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Making History
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Listen to this editionTuesday 3.00-3.30 p.m
Sue Cook presents the series that examines listeners' historical queries, exploring avenues of research and uncovering mysteries.
Short trousers for boys

Listener's query
"I am very interested to know how the fashion of short trousers for boys came about. It seems to have started in the early 1920s and finished about 1960. Photographs before the 1914-18 war show boys wearing knee breeches and stockings."

Brief summary
Short trousers certainly became the norm for boys in the 1920s. Boys would wear short trousers until the age of about 13, and the schoolboy figure in socks and short trousers remained in fashion until the 1960s.

Family pictures of boys before the 1920s in knee breeches can be partly explained by the fact that photographs would often be of people in their 'Sunday best', so the pictures of the boys in their best clothes would be nearer to what we would call fancy dress. The Victorians liked to clothe their children for photographs in Fauntleroy suits or sailor suits. However, before shorts, ordinary lads wore knickerbockers which were an American introduction that arrived in the 1860s and 1870s. In America, boys wore trousers, sometimes of corduroy, to just below the knee with long socks. They often had buckles below the knee. American boys continued to wear knickerbockers between the wars. Britain, however, moved towards shorts, possibly associated with the growth in the organisation of schools, for the ease of going to the loo. Shorts were also influenced by the Boy Scout movement, which started in Britain in the early years of the 20th century. Shorts led the fashion for boys in Britain for 50 years.

Further reading
Alison Mager, editor, Children of the Past in Photographic Portraits (Dover Publications, 1978)
John Peacock, A Complete Guide to English Costume Design and History (Thames and Hudson, 1994)
John Peacock, The Chronicle of Western Costume: From the Ancient World to the Late Twentieth Century (Thames and Hudson, 2003)
John Peacock, 20th Century Fashion: The Complete Sourcebook (Thames and Hudson, 1993)
Iris Brooke, English Children's Costume 1775-1920 (Dover Publications, 1993)
Marion Sichel, History of Children's Costume (Chelsea House Publishers, 1993)


The Costume Gallery: Children's Wear 1800-1923

Historical Boys' Clothing

Place to visit

Museum of Childhood
Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London E2 9PA
Tel: 020 8980 2415

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Making History

Vanessa Collingridge
Vanessa CollingridgeVanessa has presented science and current affairs programmes for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Discovery and has presented for BBC Radio 4 & Five Live and a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, Scotsman and Sunday Herald. 

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Making History
BBC Radio 4
PO Box 3096 Brighton

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Or telephone the Audience Line 08700 100 400

Making History is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4 and is produced by Nick Patrick.

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