Below the Knee Knickers

Figure 1.--Boys of all ages wore knickers buckling above the knees during the 1920s. Generally younger boys wore knickers in the 1930s.

The greatest change in children's clothing in the postwar period occurred when dressing boys in skirts until the age of four or five was discarded. Instead, little boys wore romper suits or short pants. School-age boys wore knickers ofcorduroy or wool with knee-length socks, and the change from knickers to that first pair of long pants was symbolic of the change from boy to man. Little girls wore dresses cut much like those of their mothers, straight and unfitted.

Figure 2.--These two brothers are wearing knicker sailor suits in a photograph taken during the 1920s. Boys would often wear their knickers with ankle socks during the summer.


The chronology of above the knee knickers varies considerably from country to country. English boys always wore above the knee knickers. American boys wore above the knickers in the 1900s, but kneepants and then in the 1910s above the knee knickers were more common. Below the knee knickers did not begin to dominate until the mid-1920s. I'm less sure about France and the rest of Europe, but believe the pattern was similar to England.

Knickers passed from the boys' fashion scene in the 1940s. Some of the boys who wore knickers in the 1940s hearitly disliked them. I'm less sure how boys in the 1920s and 30s thought about them.


Conventions for wearing knickers varied from country to country. In America where fewer boys wore short pants, knickers were worn by younger boys. American boys in the 1920s might wear knickers during high school or at least the first few years of high school. By the late 1930s and early 1940s boys generally wore knickers in grade school and would get their first long pants suit at least by the time they were 13 or 14. In England by the 1920s they were not commonly worn by younger boys. In France and Germany knickers were worn by older boys who no longer wore shorts and for cold weather winter wear.

National Trends

The knicker fashion in America was a major divergence from British and European fashions for boys. Through much of the 19th century, American dress patterns simply followed those of Europe, with a few exceptions such as Fautleroy and Buster Brown suits. But these, especially the Fautleroy style was adopted by Europeans. With the popularity of knickers in America there developed significant differences between European and American styles. Knickers were not unknown in Euroope where older noys might wear them instead of shorts. They were not, however, worn as widely by European boys as knickers were in America.

Figure 3.--Older English boys like the boys in this 1910 photograph before World War might wear knickers while their younger brother wears shorts. After the World War fewer English boys wore knickers and shorts became more commonly worn.


Knickers appeared in England before the turn of the century. They were extensively worn by older boys in England. The English knickers were close fitting pants that came below the knee. I do not know of above the knee knickers being worn by English boys as they were for some years in America. By the 1910s shorts were becoming more important in England, in part because of the inluence of Lord Baden Powell's Scout movement. English boys by the 1920s more commonly wore shorts although some older English boys wore knickers. Most English boys, however, when they outgrew short pants wore long pants. Knickers in the 1920s and 30s were not nearly as popular in England as in America.


American boys did not begin to wear knickers extensively until the 1910s. Previously kneepants were worn by boys of all ages. Knickers in the 1910s became the major attire worn in America. School-age boys in America between the two world wars wore knicker suits. Littleboys are boys from affluent families might wear shorts. Most boys of any size, especially if they were still in shorts,wanted their knickersas soon as possible. Knickers came to be almost a symbol of American boyhoodas short pants came to symbolize British boyhood. Knickers were also worn in England where they were called "plus fours", referring to the additional cloth required.While worn in England and Europe they were much less common than inAmerica. Asshort pants suit were more common on older boys who at 15 or 16 often were old enough to insist on longs rather than an intermediate knicker suit.

Buckle Styles

Boys initially usually wore their knickers buckled above the knees in the 1910s and 1920s. Youngerboys especially wore them above the knees. Many boys as they got older and began to want long pants would often prefer the more manly styleof buckling them below the knee. Some mothers would insist that their son buckle his knickers above the knee. The boy, however, after leaving the house wouldrebuckle his knickers in the preferred below the knee position. This mother/son struggle of the 1920s was imortalized in the Music Man. The problem was eventually resolved during the 1930s as shorts

Figure 4.--This ad shows the styles of knickers and knee pants available for little boys in the 1920s. Different styles were abvailable for older boys. Note the strong influence of the Norfolk jacket style. The above the knee style was still commonly worn in the early 1920s. Also notice the kneepants suit at the back.
became more common for younger boys. Knickers for older boys weremade slightly longer and the fashion of buckling them below the knee became accepted.

Stockings and Socks

Knickers when they first appeared in the 1910s and during the early 1920s were mostly worn with long over the knee stockings. Gradually knee socks replaced the long stockings. Some American boys, especially during the summer would wear their knickers with ankel socks.

Knickers and Shorts

I remember my first pair of knickers very well, but unfortunately I didn't get to wear them very long. My parents immigrated from Greece to America in 1925. Both were old fashion in the custom and culture of Europe. Mother was from Sparta and Dad was from Corinth. They emigrated to America after they were married and they brought to America their European traditions with them. Both were cosmpolitan and were married in their late thirties. My mother believed boys should be dressed in shorts until they reach their teen years. From the pictures and descriptions given to me all Greek boys wore short pants until they were about 13 or 14 years old. I never saw any knickers at all in the albums by parents kepton our Greek relatives.

I was born in America and raised in Fresno, California. Fresno had a large Armenian population, probably 30% were Armenian out of a population of 60,000 in the 1930s. Many of these Armenian boys wore shorts, more so than the other boys in Fresno. We lived several house away from William Soroyan's sister's house and her sons all wore shorts. The neighborhood where we lived I considered upper middle class.

My mother always brought short pants for me. Mostly they were gray, navy and black and about midway to the knee. When I was in my rapid growth years, my shorts became quite short. When I was a little boy I didn'r really give it a thought. Many of my friends also wore shorts. As I got older I began to notice that my friends were getting knickers or even long pants in several cases. I estimate at age 10 (1938) about 50% of the boys in my neighborhood were wearing knickers, about about 40% were wearing shorts, and 10%were in long pants. By the timen I reached 12 (1940) only about 10% were wearing shorts, while 60% were in knickers and the balance long pants. Almost all the little boys were in shorts.

In the Winter we wore knee socks with our shorts and knickers, but in the Summer just ankle socks. With my dress suit which was navy I wore navy knee socks. I remember I wore some argyle socks, butbasically they were gray knee socks.

I was active in the Cub Scouts. My mother convinced the Cub Scout Master to have our Cub Pack wear short pants as part of theirscout uniform. Mother was active in the PTA and was b actually was convincing many of the other Mothers to have their sons wear shorts.

When I reached 10 years old in 1938, I was given my first pair of knickers, up until then I was in shorts. My mother opposed this transition to my manhood. However, dad thought I should start wearing knickers, the kind you buckle below your knee. Living in Fresno, California the weather was mild in the Winter and hot in the Summer, making my mother very unhappy for me to graduate to knickers. Fresno gets very hot in the Summer, many days over 100 degrees in August with no air conditioning.

Somethinghappen to me, I started to grow and grow and within 6 to 8 monthsI was unable to buckle my knickers below my knee. As a matter of fact, I couldn't even get my knee through the buckle closure. Since these were the depressionyears, my mother just made my knickers in short pants and I remained inshort pants until I started Jr. High School.

After I entered Junior High, I wore long pants to school. (Thank goodness as I would have been the only boy in shorts. There were, however, some boys still wearing knickers.) As soon as I came home from school, however, I had to change intor shortpants. This included the only short pants suit I had, which I had to wear to church every Sunday and for other dress occasions. The war years according to my mother,prohibited us to but long pants. I guess I wore short pants until I was fifteen years old and got my first long pants suit.

I felt strongly on the matter, but so did mom and she just wouldn't budge, she was old fashioned and wasn't about to changer her mind no matter how much I pleaded on the matter. My dad was helpful, but when I grew out of the knickers so quickkly--that was end of me wearing them. I must have grown almost 6 inches in only 8 months. Because the Depression was still on and my mother was thrifty, we were not going buy any knickers, that wouldn't even last a year. I was stuck. I tried my best to convince mother to let me wear long pants, but that was is an impossible task. I got nowhere in our discussions. She kept saying, Your Uncles woreshort pants until they were 16 years old. She even had the photographs in the albums to prove it! I can still rember her saying, Boys should dress in boys clothing and you are not a man yet. Money was tight in the Depression, but we were pretty well off and that was not the real issue. It was a one wayargument, even dad could not convince her.

As I got older, I got all kinds of comments about my shorts. The other boys teased me quite a bit about still wearing shorts as I got older. But I was a big and strong and most really didn't didn't push it to far as they didn't want to mess with me. I got along pretty well with girls. Because ofmy height, they would call me high pockets. Older adults would also sometimes say things. This often happened when we went to church on Sunday I would always wear my navy short pants suit.Some of the younger kids that were wearing knickers, would sometimes make some remarks. In some instances they were heard by their parents and occasionally I noticed that they were wearing shorts thenext Sunday.

Christopher Wagner

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main knicker page]
[Introduction] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Biographies] [Bibliographies] [Contributions]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Navigate the Historic Boys ' Clothing Web chronol ogical pages:
[The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
[Jackets] [Long pants suits] [Blazers] [Kilts] [Sailor suits] [Short pants suits]
[Ring bearer/page costumes] [Eton suits]

Created: August 2, 1998
Last edited: August 21, 1999