American Mail Order Catalogs with Boys Clothings: 1919

Figure 1.--Boys still commonly wore suits in 1919. This double-breasted suit was part of a Sears catalog page offering blue serge knicker suits, Sears called them Knickerbockers, in 1919. Note the flat cap and long stockings. The suit had Norfolk styling. This particular suit was done in sizes 10-18 years. The photographic record, however, suggests that by 1919, knickers were becoming less common for older teenagers.

American mail order catalogs offer a very useful time line on changing fashion trends. Boys commonly wore flat caps which were called golf caps. American boys by 1919 were wearing knickers. Some mostly younger boys were still wearing kneepants, a style which continued for a few more years, but knickers were much more common. The Sears catalog in 1919 offered a selection of knickers suits in different styles and materials. Wevnotice wash suits in different styles, including sailor suits. They were pictured as being buttoned just at the knee. Most had belted waists. Both long stockings and high-top shoes were common. They were made for boys 6-18 years of age. Union suits were common underwear.

Clothing Lines

Many clothing manufactureres made a wide range of clothing while others specialized in a more narrow number of offerings. And we see them advertising their clothing brand with many different garments. types of garments. They may or may not have advertized individual garments as well. Some of these lines were offered by the major catalogs. In other cases they were advertized in important magazines and available through local stores. Sometimes they ofered only a few garment types. In ither cases they offered a wide range of children's clothing. These clothing linec ads were devoted only to children's clothing. One of these brands was Wearpledge which took the interesting marketing step of insuring their clothes. They seem to have specialized in suits and coats. At the times suits were much more commonly worn than would susequently be the case.


Headwear was much more common in 1919 than today. The most common type of cap worn by school-age boys was the flat cap, commonly referred to as golf caps. Boys wearing suits might have a flat cap matching their suits. We note the cap Sears included in their complete back-to-school outfit was a flat cap which they called a golf cap. (It is also sometimes called a Newsboy cap.)

Sears Fall and Winter golf caps

The Sears catalog in 1919 offered a selection of blue serge knickers suits in different styles. There were also flat caps offered which matched the suits like the cap shoewn here (figure 1). The caps were made in the same color and material as the suits. Sears called the flat caps golf caps. The were shown as a style suitble for school.

Skirted Garments

Skirted garments were once very commonly worn by younger boys. Skirted garments were by 1919 less commonly worn wirn, even by very young boys. Dresses wre no longer common for boys, but we do still see occassional advertisements. we note the famous Gimbles department store in New York offering dimitry dresses for boys and girls. We see adds identiftying dresses for both boys and girls after ads for specifucally boy dresses disappear. We no longer see kilt suits. More common were tunic suits, but they were going out of syle as well. A range of toddler outfits were now being worn rather than skirted garments.

Toddler Clothes

A variety of todler styles with simple casual styles appear. They were often done with kneepants. The button-on style appears to have been very popular for boys.

Wash/Play Suits

We notice a variety of wash suits done for younger boys. We also notice the term 'play suits'. We believe these terms described the same idea, easy to wash play clothes for younger boys. Laundry was a major concern for mothers until washing machines became xstandard in homes. This included both toddlers and younger primary children. Wash suits were done in various styles, including one- and two-piece outfits. We notice both Oliver Twist and sailor suits. There weere also tunic suits, although they were going out of style by the end of the decade. Still popular were rompers. They might be worn for both play and dressier occassions. We note Indian Head promoting their fabric, a fine muslim which could be used for boys' outfits as well as girl's and womwn's dresses. A 1919 Indian Head ad depicts a white sailor suit for a younger boy.


Boys still commonly wore blouses in the 1910s. We note that the shirt Sears included in their complete back-to-school outfit was a blouse without shirt tails. We note major changes in boys' clothing after World War I. One of these changes was a rapid decline in the popularity of blouses for boys. A New York Times article reported a sharp decline in orders for boys' blouses. ["Sale ..."] More and more boys wanted to wear shirts rather than blouses.


Boys wore both jackets and overcoats in 1919. A long overcoat was common for middle-class boys wearing suits. Jackets were worn more casually. We note suits and coats being offered by Bauman Clothing in 1919. We also note an overcoat offerred by Right-Posture. Jackets and sweater-like jackets began to become more popular during the 1910s.


Boys very commonly wore sits in 1919. We note both single and double-breasted suits. Norfolk styling was very popular. American boys by 1919 were mostly wearing knicker suits. Some mostly younger boys were still wearing kneepants. Some boys also wore kneepants for formal outfits. Kneepants were a style which continued for a few more years, but knickers were much more common. We do not yet notice short pants suits as had begun to be worn in Europe. American boys primarily wore knicker suits. They were pictured as being buttoned just at the knee. Most had belted waists. We see long pants suits, but knicker suits were much more common. We do not note short pants suits.


American boys mostly wore knickers in 1919, although kneepants had not completly gone out of style. The catalogs and advertisemenrs we have collected primarily offer knickers. The Sears suit shown here is a good example (figure 1). We note the pants Sears included in their complete back-to-school outfit were knickers, but Sears just refers to them as "pants" and "knickerbockers".


Quite a range of underwear styles were available for children in 1919. Underwear wa more important at the time when the population was more centered in the north and few homes had central heating. The styles were still quite different from modern styles. There were shirts, drawers, and combination or "union" suits with the shirts and pants combined. Union suits were very commonly worn and not just in the winter. There were both knee-length and long length union suits. Knee-length underwear was made because most boys wore knee-length pants. Knee pants were standard through the 1900s and knickers in the 1910s. And American children commonly wore long stockings ith the knickers and skirts. The knee-length long johns were thus needed for both boys and girls. And skirt lengths made them needed for girls. Children commonly wore waists, support garment also worn by women. To simplify dressing children, there were waist union suits. Theu comombined the support features of waists to the standard union suit. Also sometimes combined with the waists and worn separately were stocking supporters for the still commonly worn long stockings. Waist union suits combined these stocking supporters with the union suits.


Children wore a wide range of socks and stockings. Long stockings were still very common and worn with stocking supporters. We note that the hose Sears included in their complete back-to-school outfit were long stockings. Some hosiery was made specifically for boys or girls. Other socks were made for infants and children that did not specify gender. Long stockings were made for boys and girls. Socks were mostly made for younger chidren up to about 8 years of age.

Suspension Garments

Children in the early 20th century wore a variety of suspension garments. The primary purpose was to hold up long stockings, but some were also designed to support pants as well. There were several different types of suspension garments being sold in 1919. We know a great deal about them because they were heavily advertized. We note brands like E-Z, Kazoo, Nazareth, and Sampson. Magazine adverisements tend to stress brands much more heavily than catalog listings. We note quite a number of magazine ads as well as catalog offerings for the various types of support garments in 1919. We note ads for garter waists, susppende waists, waists union suits, and other support garments. The ads for these garments normally stressed elaciticity, comfort, and durability as well as posture support. Kazoo in 1919 persued a new campaign stressing that their suspender waists were more masuline and boys wearing them would not be teased. We are unsure why the company adopted this advertising campaign in 1919. It was not persued very long.


Boys still wore mostly hifgh-top shoes. We note that the shoes Sears included in their complete back-to-school outfit were long stockings.


The National Cloak and Suit Company offered footed sleepers for children 2-6 years of age. The same styles were worn by boys and girls.


The Sears catalog for 1919 contained advertisements for push cars and Irish Mails. The ads picture boys in kneepants outfits, mostly sailor suits. There was also an ad for a tricycle which Sears called a velocipede. The boy riding it was also shown wearing a kneepants sailor suit with long stockings.


"Sales of boys' blouses," New York Times (January 31, 1919).


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Created: June 5, 2004
Last updated: 9:41 AM 4/21/2012