Short Pants Suits: United States--Regional Differences

Figure 1.--This family snapshot shows a mother and son enjoying a day in the country. The birch trees tells us that it is siomewhere in the north, probably the northeast. We suspect thiscis a wealthy family, perhaps with a summer cottage in Maine or other northeastern location. The boy wears a short pants suit with an unusual hat. They seem rather formally dressed for the country. He looks to be wearingb knee socks, but it is a littke difficult to tell. They are sitting on the rocks by what looks like a lake while presumably dad takes the photograph. . It is clearly summer. The snapshot is undated, but the woman's cloche (helmet) hat dates it to the 1920s or very early 30s.

HBC has only limited information on regional differences at this time. We do believe that short pants suits in America were also more common in the South with its warmer climate. Short pants suits may have been less regionally influenced. Age and social-class factors seem more important. This is, however, more complicated than it may seem. Short pants suits seem most common with affluent families, especially those with a European, especially British outlook. And well-to-do Americans with a British outlook were in the mid-20th century concentrated in the Northeast, especially in the urban areas running from Washibngton, D.C. through New York to Boston. Many of the country's best known private schools are also located in this area. We also see boys from well-to-do families in other areas wearing short pants suits, but not as commonly. Mothers seem to have generally preferred the shorts while the boys by the time they were 7 or 8 years old wanted longs, escpecially by the mid-1950s. This gradually age became an increasingly important factor. Long discussions ensued between moms and their sons on the subject. Boys did not wear short pants suits to school. We can see that in school portraits. There was even a Beaver episode illustrating this. Boys at private schools, however, might wear short pants suits, amd many of these schools were located in the northeast. This appears to have occurred irrespective of region and climate. The American media may have been a factor here. Beginning in the 1930s, Hollywood began to often costume brats, who were often scripted in wealthy families, as they appeared in movies in short pants suits.


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Created: November 5, 2001
Last updated: November 5, 2001