Boys of the 1940’s were expected to dress and behave properly, and the knicker suit was the only respectable choice for a day out on the town. Before the leisure days of the 50’s when jeans and t-shirts became acceptable casual wear for kids, looking like a miniature version of dad was a source of honor. And that meant standing up straight and fine in your suit, looking like mother’s ‘little man.’
Sears marketed knicker suits under the ‘Boyville’ label, offering both a short knicker pant and a ‘longie’ full-length pant. These knicker suits actually had a placket band that fit snug against the knee, allowing the short pant to balloon out over the band. It was mandatory to wear knee socks with short pants, even though sensitive knees were left exposed to chilly drafts. Short pants suits were appropriate for young boys, but when the boy got to be big enough, it was a right of passage to move into a long pantsuit.
The shorts suit faced its demise by the end of the 1950’s, and the longie suit was relegated to special dress-up occasions such as Sunday school or formal affairs. The new casual lifestyle of the suburban family accepted jeans and casual sport shirts as a proper replacement to the dressy suit look. But woe be unto the boy forced to go shopping with a proper and traditional aunt. TV’s Beaver Cleaver experienced just such humiliation when his Aunt Martha came to town. Beaver thought he was going to fool his aunt into buying him a ‘ruffian’ leather jacket with eagle design that Mrs. Cleaver denied him. Instead, the Beav got outfitted in an old-style ‘short pants’ suit that exposed his dimply knees—and his pride—to the tauntings of the other kids. Bare knees aren’t too practical when you have to fight for your dignity—maybe they should’ve sold kneepads instead of knee socks for protection.