** casual clothes

Casual Clothes

Figure 1.--This boy wears a pair of clam diggers that were advertised in a March 1964 magazine. They were not very popular with American boys.

Casual clothes began to appear and grow in popularity after World War I (1914-18). Boys in the 19th century did not really have casual clothes, but rather wore their older clothes when not dressing up. Children also wore a variety of protective clothing (coveralls, smocks, pinafores, ect.) to protect clothing rather than casual or play clothes. Many more occasions required formal dress in the 19th century than is the case today. The shattering of the old order with all of its formality made posible the new casual modern era. The terrible carnage of the war helped to invalidate the old certainties, with all the old formalities. Although the adotion of the casual life style and fashions was not fully adopted until after World War II (1939-45) the trends were clearly notable as early as the 1920s. Many of the garments here are not inherently casual. Pants (shorts, knickers, and longs), for example, can be made in both casual and dressy styles. In addition the ssame garments can be worn for different occassions. And of course comventions as to what styles are appropriate for casual and dresswear have changed over time.


Bloomers were primarily a woman's and girls' style, although some boys' suits in the mid-19th century such as Zouave suits share a commom inflience--baggy Turkish trousers. Bloomers probably also influebced the development of romers. They are chiefly important as one of the first steps in developing more practical clothing.

Bell Bottoms

The knee breaches and trousers worn by men and boys in the 18th century were normally tight and form fitting. The long trousers that men began to wear in the early 19th century were also normally long rather tight. At about the same time that men began to wear long trousers, bell-bottom rtousers also appeared. And they first appeared at sea. I'm not yet sure when and where they first appeared an who invented them. They were first adopted by the American Navy. We know they were in use by the 1810s, but they may have first appeared somewhat earlier. The American bell-bottoms had 13 buttons. We are not positive just what the purpose of flared trousers at sea were. There are a variety of theories. Bell-bottoms were easier to take off if a sailor fell overboard. They were practical aboard ship as well. Sailors could more easily roll them up to scrub the decks. Another factor may be that a standard bolt of serge was always 54" wide. This mean that bell-bottoms were a more efficient use of the fabric. Bellbottoms were also adopted by other navies, including the British Navy. When Prince Albery has his youngest son Prince Albert Edward painted in an enlisted man's bell-bottom sailor suit, it created a sensation leading to the sailor suit becominh one of the most enduring boy's fashions. The American Navy continued using tbell-bottoms throughout the 20th century, finally abadoning them in 1998. Bell-bottoms remained a strictly military fashion, except for boys' sailor suits. Most boys wore sailor suits with kneepants, especially after the 1860s. There were also longpants sailor suits, these were always bell-bottoms. This did not change until the late 1960s. At this time in America, youth, both boys and girls began wearing bell-bottom trousers. They were particularly popular among the Hippy Movement. I am not entirely sure why, but we note that while the Hippies and Anti-War Movement objected to the military, the youths involved often war a variety of military garments. The term bell-bottom ws the only term for these pants until the mid-1960s when the term "flares" came into use. Some fashion historians claim that the designer Coco Chanel played a role in popularizing bell bottoms. The original flares for teenagers were jeans. In the 1970s brightly colored flares became popular for disco dancing. Clothing companies began making flares in other materials, especially polyester. Flares went out of style in the 1980s. There was a renewed interest in flares duing the mid-1990s. Flares are now popular, especially for girls jeans.


Slacks for boys and young men in the 1950s and 60s were commonly called chinos in America. They were commonly worn in highschools at a time that jeans still were not permitted. The most popular chinos were khaki, but they came in other colors as well. Khaki was so common that the pants were also called khakis. There is a fascinating history behind khaki chinos. Khaki originated as the name of a color. Chino became the name of a fabric. Today the term khaki and chino are synonymous with a cotton casual pant, although chino is less commonly used today. They are not as popular with boys and teenagers as they once were.

Clam Diggers

One style that did not prove popular with American boys were clam diggers. Boys just didn't like them, perhaps because they were rather like Capri pants that girls wore. Interestingly, when reintroduced in the 1990s, they proved very popular, perhaps because girls in the 1990s wore shorter shorts.

Cord Pants

Jump Suits

The play suit was conceived after the turn of the century as the modern concept of play was developing as beneficial activity. There were several differet styles. Early play suits were smocks, pinafores, and rompers. The romper was probably the insporation for the jump suit, the first long pants play suit. The Levi Straus company was probably the first company to create long pants playsuits with their coveralls. Many other designs were to follow.


No clothing item is more associated with America than the once humble blue jeans or overalls as they were once called. The standard overalls of Levi Strausswere originally work pants for me only. They now appear in a variety of different syles and garments from baseball hats to baggy jeans. Jeans assumed more importance in a boy's and girl's wardrobe around the world during the second half of the 20th century than virtually any other garment.


Boys by the 1920s were dressing more casually. Suits were increasingly reserved for formal occaions. Increasingly boys, especially American boys, would wear knickers and a simple shirt, perhaps with a sweater during the colder months. This would be the common atire of American boys in the years before jeans. (Actually blue jeans were invented in the 1850s, one of the aftermaths of the California gold rush, but they were not commonly worn by urban boys until the late-1940s.)

One-piece Outfits

We notice a variety of one-piece outfits worn by boys. We notice skeleton suits in the early-19th century and button-on suits in the mid-19th century that look rather like one piece suits, but they were two-piece outfits that buttoned together. The first one-pice outfit we notice is the romper suit. We also notice outfits with bknicker pants. A good example is the outfit worn by Tinsley Armstrong, about 1910. It's difficult to make out just what he is wearing. More common were long pants outfirs like Koveralls or jumpsuits.

Play Suits

Boys about the turn of the century began wearing outfits that can becalled play suits. Some were strictly for play, but others could be worn for a variety of dress up occasions. After World War I (1914-18) much more casual styles were becoming acceptable for children, especially younger children. Some had clasic styling details, like the opular button suits that haekened back to early 19th century skeleton suits. Other were novel new inovations like romper suits. Perhaps the first play suit was the Buster Brown or Russion blouse tunic suit that appeared about the turn of the 20th century. One of the primary characteristics was thatwhile they could be worn for play, there were dressier versions that could be worn for more formal occasions. Another feature was that these suits, except for coveralls, usually incorporated either above-the-knee knickers or short pants of various length.

Protective Garments

Children in the 19th and early 20th centuries, both boys and girls, were much less likely to have an extensive wardrobe of clothing including dress and casual items. In addition clothes were in real terms more expensive than today. As a result, children wore in expensive protective garments over their clothes, both smocks and pinafores. Conventions and popularity of these garments varied from country to country and over time. Coveralls were developed for chidren in the 1900s. A new development in the 1990s was sun-smart clothing.


The romper was in many ways the beginning of a revolution in children's clothes. It was the first true play suit and the first garment (other than dresses and pantalettes) designed for both boys and girls. One of greatest change in children's clothing occuring after the turn of the century was the declining custom of dressing boys in skirts until the age of 4 to 6 years ended. While the custom did not disappear until the beginning of the 1920s, it became increasingly less common as the century progressed. One of the reason for this decline was the appearance of rompers for younger children.

Short Pants

Short pants are cut at or above the knee. Trousers cut below the knee we have generally referred to as knee pants if closed with buttons or left open. Trousers cut below the knee and gathered or closed with buckles we have referred to as knickers. Short pants have been referred to by different names in England. The English generally refer to short pants as "short trousers". They also used to refer to them as "knickers" although that term has for many years not been commonly used and more frequently is used to mean ladies underwear. Shorts cut at or below the knee appeared in the 1990s which has somewhat complicated our definitions. Short pants are today generally seen as a casual style, but they have been made as both dressy and casual shorts.


Shortalls are a one-piece short pants garmet worn by small boys in the 1960s-70s. It was based on the word overalls (the original name for jeans), but with short rather than long pants. Levi Straus came out with a version of its jeans for children in the 1920s. The shortalls appearing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, however, were not made of denim and disd not have bib fronts. I have no information about who first made shortalls or when they first appeatred, but it does appear to have been the early 1950s. Shortalls were popularized by President Kennedy's son John when he was dressed in them during the early 1960s.

Sports Clothing

There are a wide range of uniforms made for sports and athletics. They are very destinctive and foir the major sports you can immediately tell the sport being played by the uniforms worn. Some of the minor sports used some of the uniform items of the major sports. Sports uniforms were once strictly restricted to the games field. They would be worn only for the event itself. Gradually sports uniforms began to influence casual cklothes. Short pants were once, for example, primarily worn for sports, but gradually became a major garment for boys--in part because boys were already wearing a similar garment--kneepants. Today sports clothing have a major impact and are the inspiration for many casual styles. Some boys just seem to like the sporty look, without actually wearing clothes specific to any particular sport. For casual wear, many boys choose outfits consisting of matching colored short sleeved shirt, relatively short shorts, and standard knee length athletic socks with athletic shoes. Such boys could be ready for track, basketball, soccer, or any other sports activity that doesn't require added protective gear. Besides sports participating" outfits, many boys choose to wear a "sports fan" outfit with the logo of his favorite team on casual clothes. This began as an American fashion, but now is a popular fashion around the world. Many European boys, for example, wear clothing with the logos of their favorite football team.

Work Clothes

Much of HBC deals with middle class and affluent children and the often stylish clothes they wore. These styles are the ones that often reflected the tempor of the times. HBC would be remiss, however, without addressing the clothes worn by the children even in the early 20th century which had to work on the farm and in mills, mines and factories in often dreadful conditions. The styles of clothes were very simple and changed relatively little, but any assessment of boyhood clothes has to address these gutsy children who marched off to work because their families could not afford to feed them and send them to school. The photographic record here played an important role in addressing the pattern of exploitation to which these children were subjected.

Zip-Off Pants

a new fad is "Zip-Off pants", where you can zip off the pant leg just below the knee to make the pants into shorts. These are very popular for the Junior High on down set. They come in kacki and nylon styles. Also the kids like the long shorts with the drawstring loop at the bottom, which is believe is for skateboarding and if you want wear the pant legs shorter. Nylon shorts and pants are popular in the 2000s, again, with the below-High School group.

Unknown Garment

Here we see a garment with which we are unfamilar. We do not know what it was called. It appears to be a one-piece combination of singlet/tank top and short pants. We note it being worn by an Italian boy. This image is from the 1970s. Perhaps it was more common in Italy than America. An Italian reader tells us that it was worn in seaside resorts. The only garment we have seen like this is the uniforms worn by wrestlers in school sports. We never noted this garment being used as casual clohing in America.


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Created: November 22, 1998
Last updated: 9:29 PM 11/1/2005