Short Pants: Shorts Pants at Camp

Figure 1.--Camp shorts appeared in the 1960s and continued to be a popular American style for several decaded. Dark blue and green were the most common colors. This ad appeared in a 1979 catalog.

Summer camp is a long established ritual for American boys which has roots in the late 19th century. It is a tradition that has now spread to many other countries. Early camps did not have uniforms. One of the leading groups prompting summer camp was the Boy Scouts which of course did have unififorms. American Scouts who wore knickers until the 1940s and mostly long panys until the 1970s, did wear shorts gro campong. The YMCA also was a major factor in promoting summer camp. Many private camps for affluent children appeared in the 1920s, some earlier. Many of these camps also had uniforms, often short pants. For some boys, the only shorts they wore were their summer camp shorts. Many other camps did not have uniforms, but boys often wore shorts. Ecventually a style of short pants appeared in America that was specifically designed for camping. Theswe camp shorts hada major impact on the American Scout uniform.

Camping in America

It is noted in lesser annals of the American national saga that organized camping for children began just a mite over a century ago, in 1861. Founding father and spiritual leader of summer camping was one Frederick W. Gunn, a Yale man, whose inspiration it was to hitch several boys to a wagon and a cow, thereby insuring a fresh supply of milk, and blaze a trail into the wilds of Milford, Connecticut, where they set up a camp-site. "Gypsying," it was called in those days. Mr. Gunn might be at a loss to know what to call it now. Among professional camping people it is no idle question, having split their ranks and poised them upon the sharp edge of an agonizing reappraisal: What, they ask "eying the $1,000 tuitions, the toirid pursuit of Culture, the gentle amenities of plumbing, screening, and innerspring mattresses" what the devil is camping in these splendidly appointed times?

Camp Uniforms

Many camps in 1920s through 50s had camp uniforms that all the boys wore. These were often the expensive fee-paying camps for children from affluent families. Often the uniform was a "t" shirt, often with a camp logo, and short pants--usually simple boxer shorts--sometimes with a side strope. While comfortable, they had the disadvantage that there no or few pockets. This was a major disadvantage for any red-blooded American boy who liked to put away little treasures from frogs to rocks. Often less expensive or charity camps did not have uniforms.

Camp Shorts

Camp shorts began to appear in America in the 1960s. They were one of the more popular styles in America at a time when American boys wre just beginning to more commonly wear casual short pants. For some boys it was the first pair of short pamts that they erver wore. I first remember seeing them in 1961, but they may have appeared earlier. They continued to be worn through the 1980s. All the major mail order companies offered them, including Pennys, Sears, and Wards. 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. The most common material was woven polyester-and-cotton denim. Camp shorts had many distinguishing features. The most obvious were large cargo pockets, usually at least one that closed with zippers. They normally had belt loops, with half-elastic back. Fabric utility loop, metal clip for knife or whistle. They were normally worn in sizes 8-16 years, but they were also made in larger sizes. They were primarily available in dark green, blue, and khaki--but HBC has noted other colors as well. Camp shorts appear to have been primarily an American style. HBC has not noted them being worn in other countries to any great extent. They appared to have influend the American Scout uniform which was introduced in 1980 as it had cargo pants for the first time.


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Created: December 2, 1998
Last updated: 4:27 AM 11/13/2004