We have no definitive historical information on the origin of short pants for boys worn with knee socks leaving the knee bare. They seem to have first appeared in England before the turn-of-the 20th century. We believe that they may have originated with the British Army at tropical postings like India. For boys they must have evolved from knee pants which were worn with long stockings. They were given great popularity by Lord Baden Powell and his nascent Boy Scout Movement. I am not sure when the first shorts pants suits for boys appeared, probably the 1900s. The original shorts were generally worn quite long, often faling to the middle of the knee. English boys continued to wear long, relatively baggy cut shorts until the 1960s. The continental cut shorter cut became common in the 1970s. At the same time it became less common for older boys to wear shorts.
We have no definitiver historical information on the origin of short pants for boys worn with knee socks leaving the knee bare. Some of the first short pants seem to have first appeared in England before the turn of the century. I have, however, noted younger boys wearing shorts as early as the 1880s in England. I am not sure how common this was. I suspect because of the realtive rarity of such images that they were not common. The most common occurance of short pants in the late 19th Century was not for boys, but rather the British Army at tropical postings like India. Short pants They were given great popularity by Lord Baden Powell and his nascent Boy Scout Movement. They were seen as rugged outdoor wear. I am not sure when the first shorts pants suits for boys appeared, probably the 1900s. But short pants suits did not appear commonly until the 1910s. Short pants suits by the 1920s had become the standard for boys' suits. Most primary (elementary) age boys wore short pants suits or blazers and shorts. They were also worn by younger teens. a good example is Ken Adams who was about 13-14 years old in the 1930s. Suits in fact were much or commonly worn at the time than is the case today. The casual styles worn today were little seen in the 1920s and 30s. Boys wore short pants suits for activities for which the modern boy would not dream of wearing a suit. Boys during the inter-War eralmost always wore suits wth knee socks. Short pants suit were still commonly worn by English boys after World War II (1939-45). It began to be less common, however, for boys to wear suits. Also, gradually in the 1950s they began to become less popular. Short pants suits were still worn in the 1960s, but were less common and generally worn by younger boys. While short pants suits became less common, shorts were still very common for school uniforms. The shorts until the 1960s, however, continued ti be the long baggy styles. Continental or short cut shorts became fasionable in the 1970s, but they were not commonly worn with suits as it had become less common for boys of any age to wear short pants suits. Shorts were still commonly worn as school uniform in elementary school and preparatory schools (private elememetary schools), but short pants suits were not common. A few prep schools used short pants suits as the uniform, but blazers and grey shorts were much more common.
The two basic suit garments were the javket abnd the osnts. Suit styles come basically from the jacket. This is where most of the styling took place. And there were many variations. This was especially true in the 19th cenbtyry. But short oants syuts only appeared after the turn-of-yhe 20th century. And by this tine we see mosttly single- and double-breasted suits. The boy here wears a double-breasred suit, probably in the 1940s (figure 2). Nituce the karge lapels on his jacket. These single- and double-breasted suits were done with a range of variations includng the lapels, pockets, buttons, back slash, pleats. neklting, and other features. And they are easy to see in the photographic record if it is a clear shot. The shoer pants are kess ckear as they are mostly covered by the jacket wheb being worn as auit. As the stylistic features much more limited. Some suits were done with caos and vests, but these did noit derermine the style od the suit. A matching cap was almost always a peajed cap. Vests vsaried, but were usually covered by the suit jscket.
There were several different styles of suit jackets in the 19th century. After the turn-of-the 20th century, the styles of jackets rapidly narrowed down to two-single and double breasted jackets. Styles included Norfolk, Rugby, and other styled suits. There were also Eton jackets, but this was a short jacket alnost entireky a school style. The basic exception was the short Eton jacket, basically a school style. The lapel with varies over time with changing fashion trends. We see both single- and doulee-breasted jackets bedung commonly worn. It was the single breasted style that gradually became dominant. Overtime the single-breasted style becane the most popular, especially sfter World War II. Soon after we see fewer boys wearing suits (1960s). And those that did began wearing long pants suits. Some private schools adopted mostly grey suits. The prepschools often had grey short pants suits. Other features that varies were the pockets anbd back which often haf a lower cut. Closely related to suit jackets were blazers, often adopted by schools. The blazers were mostly single breasted jackets with patch pockets for the school crest.
The original 'shorts' were generally worn quite long, basically cut like knee opsnrs. They often fell to middle of the knee, little different than knee pants. English boys continued to wear long, relatively baggy cut shorts until the 1960s. The continental cut shorter cut became common in the 1970s. At the same time it became less common for older boys to wear shorts. We neieve that most short pants rir suits were done with belt loops. There were both pleated abnd regular styles. Shorts like all pants had button flys in the early 20th century, but zippers began to appear, at first for children's clothes (1930s). We are sure when they began to be done for suit pants. Suit pants for boys were being done mostly with zippers after World War II. Biys shorts were done with a range of variations such as a hook clasp fron closure or elasticised back waist bands, but as best we can tell, suit pants tended to be done with belt loops abd button front closures. This needs to be confirmed.
Boys wore various colors of short pants suits. Boys in general wore wore more muted colors than girls. Thus we have a narrow swatch of colrs fir these suits. As much of our information comes from the photographic record, hiwever, we are not entirely sure about the colors. This is especially the case in that when shirt osnts suits were the modt populsar we have almost entirely black and white photography. We see quite a few dark suits in the early-20th century. After Workd War II the nost popular color becane grey. Of course grey comes in various shades. Charcoal grey can look virtually black. As best we can tell, Ebglish boy generally wire the lighter shades, certainly after World war II. The short pants suits were almost alwats worn with knee socks that matched the color of the suit. We are not sure just why grey was so popular for boys' suit. Interestingly in America it was the black or navy blue suit worn with black or nvy knee socks that were especially popular. This at keast ti hsve been the case by the 1950s. While we see dark suits, with black abd white photograojy, we are not sure if they are black or navy blue or even a ark brown. There were other colors, but they were not nearly as popular. The lighter coliored suits we think were often grey.
We do not have derailed information on fabreics. Ee jnbiw fkanbnel was a popukar favric. We akso see cirduroy bring used. After Wirks War II , Terelyn wiorsted was popular.
The ages of English boys wearing short pants suits has varied over time. Short pants are primarily a 20th century style. Boys in the second half of the 19th century wore related shortened pants styles, both straight leg knee pants and knickers. In the early-20th century these terms in England were sometimes used interchangeably.
Short pants suits have generally been worn by school age boys up to about 12-14 years of age. Throughout the inter-War era, short pants suits were standard boys' wear. And threy were wotn ewidely, not only yo dress up, but commonly for every day weear. Thus thevphototogrphhic rcordd shows boys of all fe weringb short oznts suits into the erky-teens. Older boys also wore shorts, but mostly as a school uniform. This usully meant blazers and grey shorts, but some schools adopted grey suits as the school uniform. Many secondary schools required shorts for 1st and 2nd year students, meaning boys bout 12-14 years old. Some private schools frequired shorts for even senior boys of 17 and 18 years. However, short oants suits were not common for boys beyond 14. After the 1950s, short pants suits became increadinly less common as did suits in generl. Only quite young boys wore shiort pants suits, even though they still commonly wore short poants school uniform. Begining in the 1970s even shorts at school began to become less popular even for promary-age boys. Some schools continued requiring short oants in the 1980s and 90s, although by the 1990s only the younger boys were required to wear shorts.
I have little information ob the popularity of short pants suits. Probably boys in the 1910s and early 1920s rather welcomed the idea of wearing kneesocks rather than long stockings and cumbersome hse supporters. It is likely that boys in the 1920s and 30s did not give clothes as much thought as today. As most boys wore short pants suits, boys orobably did not think much about it. As fewer boys began wearing shorts in the 1960s, boys began to question the style. Some in particular began to object wearing them during the cild winter weather. Shorts became increasingly less popular among the boys, although many mothers continued to prefer them.
New style: 1920s
Traveling in Europe: 1960s
British debate: 1960s
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Main English suit trouser type]
[Return to the Main national short pants suit page]
[Return to the Main short pants suit page]
[Return to the Main short pants page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Theatricals] [Topics]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]