Movie Depictions of Boys Clothes: Important U.S. Films

Figure 1.--The classic American film "The Magnificent Ambersons" showed how boys from wealthy American families were dressed in the late 19th century.

Given Hollywood's output, it is very difficult to develop a short list of the most important American films exploring American boyhood and illustrating boys' clothing. HBC has not restricted its list to just the more sophisticated, crtically acclaimed films. For example, the Disney film Follow Me Boys! would not be on a short list of critically aclaimed film. Yet it does accurately reflect American boyhood or rather how many of us would ideally describe American boyhood and there is a great deal of information about clothing over the spand of the film. One common theme in American movies during the 1930s-50s was that rich kids were spoiled and often dressed in fancy sissy clothes. Movies with that theme included The Magnificent Ambersons) (1942), many productions of Tom Sawyer (the Sid character), and Newly Rich (1931). It was called Forbidden Adventure in the UK. Newly Rich is an especially good example of this genre. There is one very destinctive feature of this list--it only includes Anmerican films. Hollywood has made films about all major countries around the world. Few movies about America, however, have been made by foreign film makers.

American Grafitti (US, 1973)

Classic movie about teenagers and cars in California during the early 1960s. Ron Howard appears as an older teenager. An excellent film showcasing teenage fashions.

Aunty Mame (US, 1958)

The popular novel, Broadway play, and movie depicted the experience of Patrick, a rich orphan who comes to live with his eccentric aunt. I think patrick is about 11 or 12 when he arrive's at Mame's apartment. In the first part of the story he wears smart short pants suits, always with perfectly pulled up knee socks. His school uniform is a black short pants suit, with an English-style peaked school cap. I'm not sure how accurate this was. By the 1940s the standard American short pants suit was black or navy blue, but I'm not sure this was the case in 1929. Patrick is delighted with Aunty Mame buys him his first long pants. He wants to put them on right away. There is a follow up scene several years later when Patrick is in college. Mame buys him a pair of Bermuda shorts which were becoming popular among older boys at the time and he is again delighted. Another real favorite of mine based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Dennis. At the end there is a brief scene with Patrick's son also smartly dressed in a short pants suit. The director was Moton Da Costa.

Curly Top - (U.S., 1935)

Shirlet Temple's movies were not great films. Yet any listing of American films would be incomplete without listing one of her films. The bouncy Shirley complete with timples and curls helped see America through the Great Depression. She made an incredible number of films. Picking one out of all those films is a challenge. We all have our favorites Shirley films. 'Curly Top' is surely one of her best loved films, complete with 'Animal Crackers in My Soup'. All of tge Shirley movies rather blur together, but redeemed by America's favorite little mopet.

Follow Me Boys! - (United States, 1966)

A road weary saxophonist decides to settle down in a small town and becomes the devoted leader of a troop of Boy Scouts. Fred MacMurry movie with lots of Scouts. Some of the boys wear shorts and knickers, but most wear long pants. The film covers a wide chronological range and this quite a variety of boys' clothes are shown. It is a movie well worth seeing, a real tear jerker. Especially disappointing is the closing sequence. The town throws a big parade and ceremony for the aging Scout master. The scouts are all perfectly done up in immaculate scout uniforms, all wearing the long pants uniform. This is probably the classic Boy Scout movie ever made. There are many boys in the film. Kurt Russel has the largest role.

Hernry Aldrich films (US, 1940s)

The Henry Aldrich series were "B" films made in the 1940s. They are not among HBC's favorite films. They do reflect, however, how American boys viewed boyhood in the 1940s. The title role was played by Jimmy Lydon who was 18 in 1941, but looked younger. There were nine films in all, including one about Scouts.

Life with Father (US, 1947)

A really wonderful film set about 1880 in New York. Through a series of reminiscences, a man recreates a childhood spent with his eccentric Victorian father. A financier rules his numerous family, consisting of his wife and his four sons, with the meticulousity of a bookkeeper.This comedy's plot is simple: get Father baptized. It was quite a well done film about a large New York family in the 1880s. The family was an affluent one. It was a well done period costumed film, with a lot of different period outfits shown--especially for the two younger boys. A kind hearted wife and her four sons find ways of manipulating an otherwise tyrannical father. The well-ordered household becomes unglued when the wife finds out that her husband has never been baptized. The two youngest boys wear very attractive costumes, both with knee pants and long stockings. The youngest boy, Harlin (Derek Scott), has to be the best outfitted boy in any major movie. He wears kilts in two scenes and a lovely blouse with lacy collar and cuffs in another. I understand he objected to this when they shot the movie. He his rather young, I'd say about 6 years old, but his outfits are great. I especially liked his kilt suit outfit when his mother went shopping with the boys. It is a sort of blue-gray outfit with matching jacket and kilt, both with all kinds of black trim. He wears his kilt outfit with a big floppy beret with a long tassel. The kilt is above the knees and he has long stockings. His frilly blouse with the lacy collar and cuffs are also very nice. The lace collar is enormous and the lace intricate. Presumably his knee pants are velvet, but it is hard to tell from the film. It is clearly a Fauntleroy-type outfit, but he doesn't wear a jacket with it. All the little details in his and the slightly older boys outfits, such as ribbons hanging from the back of sissy boy hats are done perfectly. Harlan's Sunday best hat is especially nice, broad-brimmed sissy hat with a long streamer. Its very unusual for such outfits to be so accurately pictured in movies. They are surely some of the best sissy outfits depicted in the movies. The next oldest boy is about 10, perhaps 11 and not dressed nearly as well. He does, however, wear kneepant suits, including a sailor outfit.

Little Lord Fauntleroy (US, 1980)

An improvised American boy from Brooklyn learns he is a heir to an English estate. I do not yet have information on the making of this version of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Some films of course are first conceived and the producers and directors then go looking for the actors. Other folms are conceived as vehicles for stars. This may have been the case for this version of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Boys in the 1920s-60s had short hair and established child stars, like Freddy Bartholmew, would probably have objected to wearing ringlet curls or even uncurled long hair. In addition, this might not have been inkeeping with the somewhat surprising, but consistent desire of many directors to "desissify" Cedric in the film. Popular hair styles changed in the 1970s and many boys were now wearing long hair. Ricky Schroder had bangs and longish hair and it was thus not much of a streach to have him grow it a big longer, making him the perfect selection for the role of Cedric. Some nice touches. Mother tells a visitor as she sews Ricky's lace collar. "He will look so dear in it, but won't he hate wearing it!" Then they laugh uproariously. Lovely scene. Ricky tells the nurse that he can dress himself when she comes into his bed room to dress him in the morning. Actually it is interesting that on several occasions he explains to others that his outfits are against his well, he tells Mr. Hobbs and Dick, for example, that the clothes are part of his job. I believe that he also tells someone that he wouldn't want the boys on Hester Street (back in the States) to see him, but I could be wrong about that. Several nice outfits. He wears two different velvet suits, one black the other blue. He looks lovely in them, especially with his lace collars and cuffs and his beautiful longish hair. In one scene he wears a broad brimmed sissy hat, but without a ribbon in back. He also wears a sailor suit, but again the pants are below the knees. He wears Mary Jane patent leather shoes, but the black socks make it difficult to see. No curls, however, which I guess is too much to hope for. It would be interesting to know what Ricky really thought of these outfits.

(The) Magnificent Ambersons (US, 1942)

Like Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons was another Orson Wells masterpiece. A complete copy of Wells film, however, does not exist. All that is left is the extensively cut version released by the studio. It is unfortunate that Ambersons, regarded by some as a work finer than even Kane, should be a film of speculation. Some believe that had a complete copy of the film managed to exist today it would be The Magnificent Ambersons and not Citizen Kane which would be hailed as the greatest film ever made. This classic movie begins (about 1885) with some superb shots of the protagonist as a terribly spoiled boy. He wears lovely sausage curls and appears in both a Fauntleroy suit and a kilt. He is teased for his sissy clothes and gets into a fight. Two of the very best sissy outfits I have ever seen. Based on the Booth Tarkington novel about an eccentric Indiana family clinging to tradition during a time of social change.

Newly Rich (1931)

It was called Forbidden Adventure in the UK. Newly Rich is a good example of this genre. It is about Tim Tiffany, a poor boy who makes it big in Hollywood. He wears a velvet suit and broad white collar with ringlet curls throughout most of the movie. The basic plot is about two women who are constantly trying to one-up each other. Jackie's Mom takes him to Hollywood where they make it big in the movies. The other woman has a daughter about the same age portrayed by Mitzi Green. Basically, it's a comedy and Mitzi makes fun of Jackie when they revisit their small town with him all done up as "Tiny Tim". Jackie's not thrilled with his new attire, but he also knows it's the price he must pay for being in the movies. The picture was child actor Jackie Searl. Jackie was quite popular in movies during the 1930s, usually playing the part of a brat. He was born in 1920, he would have been about 11 years old at the time the film was made.

Penrod films

There have been several Perood films. There was the silent film Penrod and Sam (US, 1923) with Ben Alexander. This is the first film portral of the classic Tarkington character, Penrod Scofield. Another in the series was a remake, Penrod and Sam (US, 1930). Penrod of course wears knickers. He receives a well-deserved spanking and protests mightily. Unusual as Penrod usually manages to talk his way out of it. Another film is Penrod's Twin Brother (US, 1938). Another 1930s brat is played by Jackie Morrow in a short film based on Booth Tarkington's "Penrod" stories. Interestingly, Tarkington is the author of the Magnificent Ambersons which showcased perhaps the all time greatest movie brat--Georgie Amberson. His Penrod character, however, could not be more different. Penrod is spoiled by his adoring mother, but rather than a brat--he is the All American Boy, The brat in this film is Rodney Bitts, the obnoxious and bratty son of the banker, played by Jackie. He wrongfully accuses Penrod's (played nicely by Billy Mauch) dog of biting him. Turns out Penrod has a "twin", a tough boy from Chicago named Danny Dugan, played by Billy Mauch's real twin brother, Bobby. And "Danny" even has a dog that is identical to Penrod's dog, which was the dog that really bit Rodney. This mix-up eventually involves the boys in the capture of bank robbers at the film's end.

Our Gang - (US, 1922-44)

One of the most instantly recognizable movie features of the 1930s are the Our Gang shorts. These productions are fascinating glimpses into American children's clothing for morethan two decades (1922-44). Some of the episodes even work the clothing into the story line. They were produced by Hal Roach, first on his own and then with MGM. The "Our Gang" children supposedly arrived at the studio at 8:00 am and went home at 5:00 pm. The studio claimed that they were all in bed by 8:00 pm. The children attended the "Gang School House" run by the famed Mrs. Carter. Roach later commented on the Our Gang series, saying that "They were a special kind of child. Today you would have to have a contest to find one like them. They talked and acted exactly like children really do. And that's what made "Our Gang" so popular." The boys were Alfalfa (Carl Switzer), Buckwheat (William Thomas), and Spanky (George McFarland. Others included Dickie Moore, Jackie Cooper, Bobby Blake (then billed Michael Gubitosi). George continued in the series until 1942, two years before it ended. Also see Little Rascals Our Gang used to be a tV staple, but today is rarely seen. HBC is unsure as to how the children were costumed. They often wore rather ragged clothes, but as they were well paid for their acting this had to be costuming. Some of the fancier clothes, howevr, could have been clothes they actually wore.

Shane (US, 1953)

Surely one of classic all-time favorite Westerns. The film is about a boy's attachment to a drifting gun slinger who saves his father. The father is a sod buster helping to organize fellow farmers against a wealthy rancher. The boy's father, however, has no chance ahainst the gun man hired by the rancher. Shane steps in to take on the hired gun. Brandon De Wilde is a marvelous little actor. His expressions are perfectly done, one of the classic movie performances by a child star. His lines at the end, "Shane, come back Shane," are some of the most famous lines of all time. He wears a bowl-cut hair style which must have been very common for boys on the frontier. He also wears kneepants, but with, if I remember correctly, ankle socks.

Stand by Me (US,1986)

A coming of age/boy bonding movie set in the 1950s. What starts out as a exciting adventure becomes a journey of self discovery for a sensitive boy and his three colorful companions. One of his friends played by River Phoenix is abused by his father. The boys wade through a swamp and then undress when they find leaches. The boys are all about twelve. One boy, Vern the fat kid, was on the Carson show in 1986. It seems him and his friends had been up to a lot of pranks in the hotel they stayed at. One night even draining the hotel swimming pool. The boy was very embarrassed that he had been found out. Based on a book by Stephen King.

To Kill a Mockingbird (US,1962)

Possibly my all time favorite book. The main character are Jem (who wears knickers, including a knicker suit) and his tom-boy sister, Scout--who wears overalls unless she is forced into a dress. Jem has to be a little sister's all-time favorite big brother. Their younger cousin, Dill who wears shorts and knee socks, spends the summer with them. Set in a small southern town during the depression. Boys from less well off familes wear bib-front overalls all the time. Even though it is summer, the only boy wearing short pants is Dill. Jem himself wears overalls for play. Gregory Peck reportedly had quite a winning way with the children. Within a few days, the little girl would crawl up on his lap like he was her father.

Tom Sawyer

There have been so many productions of the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn sagas that it is difficult to pick one outstanding one. This is further complicated by the afxt that there are so many varying titles.

Other Films

There are several excellent films which we have not included, primarily because the boyhood scenes constitute only a small part of the film. Two excellent examples here are Winthrop in The Music Man and the brothers in A River Runs through.


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Created: January 27, 2001
Last updated: 7:15 PM 8/7/2010