*** short pants short trousers shorts culotte courte

Short Pants/Trousers

English short pants
Figure 1.--This English boy in a photograph taken in the 1910s wears an early pair of short pants. Notice the long length and ornamental buttons at the kmee hem.

Short pants are pants or trousers cut at or above the knee. Length as variesd with popular fashions over time. They were intially a boys' styles even girls did not wear them. We see them primarily appearing in the early 20th century. They were adoipoted by the Boy Scout movement in Britain and other European countries. Popularity has varied wideky over time abd from coutry to country. Short pahts becamne increasingly popular after World war I with the increasing popularity of casual styles. Gradually as they became more of a casul style, we see older boys, teenagers, ahd ecvebtually men wearing them. 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. Often short pants refers to the more formal styles. There are may sifferent types of short pants. More casual styles are oiften called only 'shorts'.


Short pants for boys first began to be wirn commonly in England after the turn of the century. Soon they appeared in Europe and to a lesser extent America. At first shorts were mostly worn by little boys and were only slightly shorter than knee pants. One of the principal differences is that they were worn with kneesocks rather than long stockings. The first shorts even continued to have the buttons at the side that knee pants had. Even for knee pants these buttons were purely ornamental, a inheitance of the buttons used to close 18th Century knee breeches. The style was given great empetus, especially as a style suitable for older boys when developing British boy scout movement adopted them as standard wear. American Scouts, however, chose to mostly wear knickers. The question renmains, however, as to why short pants emerged as a popular boys fashion in the 20th century and why some boys came ot to like them.


Short pants or trosers as they are called in Britain are a realtively recent development for boys. Short pants first appeared in the late 19th century, but were only worn by very young boys and were not very common. Most boys wore kneepants in the late 19th century. Knickers were also worn. They were employed for British soldiers in tropical postings during the 19th century. They were first widely worn by boys after they were adopted By British Scouts in the 1900s. Here the British military commection was the major reason they were adopted. The chronological trends in shorts varied widely from country to country. They were widely worn by European boys after World War I (1914-18), but not nearly as popular in America. Until this European and American boys wore many of the same stules. Knee pants, short pants, and knickers were seen as a standard style for boys in the first half of the 20th century. This changed in the second half of the 20th century afyer World War II when short pants became seen as more of a casual, summer style for boys and men. As this trend developed, short pants became increasingly worn in America, perhaps even more commonly than in Europe. Styles and lengths have changed over time.


There are many different styles of short pants. The first shorts were quite long almost as long as kneepants. Shorts have appeared since in every conceivable length from the very short shorts worn by Japanese boys to shorts in the late 1990s that might be well below the knee. They also appeared in a wide variety of styles, the most significant variatiins dealing with the waist treatment, closing, pockets, creases, cuffs, and a variety of color and styling details.

Figure 2.--Many British schools required boys wear wht might be called dress shorts, commonky grey short trousers. The British called them school shorts. They were worn with colorful blazers, but during thge school day boys mostly wore sweaters called jumpers. British boys commonly wore school shorts with knee socks.


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 conditions improved and more money could be devoted to clothes, boys might have dress and casual pants as well as specialized 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 me know.


Creases are an important part of the design of both long and short pants, especially for shorts used for dresswer. To some extent, fabrics are involved. Modern fabrics can be made with a permanent creases--permanent press fabrics. Earlier trousers had to have the creases ironed in. We are, however, only begining to acquire information about creases.


Cuffs were commonly worn with long pants, although they have gone in and out of fashion. The British call them "turn-ups". hey are handy for boys' pants as they can be turn down as the boy grows taller. Cuffs were much less common for short trousers. We have nored them at times, although we see very few boys in the photographic record wearing short pants with cuffs. One examole is an unidentified German boy, we think in the 1940s. A major exception is Lederhosen. We note that some European shorts were made wth cuffs during the 1980s-90s. A British reader tells us that he has seen school shorts with cuffs in the 2000s.

European Image

A European HBC reader wonders why it is that short pants are relatively rare even in the tropics. There seem to be a variety of factors at play.
Functionality: He points out that short trousers are obviously more comfortable--especially in hot climates--than long trousers, even for adults.
Modesty: In the tropical countries that he has called home over the past decades, however, wearing shorts was seen as undecorous, even immodest, by most people. He is speaking of the indigenous population, not the colonial or post-colonial whites. With a few exceptions, most cultures in Asia favour covering adults' legs and arms, even for men. Showing one's bare legs outside the privacy of the family is generally regarded as unseemly.
Social distinction: Another factor is social distinction. If shorts are at all worn in public it would be by servants and workers.
Colonial image: The only tropical areas were large numbers of adult men wear shorts are those that have been settled by whites: Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Colonial whites in a number of countries wore shorts until changing times and the ensueing political correctness pressed them into wearing longs. He reports that as a European boy in Central Africa, shorts were common for boys and men alike. When he returned there by the end of the 1960s, he became aware that they had become (or had always been?) a token of a 'colonialist' attitude in the eyes of many a locals.

American short pants
Figure 3.--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.


Conventions for wearing short pants varied greatly from country to country since they were introduced for boys in turn of the Century England. They rapidly became popular in Europe, undoubtedly affected by the rapidly expanding Boy Scout movement. Shorts were not popular every where. Most American, boys, except for the youngest didn't really liked them and most American boys, even Scouts, wore knickers instead. They were widely, however, in most countries even outside Europe, with a few exceptions. They were not popular in Latin America or in countries like Russia with cold climates. They were continued to widely worn in Europe until well after World War II. As shorts declined in popularity in many European countries, they became increasingly popular in America, but as warm weather casual clothibg and not as part of a suit or other dressy outfit.


Short pants eventually became a standard for boy's wear. They were rapidly adopted by countless mothers as a practical and attractive garment for boys. This was especially the case in Europe, less true with America where another style of shortened length pants were more common--knickers. Short pants had features that were popular both among parents and some boys--although here there was some resistence as one aspect of short pants for many years was to differentiate boys and and men's clothing. Shorts were in particular a radical departure from Victorian standards which believed in cobering up as much of the body as possible. The Victorians were especially interested in covering up the female figure, but men and boys were also affected by Victorian prudery. This was accomplished with kneepants and knicvkers by wearing long over-the-knee stockings. This was less easily accomplished as short pants became shorter after World War I (1914-18). There are a variety of reasons that short pants grew in popularity. We are not entirely sure just how important these various factors were.


Short pants are not only comfortable war during the hot summer months, but have a certain practicality concerning boys wear. Growth during childhood is more often up than out. Short pants become in effect shorter, but often continue to fit a growing boy. Long pants turn into rather unsightly "highwaters," then are outgrown completely. Also, short pants have no knees to wear out--probably the most common point of wear on boys' pants. That's why some bluejeans manufacurers made (and may continue to make) "double-knee" bluejeans. Boys growing in America often wore jeans with patches sewn. The problem was so common that "iron-on patches" were developed that did not require sewing. Another reason that parents may have prefered short pants for boys is that they don't outgrow them so fast. Thus it made sense to keep a boy in kneepants until he'd stopped growing. Even the upper classes don't mind being thrifty. In our era of abundant inexpensive clothing, it doesn't enter our minds how severely styles were affected by the fact that new clothing was hard to come by for everyone but the wealthy. For instance, when trousers needed to last a boy for several years, they had to start out with a very loose waist to allow for growth. This is why suspenders and suspender shorts were so common. The boy's pants needed to be kept up with suspenders. Now that mass-produced clothing is so cheap (in relative terms) and well-fitting, parents don't need to buy oversized clothes for their kids, and suspenders are more of a fashion accessory than a necessity. What's crazy is that suspenders became a fad for boys in 1987 when they weren't really needed, while now baggy oversized clothing is fashionable and boys need suspenders to keep their pants up but don't wear them because they're currently unfashionable. So boys walk around tripping over the hems of their sagging trousers.


lmost all of the better made shorts have traditionally been lined. The lined shirts seem especially common with shorts for younger boys. This included shorts made in corduroy, flannel, Terelyn, and other materials. HBC is not precisely sure why short pants were commonly lined. One English contributor reports that shorts were lined because many boys in the 19th century, especially poor boys did not commonly wear underpants. HBC is not positive that is the primary reason. Many shorts were sold to boys going to exclusive private schools. Their parents may have simply expected good quality trousers, short or long to be lined, much the lining in a suit jacket. Once the tradition was set, then manufacturers continued lining the shorts into our modern era. There are other reasons why trousers were lined. Lining avoids scratching from poor quality flannel or wool fabric from which some shorts were made. Some manufacturers tried to use inexpensive cloth to appeal to parents who wanted inexpensive clothes. Flannel in particular could be uncomfortable. The lining also gave the fabric of the shorts added firmness. The linings also gave added sophistication to the clothes. Shorts that are lined looked better as they are not as baggy as unlined shorts, appealing to the fashion conscious mother. The drawback of lining shorts, of course, is the added price.

Rite of Passage

Modern American and European boys commonly look on short pants as popular casual fashion. Men as well as boys wear shorts. For earlier generations, short-length pants (kneepants, knickers, and short pants) were seen as boys wear. This convention began in the 1860s when increasing numbers of boys began wearing kneepants. Soon a rite of passage involved when a boy acquired his first pair of long trousers. Many HBC readers have commented on this is the individual boy section of several country pages. An American historian has provided HBC an American cultural perspective. Similr experiences have been reported by European readers.

Personal Experiences

Some experiences boys have had with short pants include the following:

French boy: 1960s

American boy: 1960s

American boy: Trip to France during the 1960s


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Created: April 25, 1998
Last updated: 10:02 AM 8/17/2012