Short Pants Suits: National Styles

The styles and conventions for wearing short pants have varied greatly from country to country. In some countries quite old boys might wear short pants suits, although often boys began to commonly wear long pants suits by 12-14 years of age. Short pants suits were widely worn in Europe by the 1920s and continued to be popular through the 1950s. They were often worn with kneesocks. Short pants suits began to decline in popularity during the 1960s. Difference have been particularly sharp between Europe and America and latter between Japan and the West. By the 1990s boys around the world were increasingly wear similar styles.


America, Latin


We see younger boys wearing sailor suits. British and European styles seem more important than American styles. Knee pants and short pants were very common for boys. Until about 1930, long stockings were common, especially for older boys. Gradually knee socks became more popular. Knickers were much less common. We see some boys wearing knickers, but they do not seem very common. less common. Long pants suits became more common after mid-century, although suits were becoming less common by the 1970s.

Figure 1.This French Canadian boy wears a short pants suit for his First Communion in 1956. Note the beret and long stockings that were still considered proper for formal occasions.

America, North


Boys clothing in Canada until the 1970s varied considerably in the French and English communities. Boys in Quebec often wore French influenced fashions. Boys in English Canada generally wore English styles until after World War II when American styles became more common. Canada's more severe weather has also affected fashions with short pants worn less than in France and England. Even so, short pants suits were more commonly worn in Canada than in the United States until the 1960s when Canadian fashions began to become almost indestinguishable from American fashions.

United States

The fashion spread to the United States, especially for boys from affluent families. Well to do Americans had always looked to England, at least for men and boys' fashions much to the chagrin of American boys. Despite the English trends, however, knicker suits were more common in America--especially for older boys. American boys after the First World war did not wear short pants suits as commonly as European boys. For some reason, many American mothers did not ssem to think it was healthy to dress boys in short pants leaving their knees bare during the winter. This did not seem to phase British and European mothers. Boys there, especially in Britain, through the 1960s commonly wore shorts even during the cold winter months. Generally well to do American families, often with English conections, however, did often opt for short pants suits. This English influence continued into the 1960s. Knicker suits were more common in America.



Japanese boys seldom wear suits. This is not just a modern development. American and European boys now wear suits much less in the past, although most have a suit or at least a blazer and dress pants for church or formal occassions. This is less common in Japan. The suits worn by Japanese elementary-age boys, however, are generally short pants suits.




While knee pants were widely worn in the late-19th and early-20th century. short opants were a 29th century style. We know much more about the 20th century and are gradually building a sizeable archive. Every country has its little peculiarities in the developing photographic record. The Germans like the Americans and British took huge numbers of family snapshots which added to the more formal studio photography. There seem to be fewer Belgian snapshots avialble. Of course Belgium is a small country, but still there seem to be an unusually large numbr of formal studio portaits. At least that is what we have found to date. As a resut, we know a great deal about how boys dressed up and the suits they wore, at least for the 20th century. Short pants suits seem very common after World War I for boys through their early teens. At first they were long linke knee pants. For formality, boys still might wear knee pants suits. We also see boys wearing knicker suits, commonly teenagers in the inter-War era. Age conventions were a factor which also varied over time. Some older boys wore knicker suits. On the previous page we see a boy wearing a single breasted jacket and short pants in 1925. Here we see a boy wearing a double-breasted short pants suit, we think in the 1930s, but we are not sure (figure 1). Notice the popular Shiller collar and high top shoes. We notice two unidentified boys wearing single- and double-breasted jackets with short pants in 1933. Knee socks see very common with short pants suits, generally conservative solid color socks, but we note some argyles and other patterns as well. For especiallay formal occasions or famiklies which insisted on formality, long stockings were also worn. After World War II, especially by the 1960s we see more boys wearing long-pants suits, including some younger boys. Short pants suits seem to have remained more popular in Belgium than some other European countries, reflecting a conservative outlook of some parents.

Figure 2.--English boys after the 1960s less commnonly wore short pants suits. Some schools, however, continued to use grey suits as a school uniform. Most private schools had blazers rather than suits.


I have no historical information on the origin of short pants worn with knee socks leaving the knee bare. They appear to have first appeared in England after the turn of the century. They were given great popularity by Lord Baden Powell and the nascent Boy Scout Movement. 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. Plain grey suits were especially popular in England and these suits were also adopted by some schools as a school uniform.


French boys soon adopted the short pants which appeared in England and by the 1910s were commonly wearing shorts--albeit rather long shorts. Shorts became the dominate fashion for boys in major European countries. The length was similar to the length worn by English boys. By the 1930s, however, shorter lengths had become increasingly common. In many, especially France and Italy, the fashion for increasingly shorter shorts became wide spread. Shorts were commonly worn by European boys, even quite old boys through the 1950s. It was very common for boys' suits to have short pants. This changed in the 1960s and by the end of the decade short pants suits were only seen on younger boys.

Figure 3.--This German boy was named Walter. The snapshot outdide his homeis undated. We do know that he was 12 years old. He wears a double-breasted short oants suit.


German boys since World War I (1914-18) have commonly worn short pants suits. They did not wear uniforms at school so they had proper suits, not blazers like many British boys. I think the primary style was single breasted suits. Double breasted suits appear less popular than in France or America. The shorts were relatively long in the 1920s, but had become shorter by the 1930s. Not all boys wore short pants suit, but most did. Some boys might havr a pair of longs to wear in the cold winter weather. Quite old boys wore short pants suits. After World War II it was common to see boys as old as 16 or 17 wearing short pants. This appears to be older boys than commonly wore short pants with suits before the War. This was partly due to the strained economic situation of Germans after the War. Many families probably had to delay buying their sons a new suit, so the old short pants suit may have been worn a year or two longer than usual. Short pants suits were still commonly worn in the 1950s, although the age of the boy began to decline by the late 1950s and the suits became less common in the 1960s. Short pants suits for boy went out of style in the 1970s, although some younger boys might still wear them.


We see Hungarian boys wearing the same basic types of pants as in Austria and Germany. The pants worn with the suits included short pants, knee pants, knickers, and long pants. Knee pants and short pants were common during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. This was at first for younger boys, but eventually teen agers, especially younger teens, also wore the shortened-length pants. As in other European countries, after World War I and especilly after the 1960s, long pants became standard for all but the youngest boys. These are all trends that followed if not mirrored fashion tends in Austria and Germany.


Italian boys began wearing short pants after the turn of the century. Most boys wore shorts by the 1920. The length was fairly long at first, only slightly shorter than kneesocks, but began to become shorter in the 1930s. Quite old boys wore short pant suits in the years before and after World War II. I have little information on Italy. Hopefully a HBC visitor will eventually provide some information.


Dutch boys have worn several different types of suit pants, including kneepants, short pants, knickers, and long pants. The popularity of these types varied over time and among boys of different ages. Trens were simikar to nrigboring countries, esoecially Britain and Germany. Boys wore long pants with skeleton suits in the eaely-19th century. We begin to see various types of shortened-pants worn with suits at mid-century by younger boys from fashionable families. By the late-19th century we begin to see older boys wearing knee pants and knickers. After World War I, short pants began widely worn through the early-teens. Short pants suits were widely worn in the inter-War and post-World War II period. A good example is Jongetje Lanen in 1970. Short pants suits declined in popularity during the 1970s. By about age 15 years we see most boys wearing knickers or long trouswers. Some boys continued wearing short pants into their teens. A good example is 16-year old Frans Leferink in 1927. There were many variations such as the length of the knee, short, and knicker pants and the cut of the long pants. The time line of these different suits types varied. To some extent one type relaced the other, but often to the extent they overlapped. There were age conventions associate with the choice of pants, although since the 1960s, most boys have worn long pants suits.



Australian boys until the 1970s generally wore short pants suits when they dressed up. The styles were primarily based on British styles. Not all boys had suits. Many boys might wear their school uniforms (also mostly short pants) when dressingbup. Boys that did have suits, generally had short pants suits. Boys would normally move on to long pants suits at about age 13-15.

Figure 4.--Some New Zealand schools had short pants suits as school uniforms, although after the 1960s boys less common wore short oants suits outside of school.

New Zealand

Suit styles in New Zealand generally follow styles and conventions in England. Beginnining in the 1960s when English boys began to wear shorts less, fashions begin to differ. New Zealand school boys continued wearing shorts, but clothing styles in New Zealand began to be much more casual. Suits were worn less than before World War II. Some boys still had short pants suits, but they were not commonly worn after the 1970s. Many secondary school boys continue to wear short pants school uniforms. Elementary boys, except at Catholic and private schools, do not generlly wear uniforms.

Unknown Countries

There is of course an extensive photographic record for the 20th century. We have archieved a huge number of images of boys wearing suits which was nuch more common in the 20th century than is the case today. Many of those image are identified as to country. Where they are found islso a clue, but certaiinly not definitive as people move around. We can often identify the country based on the style of the suit or other garmehts. The backgrojnd of the imafes also orovide clues. Crs for exampl are usually a give away. There are some images in our archive, however, that we have not been able to identify defintivly. Hopefully our readerscan assist with this process. We welcome any insights that readees can offer.

Additional Information

New style: 1920s

Traveling in Europe: The 1960s

British debate: The 1960s

American boy: Eastern and western fashions

Boyhood memories


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Created: October 26, 1998
Last edited: 10:14 AM 12/31/2014