Television Advertisements and Boys' Clothing

Figure 1.--.

Children frequaently figure in advertisements. Im fact many child stars began their career acting in commercials. An analisis of the costumes in this commercials yield some interesting insights into fashion treds. Television only began to be commonly watched in the early 1950s. Commercials and ads had a short "life expectancy", unless they were really special in some way. Consequently, memories are slimmer for these media forms than re-runs of favorite TV shows. Thus HBC has only limited examples to present here.


Cambell Soup (about 1968)

One Campbell's soup ad from about 1968 featured a group of 10/11 years old kids eating bowls of alphabet soup around a table, and they're all trying to spell their names using the letters in the soup. One fellow wears glasses, and he's the only one wearing a bow tie and a suit coat. One by one, the boys and girls succeed in finding the necessary letters of their names, except for the boy in coat, bow-tie, and glasses. At last, he's finished; he looks proud, clears his throat, and says his name in a scholarly voice: Hollingsworth! (The group remains seated around what looks like a school cafeteria table throughout the commercial.)


Knickers had gone out of style by the time television had become popular. They had not totally disappered by the late 1940s and were still occasionally seen in the early 1950s. They were, however, rarely seen on contemporry TV programs. They were commonly used in TV ads with period settings. I

Short Pants

If boys smartly dressed in short pants suits or even wearing play shorts were rare on American television, boys in shorts were even rarer in commercials. There was one major exception to this. A number of ads appeared with products that had a European relationship or for some reason was set in Europe. Such ads were likelt to present clearly European boys wearing short pants.

Kool-Aid (late, 1950s)

One HBC reader remembers in the late 1950's I remember Kool-Aid produced a series of ads touting that beverage's appeal all over the world. One ad set in England showed a boy in shorts drinking Kool Aid, and another ad set in Scotland showed a boy and girl in kilts enjoying this drink at home. These are the only ones I remember well. Perhaps some ads for toys included boys in shorts.

Toy ads (1950s)

One HBC reader reports, "I have a couple of videos of old toy commercials from the 1950s and 60s, and I'll review them to look for any ads that have boys in shorts suits or shorts. In most of the toy commercials I've reviewed the "real boy" characters wear casual clothes (mostly long sleeve sports shirts and long chino pants or jeans for the toy commercials that featured rifles, cowboy guns, and Roy Rogers toys). One of the commercials on the video starred a 7 or 8 years old Billy Mumy in a toy rifle commercial. He wore a short-sleeved pull-over shirt and long pants for this role. Some of those old ads brought back fond memories; some you'd be unlikely to see today -a Confederate toy cannon complete with politically incorrect battle flag! The gun and rifle commercials seem to have disappeared from TV altogether these days. These "violent" toys have been replaced by "educational" electronic games that remind me of modern "pushbutton warfare". Guess as long as you don't see the adversary, it's okay to annihilate 'em! One toy rifle advertised in these old commercials, an M-16 that replicated the actual sound of gunfire, tweaks a bit of boyish mischief that still lurks within me. What devilment a couple of lads could make today with that toy!

Bubble bath (1963)

One animated commercial for a bubble bath called "Soaky" from about 1963 had a boy wearing shorts. In the animated cartoon commercial for "Soaky' a boy who probably would have been 8 or so in real life wore a striped dark T-shirt and dark walk shorts.

Chef Boardee (1966-67)

One TV ad was the old Chef Boyardee commercial that began with the sound of church bells ringing, and children in Florence, Italy, running from their homes toward the old square in that city. They all sat down to a huge table set in the square to enjoy the sponsor's product! Most, if not all, of the Italian boys were dressed in shorts. This commercial ran about 1966-67. This is a good example of how most ads pictured oys in long pants, commercials set in Europe often pictured the boys in shorts."

Honda (late 1970s)

I remember a news boy wearin OP cord shorts admiring a Japanese car (I think a Homda). This was in the late 1970s or early 80s. It is notable that this rare appearance of a boy in shorts in an Ameticam commercial was sponsored by a Japanese company. Few iother examples come to mind, but perhaps HBC readers recall a few.

Cherioes (1990s)

Also, some "Cheerios" ads for 1990s and early 2000s have had a recurring character known as the "Cheerio Kid" who wears shorts of different kinds (a safari suit; walk shorts) in the commercials.

Target, 2001

A HBC reviewer has mentioned a 2001 commercial for Target. The main color is brown, and the ad includes chocolate and coffee. The first half of the commercial has 3 or 4 boys running down a sidewalk, all dressed in identical "school uniforms" of chocolate (dark brown?) short pants suits, knee socks and dress shoes. The boys look inside a shop window, then run inside. They sport modern colored shirts and a snazzy tie with suit jacket. "It's interesting to see a modern update on the traditional school boy uniform, even if it's only for an "absurdist" modern television ad. I am certain that the Target stores do not even sell the clothes." [HBC note: Actually if target sold clothes, they almost surely would noy have had an ad with boys in short pants and kneesocks.]

Lexus, 2001

This is another example of picturing a clearly European boy in short pants--in this case suspender shorts worn with a white shirt. This is a clearly dated concept of how European boys dress. The country is not defined, although the flat arid landscape with windmills suggests Spain. The boy is admiring a new Lexus nd in broken English indicates that he wants one. Interestingly the suspender arrangement is unusual. The two suspender braves cross the shoulders, unite at the back and are connected to the pants by only one band.

TV Programming Ads

This topic has occurred to us only lately. We notice some clothing details in TV programing ads. There was an American ad for "Hill Stree Blues" in the 1970s in which a rough uncouth uncover policeman is pictured as a child as a sweet little boy in a white saoilor suit. We have a more recent report from Britain. "I was just watching TV this morning. On Skyone at 06:44 am on Junr 26, 2004. Thet station was advertising the cartoon "Kong" (on at 0700). A boy in the ad wore a traditional uniform, green blazer, grey shirt, striped tie, shorts socks. He sat on a brick pillar, slatted wooden bench, peeling a banana. Presumably the banana was the connection with Kong.

Print Media

HBC has also begun to analize printed material for the clothing depicted in advertisements. Here we are not talking about clothinfg ads, which we analize elswhere, but the clothing depicted in generaladvertisements. We have just begun this process, however, and do not yet have a page specifically devoted to U.S. advertisements.

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Created: October 8, 2000
Last updated: 7:27 PM 6/26/2004