*** short pants short trousers : types

Types of Short Pants/Trousers

white short pants
Figure 1.--This American boy in the 1970s wears white shorts with a brightly colored sport jacket. Note the knee socks with colored bands, they were usually worn with casual shorts. They were popular in the 1970s because they were worn by basketball players.

Many different types of shorts have been worn, enploying the stylistic variations described above. Boys in the early 20th century might not have casual clothes, but rather eore his older clothes for everyday wear. As economic conditiions improved and more money could be devoted to clothes, boys might have dress and casual pants as well as specoalized pants such as tennis or gym shorts. Other types of shorts were stylistic variations such as Bermuda and Jamaica shorts. Other shorts were for specialized age boys, such as suspdender shorts for younger boys. I have begun to list and sketch out details on the various styles. If you have any comments or additional styles of shorts to list, please let us know.

baggy shorts
Figure 2.--American boys in the mid-1990s began wearing long baggy shorts, a style which has spread to many other countries.

Atletic Shorts

See sport or running shorts below.

Baggy/Hip Hop Shorts

Long shorts began to replace the shorter cut shorts in America during the early 1990s. By the mid-1990s many shorts appeared in a new baggy style. This new hip-hop style mirrored jeans worn in very large sizes. The shorts at first were worn at knee length, but by the late 1990s some of these shorts were worn at mid-calf length or even lower. Some were exceptionally baggy. Shorts for boys and girls varied destinctly. Girls generally did not wear the long baggy shorts, but rather lengths well above the knee. The new baggy shorts came in several styles. The two most popular are jean and cargo styles. The cargo styles have large "cargo" style pockets that first appeared in Vietnam-era military uniforms.

Belted Shorts

Self-belted shorts were a popular style of short pants for several years. These were shorts with belt loops. They came with a cloth belt done in the same color and material as the actual shorts. Many were done as button-on shorts with the belt covering the buttons. We are not sure when they first appeared. It might have been the mid-1920s. We know they were a common style in the 1930s and 40s. We also see them into the 1950s, but by that time were not button-on shorts. We see both play shorts as well as dressy short pants made with self belts. My mom bought me two pairs for camp in 1954 when I was about 11 years old. They were commonly offered in catalogs. We note them with shorts sets. I'm not sure about the age range, we think it was primarily about age 4-12 years. We believe that some camp shorts in the 1950s and 60s were offered with self-belts. We think this was primarily an American style. We're less aware of these shorts being worn in other countries. We have seen some in Britainm but have not yet noted them on the Continent. Some long pants were also made in the same way, but the shorts seem more common. Several examples of these shorts have been archived on HBC. As far a we can tell, this was primarily an American style. We notice these shorts through the mid-1950s.

Bermuda Shorts

Bermuda shorts are short pants (Bernudians like the British would say trousers) cut just above the knee. Short pants appeared in Bermuda at the turn of the 20th century, introduced as part of British army uniforms. The shorts were adopted by local Bermudians who introduced colors other than the original army khaki. They were worn with kneesocks and sport jackets. Bermudas are not worn as casual wear, although they were worn on the island and still are as both smart business and evening attire. HBC first notes them in America during the 1950s when magazine adds appeared for adults as informal dress wear for men as worn with knee socks and sports jackets. The fashion, however, never caught on for adults. American college boys began wearing Bermudas in the 1950s as casual wear and younger boys soon followed suit. They were the first short pants worn buy older American boys and helped to lead the war for the gradual acceptance of shorts as popular casual wear for boys in the 1970s. as the casual style for boys caught on. Older American boys until the 1970s continued the Bermuda-style, cut at just above the knee until the 1970s.

Bib-front Shorts

HBC at this time has few details on bib-front short pants. We believe that they appeared in the 1920s. They were particularly popular in Europe, especially France. We also note them in America through the 1940s, but afterwards they were only worn by todlers. Even in Europe they were worn by youngr boys. Common materials included corduroy and later denim. They are similar in many ways to suspender short, although bib-front shorts were mostly a style for play wear and not commonly worn for dressy occasions as suspender shorts could be worn.

Bike Shorts

Some fashion magazines started promoting boys bike shorts as summer wear in 1988, but they did not become really popular until summer 1989. Before they were introduced, the preferred style was for plain color sport shorts (in cotton or nylon) or bright colored board shorts (like Okanuis). Neon colours associated with the beach were the fashion, so when bike shorts first came out, they were mainly black and had side panels of neon colour, either a flat pattern or sometimes a mix of colors. Later, patterns instead of plains made there way into the preferred styles, and these often covered the whole garment. The prefered fabric was nylon lycra, as it provided a confortable fit and keeps cool, unlike cotton lycra, wich was heavier in weave and could become too warm with body heat.

boxer shorts
Figure 3.--This advertising view of a suburban middle-class American kitchen shows a boy in the boxer shorts commonly worn by young American boys during the 1950s. Manyboys growing up in the 50s would remember scenes like this.

Boxer Shorts

American boys with the exception of a few private schools mostly wore long pants to school in the 1940s and 50s. American primary schoolboys wore jeans, but secondary school boys wore slacks. After school most American boys also wore jeans. In some areas, especially the South, boys did wrar shorts. The popular style for boys up to about 12 was boxer shorts. They were solid color and styled very simply with an elasticized waist and no fly or pockets. They were generally cut very short and came in many different colors. The boxer style was usually much shorter than the dress shorts worn by all but the youngest American boys. These were the first colorful shorts worn by American boys. They were normally worn for play with "T" shirts--normally with horizontal stripes. They werealso common and continue tobe so for school gym classes. HBC has not yet seem much written about boxer shorts. We believe that the term comes from the boxing trunks worn by prixe fighters which has elasticized waists. Thus short pants, long pants, and even under wear are made in the boxer style.

Button-on Shorts

A popular styles for boys in the 1920s-40s was button on short pants. They were shorts weith button holes at the waist. They were worn with blouses or shirts that had buttons at the waist that fitted into the button holes of the shorts. They could thus be worn without belts. They were mostly worn by younger boys, but boys of up to about 10 years of age wore them. They were made in both casual play styles and fancy suits for formal occasions. While the casual styles are no longer worn, some formal suits for weddings and other dress up occasions are still worn.

Camp Shorts

Camp shorts began to appear in America in the late 1960s. They were so named because they were a handy style to wear at camp. The large pockets provide ample space for a boy to squirle away rocks, leaves, and even a spare frog he might come across. This was one factor in their popularity with boys. Although named for camp wear, more often they were sinply summer play wear at home. Camp shorts were generally cut at mid-lengths. There distnguishing features were large cargo pockets, usually at least one that closed with zippers. They were primarily available in dark green, blue, and khaki.

Cargo Shorts

Cargo shorts which evolved from camp shorts are very popular in California in the early 2000s. The style is found on khaki cotton twill, cord, nylon, and blue jean shorts. A California reader reports that in 2001 that cargo shorts were the most popular style of short pants. They vary in length from above the knee to halfway down the shin. They are popular with men as well as boys, although most men don't like the longer lengths.

Figure 4.--French boys in the 1960s wore short shorts in various styles including courderoy. Button flys were still common.


Corduroy was a well established fabric for workingmen in the 19th century. Gradually it came to be seen as suitable for children's wear after the mid-19th century, although initially boys from working-class families. Cord shorts appeared after the turn of the 20th century. They proved popular with the german Wandervogel and Scoits in different countries. Cord knickers and short pants werewidely worn after World War I. American boys commonly wore corduroy knickers in the 1920s and 30s in much the same way jeans are now worn. They were commonly worn to school. British boys beginning in the 1920s began to wear cord shorts, generally during the summer and they were generally considered to be casual shorts. Some schools, however, introduced them as part of their school uniform. Corduroy shots were also popular in France, I think especially after World War II (1945). They were worn by boys as casual wear, for scouts, and even as school uniform. Cord shorts were virtually unknown in the United States until Ocean Pacific (OP) introduced a line of briefly cut OP cord shorts. They were first popular during the 1970s in Califonia and reached the east coast by the 1980s. They declined in popularity during the 1990s when longer, baggy shorts became stylish. Corduroy shorts were also commonly worn by Belgian, French, Italian, and Spanish boys during the 1950s-80s. A few Belgian and French schools adopted them as part of a school uniform. In addition, they were worn by many Scout and Cub groups.

cut-off shorts
Figure 5.--American boys by the 1980s commonly wore short pants, 'T' shirts, and sneakers during the summer. 'Cut-offs' were particularly popular in the 1970s and 80s.


Many American boys in the 1960s still shyed away from wearing short pants. At the time shorts were still considered dressy clothes. Many American boys in the 1940s and 50s might wear jeans to play in, but a short pants suit when he dressed up. I can't say I have definitive proff, but I think cutoffs became opular because they were away for thrifty mothers to extend the useful life of jeans, but also as they were "cutoffs" they were more acceptable to boys who refused to dress up in short pants. "Cutoffs" were clearly casual clothes, theoretically jeans and other pants with the legs cut off. Most "cutoffs" by the 1970s, however, were purchased new with the legs already cut off and with destinctive frayed hems. The most populr material was denim, but they were available in other materials as well. I believe "cutoffs" were primarily an American style.

Dress Shorts

Dress short pants were made to be worn with suits. These come in both solid colors (primarily blue, black, and grey) and a wide range of patterned fabrics. Shorts worn as part of suits were most commonly worn by American boys from affluent families, but in Europe were worn by a much wider cross section of the population. Younger boys often wore suspender shorts with short pants suits, at least in America. I believe that short pants for suits most commonly came in solid colors. This differed substantially from knicker suits which very commnly were patterened material. There was considerable differences in the length of dress shorts. The ones for little boys, often worn with Eton suits, were quite short, cut only a little below the length of the short jacket. The shorter cut shorts for little boys were often suspender-style shorts. Older boys wore their dress short pants cut to fall just above the knee, although the actual length may have varied substantially depending on how rapidly the boy was growing. While dress shorts are usually dark colors, American boys have sometimes during the summer worn white short pants with colored sport jackets.

H-bar Shorts

"H"-bar shorts are a type od suspender shorts with a horizontal piece connecting the vertical suspenders in front. They look rather like lederhosen with halters, but are not made out of leather. Boys' shorts with H-bar suspenders were worn in the early 20th century, but have not disappeared. We have more frequently seen in Germany and Eastern Europe, HBC noted French boy wearing them and a major French retailer offered them in 2002. While American boys wore susapender shorts, we have not noted then commonly wearing H-bat shorts. We have also not boted them in Britain. Like suspender shorts, they were a style for younger boys.


Jamaica shorts probably, like Bermudas, originated with the short pants British Army uniforms at the turn of the 20th century. Jamaica shorts were never commonly worn by American or European boys. They seem to have been more of an adult style in the 1950s and were cut slightly shorter than Bermuda shorts. I don't know if they were really developed in Jamaica or just named for the island. Jamaica shorts were, however, a style worn by adults or older boys.


HNC has noted a style that was popular for a few years in the 1980s. Boys wore shorts and casual shirts in loud patterns. Boys had worn louch patterened shirts before, but not usually shorts in loud patterns. These outfits wwere called "jams". I'm not sure just why they were called jams.

jean shorts
Figure 6.--These French boys in a 1966 ad model jean shorts and imported lederhosen from Austria.


While American boys commonly wore jeans beginning in the 1940s, jean shorts were unheard of in America until "cutoffs" became popular during the 1970s. Interestingly while British boys did not commonly wear jeans, little boys did wear jean shorts. They were also worn in France. These shorts were cut quite briefly. I'm not sure when they appeared, but they were being worn by the 1970s. The same was true in France and Germany. Jean shorts were especially popular in Japan, although few mother bought regular long pants jeans for their sons.

Knit Shorts

Although sweaters were the more common garment, pants were also knitted. Almost always these were short pants. The most common knitted shortvpanrs were those made for toddler boys. But some knitted shorts were also mase for sizes up to about 8 years. Knitted shorts for older boys were much less common. In part this was because of the complications of adding a fly. The sinple styles uually without pockets and belt loops were only suitable for younger boys.


These leather shorts came in many styles and lengths, often with suspeners or even a front design. Many were cut very short. They were commonly worn as casual wears or for hiking and other outdoor wear as they were so hard wearing. Their popularity, however, declined in the 1960s as German boys, like other Europeans, increasingly wore jeans. Leder hosen were also sometimes worn a tie and jacket for a dressy, folk look. Currently they are most commonly worn at folk festivals.

Long Shorts

A new style of longer shorts for younger boys first appeared in France in the late 1980s. Short pants are usually defined as pants cut to knee-length or above. The 1990s style of long shorts appears to be an exception. I'm not sure precisely what this style should be called. These shorts were not the late 19th century styles of kneepants as they did not have the three buttons at the hem of each leg. They aslso differed from hip hop shorts because they weere no nearly as baggy and had conventional pocket arrangements. These shorts have various cuts, some cut relatively tight while other versions quite roomy. The length varies from knee-length to well below the knees. In many cases they are longer than the Capri pants that briefly appeared in the 1960s. They are not worn larger sizes than normal and they are made in as variety of materials. They are also made in casual styles as well as dressier versions that can be worn with sports jackets or sweaters with or without ties.


Brightly colored M adras shorts were popular in the late 1950-60s. They were mostly worn by older boys and teenagers as casual clothes and were cut at Bermuda length. They were popular as part of "preppy" dress. Some mothers bought Madras sport jackets for their sons and younger boys would wear them with shorts--usually blue shorts.

short pants knee socks
Figure 7.--This idealized picture of American schoolboys shows them wearing shortpants and kneesocks. While some boys did wear shorts to school, during the 1930-40s, knickers were much more common at public schools and by the 1950s it was mostly jeans. Shorts did not become common for elementary boys until the 1980s and only casual styles.

School Shorts

School shorts are most commonly associated with England where they were worn as part of the traditional school uniform: caps, ties, blazers, white/grey shirts, knee socks, and leather shoes or sandals. The most commonly type of short pants (short trousers) were of course grey. The initial style were grey flannel shorts, generally knee length, worn with a snake belt (in school colors), and with button flys. This style was widely worn by school boys in the 1920s. Many British boys in the 1920s and 30s came from low-income families which would not have the money for many outfits. Thus the same pants might be worn for school and dress or even for play. Shorts had the advantage that boys would be tearing them at the knees. (In America I was for ever tearing my pants/jeans at the knee. This must have been a common problem as jeans came with reinforced knees.) The styles of school shorts changed over time. Zippers replaced buttons, I think in the 1950s. The cut became much shorter in the 1970s.

Scout Shorts

The uniform conceived by Baden Powell at the beginning of the Scouting movement helped to popularize shorts in England. Shorts continued to be worn by British couts until the Scout association changed the uniform in 1969, although Cubs continued to wear them. The shorts worn by Cubs were grey shorts so boys could join the cubs at little cost, they could wear their grey school shorts. As the Scoting Movement spread to other countries, most adopted a uniform much like the English scout uniform. Gradually other countries began to adopt national changes and uniform styles became much more diverse. Most Scouts around the world wore shorts until the 1980s, even countries where boys didn't normally wear shorts. The United States was virtually the only country where most Scouts and Cubs didn't wear shorts. Most boys wore knickers with their uniform until the 1940s when long pants became more common. Shorts were worn by some Scouts, but most commonly at camps and jamborees. As short pants became more commonly worn by American boys, Scouts increasingly began wearing shorts. In the southern states Scouts might wear shorts year round, in the north they were adopted as the summer uniform by some troops or left as option for the individual Scout.


Searsucker shorts were popular in the 1950s-60s as a light-weight summer style. They were made both for dress and play wear. The most common play searsucker shorts were made in the simple boxer style.

Self-belted Shorts

Self-belted shorts were a popular style of short pants for several years. These were shorts with belt loops. They came with a cloth belt done in the same color and material as the actuial shorts. I'm not sure when they first appeared. It might have been the 1930s. I know they were a common style in the 1940s and 50s. My mom bout me two pairs for camp in 1954 when I was about 11 years old. They were commonly offered in catalogs. I think this was primarily an American style. We are less aware of these shorts being worn in other countries.


These one piece suits appeared for boys we believe in the 1950s. They were flexible as they were worn for play, but with a turtle neck or blouse with an Eton or Peter Pan collar could look quite dressy. They were for younger boys, generally up to about 6 years. I believe that this was primarily an American style.


One specific type of sport shorts were soccer shorts. Soccer swept America in the 1980s. Interestngly more boys now participate in soccer leagues than Little League baseball leagues. The soccer shorts became very popular both for soccer, but also as casual wear or even to wear to school. The popularity peaked in the 1980s. They were at first cut short, but by the end of the decade the longer cut soccer shorts became more popular.

Sport/Running Shorts

The growing popularity of basketball in the United States during the 1970s gave rise to sport or running shorts. Boys who had never before worn short pants were willing to wear shorts that had a sports look. The introduction of suburban soccer (football) leagues further added to the popularity of this style. These shorts as other 1970-80s shorts tended to be quite short and were often worn at mid-thigh. They were available in many different colors and combination of colors. They began to disappear as longer baggier shorts became popular in the 1990s.

Suspender Shorts

Suspender shorts are briefly cut shorts for younger boys held up with suspenders crosses at the back rather than a belt. The suspender straps are generally of the same material as the shorts and either sewn on or attached by butons. This is generally a dressy style. Suspender shorts were worn extensively worn in America, but were even more popular in Europe, especially in Germany and France. Older boys wore suspender shorts on the Continent than was the case in America. The suspender style does not appear to have been as popular in England.

Tennis Shorts

Tennis has a long history. During the 19th century, tennis was played with long flannel pants. I am not sure when shorts first appeared, but they were being worn by the 1920s. By the 30s they had replaved long pants. I am not sure about the lenghts, but by the 40s very short styles were being worn. They were much shorter than the Bermuda shorts being worn in the 1950s. Tennis shorts were a preppy fashion, in part because tennis was a largely country club sport. Tennis shorts by the late 1970s were probably cut similarly to other casual shorts which were becoming much shorter at the time. In the 1990s a longer cut of tennis shorts became popular. A good example of tennis shorts is a tennis outfit being offered by a department store in 1977.

White Shorts

White of course is a color and not a type, but we notice white shorts being used with several types of shorts. Perhaps the most destinctive was summer shorts. we see some boys wearing white short panrs suits for Easter or spring. Sometimes white shorts were worn with regular jackets for a summery look. A good example is the Tucker boys in 1937 at a garden party. White shorts wre also worn for First Communion outfits, also a Spring event. We also see white shorts worn with sailor suits and as a tennis uniform.


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Created: April 25, 1998
Last updated: 12:46 AM 11/4/2016