Cassual Button-on Shorts

Figure 1.--This 1942 advertisement shows sleeved play suits. There were two styles. The button-on style had a stipped top with a two-tone collar. The other had a solid color top with a belt. The top was made out of broadcloth, the shorts out of linnen. They were available in blue, green and brown.

One style of shorts popular in the 1920s-40s was "button-on" shorts. This is where the shorts have buttons on them and the shirts have eyelets so as the pants can be buttoned to the shirt. It was much the same idea as the skeleton suit of the early 19th Century. Little boys have very slender waists which means there is nothing to keep their pants on. Buttoning the shorts on to the shirt held them up. Another alternative for little boys was suspender shorts. Beginning in the late-20s we begin to see boys wearing button-on shorts with self belts. The button-on shorts and longs for school-age boys were often done with self belts.

Figure 2.--This 1942 advertisement shows a sleeved playsuit in the button-on style. Various styles were available. One had dark shorts and white top. The other was white with vontrasting trim. They were available in brown, green, and blue in sizes for boys from 2-6 years of age.


Button-on shorts were made in sizes up to about 10 years , although this varied over time.


I'm not sure how popular this style was with boys.


Button on shorts came in many styles and materials:
Play suits: Play suits were for younger boys. They came in both sleeve and sleeless styles. Sometimes that had a sailor motiff. The sleveless ones look something like the shortalls that appeared in the late 1950s.
Searsucker coveralls: Coveralls in various sturdy materials were popular for boys in the 1930s-40s. popular summer material was searsucker because it didn't need ironing. After all mom was hard at work in the war planrs by 1942.
Eton suits: The American Eton suit, a colarless suit jacket and shorts, was becoming increasingly popular for little boys by the 1940s. The classic design had suspender shorts, but Eton suits with button on shorts were also available.
Dressy shorts: Shorts outfits were also available in a slighly more dressy style. Often these outfits were available with both long sleeve and short sleeve shirts and in both button-on or suspender style.

Figure 3.--This 1942 advertisement shows a half sleeved Eton suit. This rather casual design did not prove very popular. Most parents preferred the full-length sleeves, even in the summer. It was made in broadcloth or linene in blue or green for boys 2-6 years old.

Sewing Patterns

Apparently patterns were available for button-on shorts. One HBC contributor tells me that he remembers wearing them. His aunt in 194? made him and his brother identical outfits when he was 9 years old, his brother 8. They were button on shorts outfits.

Short Duration

The button-on style for casual wear persisted pnly 2-3 decades. It is still worn, however, for small boys' formal wear.

Casual style

The button-on style lasted for about three decades, from the 1920s through the 1940s. HBC is unsure why the button-on shorts went out of style during the 1940s. One HBC contributor speculates, "I wonder whether the advent of elastic in shorts did away with the casual button on shorts through the 1940s." This could well be the case. Boys wouls have preferred elastic. They did not have to fuss with the buttons and the style did not look as juvenile.

Figure 4.--This 1942 advertisement shows sligthly more dressy shorts in either the button-on or suspender style. The shorts came in jersey cloth with cotton linings. They were available in red, navy, or brown.

Formal suits

The button-on style has persisted for dressy, formal wear. On formal occassions the ease of elastic would be offset by the beauty of the buttons which look cleaner. The ages of the children wearing buttonon formal clothes appears to be six and younger. This style is not widely worn, but is appropriate for younger boys at very formal events like weddings.


Beginning in the late-20s we begin to see boys wearing button-on shorts with self belts. The button-on shorts and longs for school-age boys were often done with self belts. The belts were done in the sane color and masterial as the shorts. A good exanolwe is Jack in 1930. They came with the shorts when purchased. The boys may have liked them because they covered the buttons. We see these selt-belts into the mid-50s when the button-on style became less popular for school-age boys. These shorts were made as play/casual, school, and dress shorts.

Personal Experiences

A variety of personal accounts are available and articles are available on this period.
The 1940s: Short snipits
The 1940s: Knickers and shorts
The 1940s: My Brother and I
The 1940s: A sailor suit
The 1940s-50s: Sneakers and jeans
The 1950s: Beaver Goes Shopping
The 1950s: Jeans, Jeans, Jeans
The 1960s: Traveling in Europe
The 1960s: Shorts, jeans, and France
The 1960s: The Beautiful People
The 1960s: Mothers Buy Clothes


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Created: January 16, 2000
Last edited: 12:30 AM 1/17/2007