** shortalls


Figure 1.--Shortalls were popular for boys as old as 5 and 6 years old in the 1960s. They could seve as play clothes or with a Peter Pan collar they could serve as a dressy outfit.

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.


Shortalls are a one-piece, sleeveless short pants garmet worn by small boys in the 1960s-70s. They were related to suspender short pants, only the buttonshoulder attachments were wide and an entegral part of the garment. Often there were buttons on the shoulders. Some were designed to allow for growth potential with shoulder straps that had two button settings. Shortalls for very young boys may have open ring snaps in the inseam. Better made shortalls, especially the dressy velvet ones, are lined. Commonly they were pockets on front bib. A recent inovation has been longer legs can be turned up for a contrasting cuff and turned down as the boy grows. Many shortalls also had side buttons to adjust the fit.


The term "shortalls" was based on the word overalls (the original name for jeans), but with short rather than long pants. Some garments are diffivult to define precisely. In some cases the differences betwwen garments blure and the terma are used in precisely. The boy at the bottom of the page here wears what might more accurately be called bib-front shorts rather than shortalls. The key characteridtic in shortalls are the factv that there is no defined waistline and there is more fabric covering in the back than crossed straps like suspender and bib-front shorts. Almost all shortalls are sleeveless. We are unsure how to classify the coverall-type gsarment seen here (figure 2).


Levi Straus came out with a bib-front version of its jeans for children in the 1920s. This was not a shortall, but it was certainly a related precursor. We have no information about who first made garments called shortalls or when they first appeared, but it does appear to have been late-1920s or early-30s. We see shortalls in the 1930s, although styling was highly variable. We know that shortalls were being sold in the early-1930s, although we are not sure when the term was first used. We note some outfits that look similar to shortalls in the 1930s. An example is Mississippi brothers in 1935. We also seem them in France during the 1930s. One source suggests that shortalls first appeared in the 1940s. I think this is more when tey began to become a popular style. HBC has begun to notice them in the 1950s. The shortalls appearing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, however, were not made of denim. Also the classic shortall did not have bib fronts, but rather wide shoulder straps and full fronts and backs. Shortalls declined in popularity during the late 1980s and are less common in the 1990s. They are now generally made in todler sizes only up to about 4 years. The legs of the outfits in the 1990s are generally cut much longer than those worn in the 1960s. Also the bib front style with only narrow bands over the shoulder crossing at the back are much more common than the classic shortall with fabric covering the entire front and back.

Figure 2.--The classic shortall was sleaveless, but several variants appeared in the 1960s. They might more correctly be called short coveralls. Shortalls were generally worn with ankle socks, but knee socks were sometimes worn.


We have limited information at this time concerning the country trends associated with shortalls. Shortalls appear to have been a distinctly American style. We have only noted them being extensively worn in America. Most of the photographs and catalog pages we have found are Amerixan. We have not notice them being worn to any extent by boys in any other country. We have noted a style looking rather like shortalls in a 1941 French sewing fashion magazine. We have not noticed shortalls actually being worn by French boys. We have noted German boys wearing Hosensch�rze. The word translates as pinafore pants. They seem to have some of the characteristics of both bib-front shorts and shortalls. We do not boys in various countries wearing bib-fromt pants, these are similar to shortalls, but not exactly the same.

Clothing Catalogs

Shortalls were popular items in the major clothing catalogs like Sears and Wards. Sears described them as a "Cross between an overall and shorts ...so smart and young-looking, it�s first choice with the young crowd everywhere." We're not sure that shortalls were the first choice of boys, but they were cldearly popular with mothers and they were worn by younger boys who had less say in their clothing than older boys. They were also low-maintenance garment.


Shortalls were worn by large numbers of American boys in the 1960s and 70s. They were probably popularized by President Kennedy's son John when he was dressed in them during the early 1960s. merican mothers seem to have liked the style.

Figure 3.--This brother and sister in the 1970s are dressed for a formal occasion. Note how the front of the boy's velver shortall is cut lower than in the classic, more casual style. The lower front better displays fancy blouses.


Many different styles of shortalls appeared. They usually were sleeveless and worn with a dressy Peter Pan collar blouse or various play shirts. HBC has noted some sleeved shortalls in the 1970s, but they were not common. Sometimes for play it was worn without a shirt. The hem of the shorts was quite short. Mothers might buy a large size for a little boy, but he would wear them until they were quite short on him. There were several variants, some with sleves.

Colors and Patterns

Shortalls were generally solid colors. I have noted some patterned shortalls. During tge 1960s and 70s the only available patterns were vertical stripes. The shortalls which became popular for very young boys in the 1990s, however, are made in a wide variety of patterns and prints. The most common stripes were blue an red on white. The actual solid colors varied widely. Some were muted colors while some bright colors like red were also worn.


The material was in part determined by the type of sgortall. Dressy shortalls might be made of velvet. Play shortalls might be made of a hard wearing fabric, mostlt different cotton materials. We have also noted linnen and gaberdine used for shorttalls. Searsucker was popular in the 1960s. Although not initally made in denim, that is now a popular fabric for shortalls. Corduroy was also occasionally used.


Shortalls for younger boys might have aplique of cheefull items on their shortalls, such as toy soldiers, trains, or stylized items like apples. Popular characters like Winnie the Poo or Thomas the Tank Engine can be found. Shortalls for beach wear might have fish, sailboats, or shells.


It was common in the 1960s and 70s for boys from about 3 to 5, but boys as old as 7 might be dressed in them. They were generally worn by boys for less formal wear or before they were dressed in Eton suitsor a proper short pants suit. They were ideal for play wear as they could be worn with or without a shirt and were a one piece garmet that could be easily slipped on or off. The shortalls worn in the 1960s were generally very short cut. In the 1990s and 2000s most shortalls were usually only available in sizes up to about 4, but a few comapnies still offer them in sizes 5 and 6 years. Shortalls are an easy tonfit gartment for boys who were short or tall--the shortall fitted perfectly and could be adjusted as the boy grew.

Figure 4.--Fashion magazines as late as the 1980s pictured boys in elegant shortall outfits, sometimes with white tights and strap shoes. This is probably more representative of how doting mothers whould have liked to dress their sons than the way they were actually dressed. It is difficult to be sure, but this outfit may be more accurately descrobed as bib-front shorts rather than shortalls.


Shortalls were generally worn for play or for occasions that while not requiring formal dress, merited dressing up a little. They were worn at birthday parties, outings, travel and on many other occasions. The shirt worn with them often reflected the formaity of the outfit. For play often no shirt at all was worn. In the spring before it got hoy, boys might wear turtle necks with them. One source indicates that "Back in the good old days when kids changed from their school clothes into play clothes, the shortall was a quick, one-step dressing process. Cool enough to romp around in the carefree afternoons, and easy enough to slip into that not a single second is wasted getting out that door to play after school, the shortall was a snappy, functional playsuit." HBC is not sure of this. We believe that shortalls were most common for pre-school children. We are not at all convinced that boys came home from school and changed into shortals. More dressy outfits might involve a Peter Pan collar worn without a tie. More elegant shortalls were also worn. Often these were made in dark velvets. They were cut somewhat fifferently than the normal shortall which covered most of the front. As formal shortalls were often worn with fancy blouses with ruffled work or a bow tie, the front was cut lower to show off the fancy blouse. These formal shortalls were usually worn with white kneesocks or even tights and strap shoes. By the 1990s shortalls began to be seen primarily as casual wear.


Shortalls were generally seen as a summer garment. One manufacturer emphazies that they are the perfect summer garment for a small boy. A manufactur's ad copy advises, "Kids stay cool all summer long." On hot days shortalls can be worn without a shirt or with a simple "T"-shirt. Dressier shaortalls, however, were also worn in cooler weather.

Accompanying Clothing

Shortalls were an all encompassing garment. There were a variety of shirts, hosiery, and footwear that could be worn with them. They were also very flexible. They could be worn as both a play garment or a dressy garment. Boys during the summer might wear shortalls without a shirt for play or with casual shirts like "T" shirts. The same shortalls could be turned into a dressy outfit by adding a dressy short sleeve blouse, perhaps with an Eton or Peter Pan collar. In cooler weather a turtleneck shirt might be worn. They were generally worn with kneesocks for dressier occasions and a more formal look. Especially formal occasions might call for white kneesocks, but American boys more commonly work dark colored kneesocks. Shortalls were also worn with ankle socks, especially for play. Fashion magazines sometimes picture boys in shortalls wearing tights, especially white tights. This was, however, not a common style worn by American boys and appears to be more for the fashion magazines showing images of how many mothers would have liked to dress their boys, rather than what the boys actually wore. This is confirmed by the photographic record. Footwear be closed-toe sandals or saddle shoes. Fashion magazines sometimes show strap shoes, but this was not very common,


Shortalls were initially strictly a style for young boys. While both boys and girls wore short pants, only boys wore shortalls. Girls had a variety of similar outfits, including sunsuits--many with bloomer legs. Currently girls wear a variety of outfits overall-type outfits with suspender straps and have begun to wear shortalls as well.

Social Class

Shortalls in the 1950s were primarily wore by boys from more affluent families. This was especially true for shortalls worn as dresswear. By the 1970s the shortalls worn as casual clothes were worn by a much great social spectrum. By the 1990s there was no known social destinctions involved.

Formal Portraits

We notice a number of formal portraits of boys dressed formally in sdhortalls. The shorall was initially dine as a casual plsy outfit. They could be done in a formal outfit. These often included shortalls dine in velvet and worn with a Peter Pan collar blouse. Some even had large fancy collars added. A example is an unidentified boy, we think in 2005.


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Created: October 2, 1998
Last updated: 7:06 AM 11/17/2010