*** boys' suits : pants and trousers

Boys' Suits: Pants and Trousers

knee pants suit
Figure 1.--Older boys in the 1880s also began wearng knee pants. This American boy from New York was probably photographed in the early 1880s. Notice his large bow. The jackt does not match the pants which was unusual at the time.

Boys have also worn pants and trousers of different length. [Note: the authors have generally chosen the American word pants. In British English the proper word would be trousers, pants in Britain refer to underwear.] Long trousers were common in the first decade of the 19th Century. Boys wore long pants with their skeleton suits. At mid-century knee-length pants had appeared for boys, but it was not uncommon to see even younger boys wearing long pants., but had generally been replaced by knee-length pants and long stockings by the 1860s boys under 12 years of age, but some older boys were also wearing them. The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine reported in 1863 that the knickerbocker suit 'reigns supreme'. It contibued to do well into the first half of the 20th Cenuary. The development appears to be a little later in America, but eventually American boys were also in knee-lenght pants. The knee pants were full, closed at the knee with buckles or buttons, or simply cut off at the knee. The age of boys wearing knee pants gradually increased in the late 19th Century. By the turn of the Century even older teenagers, boys of 18 and 19 years of age were commonly wearing knee pants. The pants worn by boys in the 20th Century have varied widely by decade and country. American boys commonly wore knickers in the 1920s and 30s, but in the 1940s increasingly wore long pants. English and European boys commonly wore short pants, but long pants became more common beginning in the 1960s. Since the 1970s American and European boys have begun wearing very similar styles of clothes, both for dress suits as well as play and casual wear.


Men and boys after breeching wore the same style of pants, trousers and related garments for centuries. Boys and men boys in the 18th century wore knee breeches. The first variance began in the late 18th century and especially by the turn of the 19th century when boys began wearing long trousers while their fathers still wore kneebreeches. Boys in the early 19thbcentury mostly wore long pants. Knee-length pants become common in England during the late 1850s and early 1860s. Knee pants by the late 1860s had spread to America, especially among affluent families in the major cities. The knee pants became closer fitting, appearing almost like knee breches in the 1870s. By the 1880s, kneepants were being worn by increasingly older boys. Short pants s were still relatively rare, but knee pants now often bloused up and were closed above the knee. They were usually worn with over the knee stockings, but small boys during the summer might be seen with bare legs. Short pants and knee socks appeared in England before World War I (1914-18) and became common in Europe during the 1920s. At first they were knee length, but gradually became shorter, especially on the Continent. Shorts appeared in America after World War I, but knickers were much more popular with boys. A clothing catalog in 1923 offered knicker suits for boys up to 18 years. Short pants were commonly worn in Europe during the 1930s, but in America knickers were the primary suit pants, except for very small boys. British and European boys continued to wear shorts during the 1940s. In America knickers began to disppear and by the end of the decade were rarely seen. Boys in England and Europe commonly wore short pants suits. It was lest common in America and mostly for younger boys. Shorts were still commonly worn in England and the Continent at the beginning of the 1960s. Dressing in short pants suits generally declined during the decade in both England and Europe. Short pants suits for boys generally went out of fashion in Europe during the 1970s, although some smaller boy although might wear them. English boys often wore short pants, but generally with blazers as part of a school uniform. (A few schools had grey suits as a uniform rather than blazers.) American boys over 7 rarely wore short pants suits. Almost all boys except for the very smallest wore long pants suits. Some boys during the summer might wear blue blacers and chino shorts, usually if accompanying their parents to some social event, but for all but the smallesr--never with knee socks.

knickers suits
Figure 2.--Norfolk suits were made to be worn with knickers. Boys in the 19th century also wore them with knee pants, especially in America. This photograph was probably taken in the 1880s. Note the boys' bow, As became common in the 1860s, the jacket and pants match.


Boys at time have worn the same pants style as their fathers. Both boys and men wore knee breeches in the 18th century. In the early 19th century boys wore long trousers and their fathers knee breeches. In the late 19th century boys wore kneepants and men long pants. There have also been different styles of pants for boys of didfferent ages. Younger boys in the 1930s might wear short pants, with the youngest boys the shortest pants. Older boys might wear knickers. Many families practiced age grading here. A good example is an illustration from the Fashion Review Service showing boys suits in the 1930s. Fashion has come full circle. Now men and boys of all ages wear long pants when they dress up and for casual wear men and boys wear both short and long pants, generally as amatter of personal choice. There were also conventions for different styles. Fauntleroy suits were usually worn with knee pants, Norfolk suits with knickers and kneepants, and Eton suits with long pants.


Boys over time have worn different types of pants. During the 18th century kneebreeches were widely worn. Long trousers appeared as boys wear in the early 19th century. Previously they has been viewed as rough work clothes, not worn by gentlemen or the sons of gentlemen. Kneepants behan to appear in the mid-19th century as did knickers which gradually replaced long pants as boys wear. Long pants began to increase in popularity in the 1930s, firstin America and then after World War II in Europe. Short pants becamemore poular in the 1970s, but as casual not formal attire.


Suits are sets of garments that go go together. Generally this meant a jacket and bottom that matches. Vests and caps also some times matched. The item to a suit, however, did not always match. Suits in the 18th century generally had matching jackets and triusers. Vests might cotrast. With rge appearance of the skeleton suit in the late-18th century, we mostly see matching jackets and pants. This cahnged somewhat in the 19th bcentury, especially bybthe 18290s and we see jackers and pants in contrasting colors. Often the pants were a lighter color, but we also see darker colors as well. With the appearance of the collar-buttoning jackets, we commomly see jackets and pants in contrasting colors. This was also the case of lapel jacket sack suits. We note in the mid-19th century boys very commonly wearing vests and pants that did not match the jacket. This was a little complicated. Both vests bd pants oftenndid not match th jacket. But in some cases the vest did match the jacketm but m=nt the pants. We note for example an unidentified American boy about 1850 who had a vest that matches his jacket, but pants that did not. This changed rther dranticallyh in the 1860s. Suddenly for some reason the comventiin of matching jackets and pabts became a ell-estblosh fashion convention. By the late 19th century, vests and pants usually did match the jacket.


The fashion trends associated with pants and trousers have been remarkly different in various countries. Jacket trends seem rather similar, but pants conventions more common. In some generations there have been little difference and in others there have been major differences between countries. The greatst differences in ants seem tonhav beem between Europe and America. There were, however, also differences between various European counties. We have a good bit of informtion on America and the larger European counties. Informatio on th smaller countries is more limited. American boys like European boys wore long pnts in thevfirst half of the 19th century and then knee pats became common in the second half of the century. We see both knee pants and knickers in Europe. After the turn of the 20th century, Ameticn boys switch tobj=knickers and to a lesser extent and Eiropean boys swithched mostly to short pants until well into the post-World War II period. Through all hese fashion hits, older bboys henrally wore long pnts, athough the age conventibs vried from country toncountry as well as family and social class differecs.


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Created: December 21, 1999
Last updated: 4:14 AM 2/18/2015