I am not sure how knickers evolved. One might think that they were a natutral evolution from 19th Century knee breeches, but boys mostly wore long pants with skeleton and sailor suiys and other outfits during the first half of the 19th Century. I'm not sure precisely when boys began wearing knickers, but the appear at the mid-19th Century, especially during the 1860s. They appear to have been wore in both the above and below the knee style, but the below the knee style was the most common. Knickers do not at first appear to have been specialized children's wear. They seemed at first to have been more worn as a kind of sporting or outdoor wear. They were often associated with Norfolk jackets. The term Knickerbockers originated with the Dutch settlers who first populated the New York area in the
1600's. It became better known as the style of pants that the Dutch settlers wore. The pants were rolled by the knee and became associated as "Knickerbockers" or more commonly in America as "Knickers". The figure of the Dutch settler became symbolized by the figure of "Father Knickerbocker" in full Dutch outfit of cotton wig, three cornered hat, buckled shoes, and knickers.
I am not sure how knickers evolved. One might think that they were
a natutral evolution from 19th Century knee breeches, but boys mostly
wore long pants with skeleton and sailor suiys and other outfits
during the first half of the 19th Century. I'm not sure precisely
when boys began wearing knickers, but the appear at the mid-19th
Century, especially during the 1860s. They appear to have been wore in
both the above and below the knee style, but the below the knee style
was the most common. Knickers do not at first appear to have been specialized children's wear. They seemed at first to have been more worn as a kind of sporting or outdoor wear. They were often associated with
Norfolk jackets. This style continues to this
day as a kind of country gentleman's outfit.
Knicker suits were worn by boys for about 100 years. Chronological trends were quite similarvin Europe and America until after World War I when significan differences developed between American and Europe.Knicker suits in America are today generally associated with the 1910s-20s,
but modern knickers were worn as early as the 1860s. (This
is the earlist that I have noticed them, but this may be because the
photographic record is more complete in the
1860s. There seem to be relatively little evidence of them in the
the 1850s, but I am reviewing available
information on boys' fashions. The sons of Alfred Lord Tennyson, for
example, were outfitted in tunics and knickers during the 1860s. How widespread knickers were in the 1860s I do not know, but I notice images of them in the 1860s for the first time in the 1860s. They seem to have become common in England by the 1870s. Knee pants appear to have been more common in America during this period. I believe that knickers declined in popularity somewhat during the
late 19th Century. I have not yet researched this well. Currently this
conclusion is based only in the relatively limited number of American
boys in knickers in the available photographic record and the fashion
magazines of the day. Kneepant outfits would appear much more prevalent
than knickers. Knickers appear somewhat more common in England.
I'm not sure about the sitauation on the Continent. Knickers suits came into their own in the 1910s. 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.
Little girls wore dresses cut much like those of their mothers, straight and unfitted, but after world War I (1914-18), the practice of dressing little girls like little boys became increasingly rare. Instead, little boys increasingly wore romper suits or short pants. School-age boys wore knickers
of corduroy or wool with knee-length socks. The eventual change from
knickers to that first pair of long pants became symbolic of the change
from boy to man. Knickers continued to be worn in the mid 20th century, but declined shrply in popularity during the 1940s. They were still wirn in Europe in the early 50s, but rrely seen by the late 50s.
The term Knickerbockers originated with the Dutch settlers who first populated the New York area in the 1600's. It became better known as the style of pants that the Dutch settlers wore. The pants were rolled by the knee and became associated as "Knickerbockers" or more commonly in America as "Knickers". The figure of the Dutch settler became symbolized by the figure of "Father Knickerbocker" in full Dutch outfit of cotton wig, three cornered hat, buckled shoes, and knickers. The name Knickerbockers was first used to characterize a New York Sports team when a baseball team from Manhattan named itself the Knickerbocker Nine. The early baseball teams not only wore knickers, but also caps appropriate from English schoolboys playing cricket.
The age of boys wearing knickers varies over time. Knickers were not at first a boy'style. At time older boys wore knickers suits, even boys in secondary school. Gradually the age of boys wearing them declined. Here age conventions varied froim country to country. American boys by the 1930s were wearing them much more commonly in promary school than secondary school. And by the 1940s were modtly being worn in oprimary school. There were also differences in the age conventions defending on the style of the knickers suit.
The knickers suit was a boys style. Only boys wore knickers. Girls for the most part unyil the mid-20th century only wore dresses. We do note a similarity between the bloomer knickers worn by younger boys and the bloomer gym suits worm by girls.
We have begun to collect information on the knicker suits worn in different countries. Belgian knickers seem comparable to those worn in France. 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. 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. Knickers were widely worn by French boys in the 1920s and 30s. They were mostly worn as suit pants. Play clothes were most likely to be short pants. Boys from 8 to 16 years of age might have a suit with both a pair of short pants and a pair of
knickers. The most common colors were beige and grey. The knickers would often be reserved for cold weather winter
wear. Older boys from 14 to 19 years might have a suit with a pair of
knickers and a pair of longs. The estimates are based on the sized produced
and sold in the stores and are thus an accurte estimate of what boys wore.
I believe that knickers were less common in Germany than in France. I have, however, little real information to confirm this. We note knickers being worn by both older boys instead of short pants. We also notice even younger boys wearing knickers during the cold winter weather. There was also a Hitler Youth winter uniform with a kind od ski-pants knickers. I'm unsure how common knickers were in Italy. Knickers as best we can tell were mostly worn as part of a suit and not as casual wear. We notice them particularly being worn by older boys. We also notice Dutch boys wearing knickers, but have few details at this time. American boys did not begin to wear knickers extensively until
the 1910s. They soon became the major attire worn in America.
School-age boys in America between the two world wars wore knicker suits. Little boys are boys from affluent families might wear shorts. Most boys
of any size, especially if they were still in shorts, wanted their knickers
as soon as possible. Knickers came to be almost a symbol of American boyhood
as 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 in America. As short 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. American boys initially usually wore their knickers buckled above the knees in the 1910s and 1920s.
Knickers suits had jackets or coats done in various styles. A factor here was that at first in the mid-19th century blomer knickers were worn by younger boys in a variety of juvenile styled suits (figure 1). Only later did older boys begin wearing knicker suits. The popularity of these different styles varied over time. One of the most popular styles was the Norfolk jacket. Norfolk jackets were detailed variously, but had the destinctive features of pleats, self belys, and pockets. The jackets were also done in the single and double-breasted style. The precise cut of the lapels and other features varied over time. These suit jacketr styles were essentially the same as those worn with kneepants until after World War I when kneepants went out of style and boys began wearing short pants.
Knickers appear to have been worn in several different ways and came in different styles:
Below the knee: The most common way of wearing knickers was buckled below the knee. The earlier knickers worn in England were below the knee knickers. The knickers worn by American boys, at least by the 1930s, were mostly below the knee knickers which the boys much preferred.
Plus fours: Baggy knickers became very popular in the 1920s and were ] considered to be smart casual wear for adults. They were worn in much the same way shorts are now worn. They were called plus fours because they were made with added material.
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.
Closings: 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. Spme knickers had elasticised cloth closures at the leh hem.
Knickers were worn with several different types of clothes:
Suits: Knickers have been worn with many styles of suits. The earliest was probably the Norfolk jacket. Knickers were being worn commonly by boys with various forms of stylish suits by the 1880s, perhaps earlier. By the end of the decade quite old boys might wear knicker suits. This continued through the 1930s, although the age for wearing knicker suits gradually declined. Knicker suits were made in both single and double breasted styles. Norfolk jackets continued to be popular with knicker suits.
Tunics: Tunics were popular for boys' wear during much of the 19th century. While tunics changed little, the pants worn with them did change and varied from long pants, pantalettes, bloomers, and knickers. A good example of wearing knickers with tunics is the Tennyson family in the 1860s. Mrs. Tennyson had a penchant for tunics and her two sons after energing from dresses, spent much of their childhood in tunics. At first they wore them with pantalettes, but by about 7 years of age began wearing knickers.
Fauntleroy suts: Most Fauntleroy suits were worn with knee pants or after World War I with short pants. It was less common to wear knicker Fauntleroy suits, probably because knickers had the cachet of being a sporting styke, not quite proper for formal party clothes like a Fauntleroy suit.
Sailor suits: The proper sailor suit was worn with long pants. As kneepants became establish wear for boys in the 1870s, most sailor suits were worn with knee pants. The same transition occured in the 1920s when sailor suits were commonly worn with short pants in Europe. In America where knickers were more common, sailor suits were commonly worn with knickers.
We are collecting accounts of boys remembering the knickers they wore as boys.
First long pants:
Knickers and Shorts: America--1930s
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