguments with my mother about having to wear any type of short pants outfits. I now look back laughingly at some of these arguments . They could be fodder for a 1950s sitcom. I remember visiting family friends dressed in one of those British style suits with knee socks. I went to the movies one night dressed like a French boy wearing a white button down shirt , dark navy dress shorts with short white socks and black Oxford dress shoes . I only wore a short pants outfit to school one time and that was during Kindergarten . I remember an older boy that I knew. He wore shortpants and knee length socks when he was 12 years old . This was not common. Many 1950 styles have returned. Wonder if that style ever will? "

Eric: Cub Uniform (1959)

Eric tells us about his Cub uniform in 1959. He was an American Cub in Italy at the time. He also tells us about hisBoy Scout uniform in the 1960s. Strangely as a Cub he wore long pants and as a Scout he wore short pants, That was fairly common in America at the time.


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Created: 3:17 AM 5/8/2005
Last updated: 4:28 PM 7/25/2023