Boys' Jeans and Overalls: Chronology

Figure 1.--s.

Jean styles have varied greatly over the past 100 years. They have followed trends in American history and industrial development. The history of jeans ave been affected by Eueopean immigration, the Gold Rush, inventions, American industrial development, demograpic change, social class, wars, Hollywood, and some of the earlist American brand advertising. After World War II, they began to spread overseas--first to Europe. By the 1960s they were an international phenomenon.

19th Century

For nearly a century after they were created, jeans were primarily worn in America and to some extent neighboring Canada by working men. Thus the early history of jeans is primarily an American story. The history of jeans on the main jerans page essentially tells the story of 19th century trends in America.

20th Century

American boys began wearing jeans more commonly in the 1910s with the development of Kovealls. Boys except in rural areas did not wear ovealls to school. Boys wore commonly wore corduroy knickers, but after World War II jeans were very commonly worn to ele,entary (primary) schools. They wre not generally allowed in secondary school until the 1970s. Quite a range of different types of jeans and overalls begin to appear by the 1970s. One common ferature was that until the 1970s and apperance of cut-offs thery were almost always long pants. Bu the 1970s designer jeans began to make their appearance.

The 1900s

Levi Strauss vrought out Koveralls in 1912, the first ovralls made specifically for children.

The 1920s

Overalls were commonly worn by boys, especially in rural America. I have noted photos of boys in California schools in blue jeans (rather than the bib-front overalls) in the 1920s and 1930s. They were an alternative to overalls in California at that time, but not in eastern states like Oklahoma and Illinois. They were made in many different colors and material for younger boys This can be seen in the mail order catalogs. Many were made with matching jackets, although the style was generally longer than the popular modern jean jackets. They were still not commonly worn by city boys. Outside of California, jeans were not much seem in schools. I'm not precisely sure why that difference existed. Perhaps there was a little aura of rebeliousness in California. A reader reports that schools here didn't have any of that nonsense of not allowing boys to wear jeans in high school.

The 1930s

Farm boys wore jeans in the early 30s, but jeans were less common in urban America. Most boys wore knickers, especially hard wearing corderoy knickers. The Hollywood westerns began to cage this as even city boys began askg for jeand like their favorite movie cowboy wore.

The 1940s

As knickers disappeared, they were replaced by jeans--but primarily for play clothes. When overalls went out of fashion, blue jeans took their place among rural boys, but also spread to boys in urban areas. Jeans spread to the rest of the country as part of the postwar movie cowboy craze, and then to the rest of the world in the 1960s as part of that decade's youthful rebellion craze. Jeans were quite different than modern jeans. A new pair was stiff as a board and a boy had to struggle to get his legs in them. Girls, at least city girls, rarely wore them. Jeans were used by the American military in World War II, especially the Navy, helping to popularize them with large numbers of veterans after the War who though they were the perfect young families.

The 1950s

Jeans continued to be worn for play and by elementary school boys. Often boys' jeans had double knees are plaid flannel linings that you could see when you rolled over the cuff at the ankles. Billy the Kid and Farah were very popular brands for children in America. [Massengale] Girls increasingly wore them as the decade progressed. Tennagers by the end of the decade wanted tight jeans. Most high schools banned jeans. Boys in Europe and America began wearing jean shortsd--but not in America. A HBC reader writes, "In America during the 1950s, the coolest jeans were Levi's because of Marlan Brando's films, I think, they also cost a dollar more a pair in most places. I recall Lee which I didn't like, Wrangler which I did like and another brand who's name I can't recall. It may have been "Western" but I'm not sure. Perhaps other readers may remember the name."

The 1960s

"Cut-offs" appeared for American boys. Jeans shorts were popular for European boys, but not cut-offs. Tight long pants jeans continued to be popular with teenagers. Slowly they became more fashionable and acceptable at some schools as designer jeans appeared. Jeans become a virtual uniform of the anti-war movement. Sears sold Toughskins in both regular and cut-off styles. The cut-offs were very popular. A "pegged" style was very popular in America. Jeans became increasingly popular overseas. In countries like Russia, that you could sell used ones that were then shipped overseas and sold at ridiculous prices. [Morton]

The 1970s

Jeans by the 1970s became an American fashiion statement. Bell-bottom styles as do studs and other designer work. Stone-washed jeans are introduced. Jeans increasingly dominated children's clothes in the 1970s.

The 1980s

Worn-looking jeans become popular, even tears and holes become desirable. Bibfront overalls once worn by laborers and then younger boys began to be worn by boys anf girls of all ages. By the late 1980s bibfront overalls with short pants appeared. Jeans began repacing other types of casual pants in the 1980s.

The 1990s

The grunge look and hip-hop styles appear. Many boys want large baggy jeans and the baggier the better. There is some disagreement over the origin of baggy jeans. Some observers seem to think people in the Hip Hop community began to copy the pants that prisoners were issued while they were incarcerated and thus lend their attire to prison chic? Others are convinced that the baggy jean actually has some roots in the skate/snowboard industry. It just happens that when the urban hip hop and core skate crowds get together it can be explosive. While still dominate, other types of casual pants were available. Track or sweat pants were very popular. By the late 1990s corderoy pants regained popularity. In America you could buy all kinds of different brands of jeans, but Levi's are still the most popular. The designer style jeans, so popular in the 90's have faded away and the old reliable Levi's and other non-flashy manufacturers such as Lee and Old Navy are the ones that sell. I have even seen cargo-style jean shorts offered in stores. [Morton]

21st Century


Massengale, Marshall. E-mail, October 2, 2002.

Morton, Craig. E-mail, October 3, 2002.


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Created: June 1, 2002
Last updated: 5:03 AM 2/19/2005