*** knicker styles

Knicker Styles

knicker styles
Figure 1.--These brothers, probably photographed around 1915, wear knicker suits. Although it is difficult to tell because of the blousing affect of the rather full cut knickers, they are above-the-knee knickers. Click on the image for a fuller view. These may look like the vlong-baggy (plus four) knickers of the late-1920s, but noitice that they are wien above the knee. What is at play here is a thrifty mothers purchasing a larger size that the boys could grow into.

Knickers appear to have been worn in several different ways and came in different styles. The major differences were in the length of the knickers and the prominence of the blousing affect. The earliest knickers appeared in England and were worn below the knee. Most boys preferred the below-the-knee style, especially older boys. The above-the-knee knickers were most common in the 1910s and early 1920s, whereafter the over the knee knickers were almost the only kind seen. The below-the-knee style was certainly the most popular style with boys, especially older boys. The plus fours were very popular in the 1920s and early 30s. There were also different types of closing arrangements. Knickers, unlike knee pants, were always closed at the them. The knickers themselves might vlouse out--but they were always closed.

Below-the-knee Knickers

Shotened length pants that appeared in the mid-19th century were generrally cut below the knee. This included the knickerbockers that were worn by adult men for sporting activities. There were also knickers worn by boys. Genertally speaking they were cut at the same length as staight-leg knee pants, below the knee. Knee oants were at first more common than knickers, especially in America. As knickers began to be worn, mosdtly in Europe, the general convention was for knee pants and knickers to be worn at the same lenth. This was at first often at calf level which is what we see mostlt in the 1860s as shortened length pants behan to become more common. This was morly in Europe as after the 1860s, American boys primarily wore knee pants. Gradually the length of both knee pamts and knickers began to shorten, by the 1890s we behin to see actual knee-lengths. After the turn of the century, anjor changes began to take place and for unknown reasons they differed in Europe and America. We see many Eurioean boys, escpecially French boys wearing bloomer knickers. This was less true in Ameriuca exceor for younger boys wearing tunivc outfits. Actual knickers were mich more common in Euroioe than America during the late-19th century. They were commonly worn at knee length. We rarely see knicker in America . until the late 1900s decade when boy suddenly began to werar knickers. Some younger boys boys continued to wear knee oants, but most American boys began wearing knickers--at first abobe the knee knickers (1910s). This gradually changed to below the knee knickers (1920s-30s). American boys also wore short pants, but knickers were much more common. Ciorduroy knickers were espcially commoin for school wear.

Plus Fours

Long baggy knickers became very popular in the mid- 1920s and were considered to be smart casual wear for adults. They were worn in much the same way shorts are now worn by adults. They were called plus fours because they were made with added material. They were called 'plus fours' because for adults they extended 4 inches (10 cm) below the knee (and thus four inches longer than traditional knickers). Knickers for adults had traditionally been associated with sporting attire since they first appeared (1860)s. Plus fours were introduced in the 1920s and became popular among sportsmen--particularly golfers and game shooters--as they allowed more freedom of movement than standard knickers. Fashion historians described then as an 'extravagant, careless style that fit right in with the looser fashions and lifestyles of the 1920s.' The fashionable Edward Prince of Wales (future short-term Edward VIII) introduced them to America during a 1924 trip. Some manufacturersexperiments with plus-twos and plus sixes, but it was the plus-fours that were the most popoular and we see most commonly in the photographic record. This look did not affect boys' knickers to the same extent it did adult fashions. And of course an added 4 inces makes a mnuch greater difference for a boy than an adult. This did not affect British boys fashions much as they were modstly eweraing short opants, but iut did affect American noys who were mostly weraring knickers. We do see more American boys wearing longer, fuller cut knickers for a brief time after the mid-20s. Some younger boys wearing this style seem to virtually get lost in the seemingly all enveloping knickers.

Above-the-knee Knickers

Knickers buckled above the knee began to appear for younger children in the 1880s. They were generally worn with long stockings, but young children might wear them with ankle socks or even go barefot during the summer. A curious style appeared briefly in the 1920s as long stockings went out of style. Some boys wore above the knee knickers with knee socks. The style was not popular with the boys that had to wear them.

Bloomer Knickers

Younger boys commonly wore bloomer knickers with a variety of outfits. There was no standard terminology for these pants. We also see them referred to as bloonmers and knickerbockers. They were normally worn above the knee with blouced legs. They were different than the knickers worn by older boys that had straps, buckles to fasten. These bloomer knickers were commonly worn with a variety of younger boy suits, blouces, or tunics. I am not sure if the leg hems had draw strings or elasticized legs. We have noted these pants during the mid-19th century. They were especially common in at the turn of the 20th century with tunics suits, which became a main stay for younger children. There were several different styles for these suits. The sailor style was especially popular. Many American boys wore Buster Brown suits. The bloomer knickers did not vary. We are not entirely sure how they were suspended. We thought that there may be suspenders or perhaps buttoned on to waist suit. A McCall's pattern in the early 1900s suggests they had bodices. We are not sure all did, but suspect that this was a common feature. I am not sure about country trends. They were very common in America. A French reader tells us that they were not very common in France, but we see quite a number of images of French boys wearing them. We also note them in Germany and other European countries. American boys wore them with both long stockings and three-quater socks. The three-quarter socks were more common in France, although long stockings wee also worn.


The variations with knickers seem to be associated with the amount of material used. the waist band associated with support, and the leg-hem closure. Some knickers are very full and blouse out. Others are more form fitting. We know less about the waist band as it is commonly cobered with jackets and sweaters in old photographs. Knickers varied from knee pants which buttoned at the knee or were let open in that they closed below or above the knee. Some knickers had a blousing affect profuced by elastic or cloth closing. More modern knickers were closed by a buckle arrangement.


We initially assumed that knickers were made in both above and below the knee styles. We no longer believe this to be the case. This is because we do not note references to the buckling length appearing in catalogs and advertisements. We believe that the different types of knickers appearing in available photographs may have developed because parents had different ideas about how knickers should be worn. This may be in part have resulted from the bloomer knickers worn by younger boys with tunics. They were commoinly wirn above the knee. Thus some parents may have thought it was proper for boys to wear their regular knickers above the knee as well. Also for many years in America, especially before World war I, boys wore both kneepants and knickers. It was commin at the time to make both knickers and knee pants the same length, thus making the fashion of above the knee knickers seem comparable to kneepants. enough, could be fastened just above the knee or just below it. Many boys preferred the below-the-knee buckling as more adult-looking because of the golf-style knickers that were often worn by adult men and because with below-the-knee style, it was not as obvious that a boy was wearing long stockings. This may have also been a factor in knickers become the principal pants type worn by American boys. It might even be possible with knickers buckled below the knee to avoid waists and hose supporters. By the mid-1930s, most (not quite all) boys' knickers no longer had buckles but only elasticized knitted bottoms over which knee socks, usually with cuffs, were worn. One of the problems with the 1930s knickers with below-the-knee elasticized cuffs was that the elastic wore out and the knickers fell down and looked messy. This also happened with the knee socks that were worn with them. A few knicker dressy suits in the 1930s retained the buckle closure so that the legs of the trousers wouldn't droop, and mothers sometimes insisted that the boys wear long stockings with these suits, almost always with plain colored long stockings, for greater formality and neatness. But in the first 25 years of the 20th century when we see above-the-knee style knickers gradually replacing knee pants, most knickers had buckle closures and could be buckled either above or below the knee.


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Created: August 24, 1999
Last edited: 7:39 AM 12/14/2020