Memories of Yesteryear: Styles and clothing
by Alexander W. Delk
Sep 30, 2012 | 541 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Editor’s note: Alexander W. Delk, 90, is a retired school teacher/administrator, who served 57 years in education. He is retired from the Illinois public schools and for the past 21 years has taught public speaking at Cleveland State Community College. He is a frequent speaker for local groups, Gideon’s International, the United Club and at his churches. He may be reached at 472-2664.

The 1920s and the 1930s saw a drastic change in styles and clothing. Especially was this true for younger children. Let us look at some of my memories of that era.

Having been born in 1922, I was too young in the 1920s to be aware of much of this change. And, by the ’30s, much change had taken place which was more or less accepted.

Let’s first look at babies and small children’s attire during the 1920s. For at least 30 or more years afterward, all infants wore cloth diapers. None of this “use and toss” modern stuff. Every mother knew what it was to wash and reuse diapers. Those with several small children had a once or twice weekly job of washing those diapers. And, not with a modern washing machine. They were washed by the hand-scrubbing method, often on an old washboard.

If there was a stream nearby soon after removing the soiled diaper, it would be taken to the stream and most of the “mess” removed. Then it would be hand washed, along with a pile of other laundry and diapers. Then, it was to the outdoor clothesline to dry. It might take a mother several hours just to do the laundry. So, modern mothers, be thankful for disposable diapers, a washer and a dryer.

Children of that era, both boys and girls, wore dresses until they were toilet trained. For boys, no unsnapping of the pants — much easier to dress the little guy in a dress and easily get to the dirty diaper. My own pictures of my little boy years show me in a dress, as would have been true of almost all little boys of the 1920s.

Girls, of course continued to wear dresses as they became little girls.

Most children of that era had what were called their “Sunday clothes” — clothes reserved for church and other special occasions. These were more dressy than those used for daily wear. It went almost without saying that one was told to “get out of those Sunday clothes” soon after returning home from church or from something special.

Some occasions were more special than others, particularly Easter and Christmas. Many children looked forward to these special occasions because they meant new clothes — a fancy outfit or a new pair of pants and so on. Girls almost always got a frilly dress and new shoes, along with a bow in their hair. Boys were not outfitted so elaborately, but usually got something “nice” for the occasion.

During the Depression years of the 1930s, children often wore whatever could be had for clothing. For boys, pants were worn until threadbare on the seat and knees. Then patches would be put on the worn-out places and the pants continued to be worn. Sometimes, it was patch on patch until the pants resembled a version of a “patchwork” quilt.

Girls of that era often wore “feed-sack” dresses. Many times feed for livestock came in cloth bags of a brightly colored pattern. After the feed was used, the material could be made into a dress. Many girls went to school proudly in a new dress made from feed sacks. Some material could be bought from the “dry goods store,” but during the Depression many mothers could ill afford to buy such material.

The 1930s brought a style of trousers that boys wore and hated. These were called “knickers.” They were trousers that reached just below a lad’s knees and buttoned around the leg at that point. Most boys wore long stockings that came up to the knickers. These were generally considered “dress or school wear.” It may have been a style, but I never saw a man who wore them as a lad who liked them. I assume they were a step between a little boy’s short pants and an older boy’s long pants.

Children of that era went barefoot much of the time. From the first of April until the first of October, children mostly went barefoot. Shoes would only be worn for dressy occasions or when in an area where there were thorns, stickers, or whatever. Older adults often had a “shoe cobbler’s” bench somewhere in an outside building. There they would mend worn-out shoes by putting new soles on them or otherwise repairing them.

Children’s haircuts were done at home. Most children of that time never saw the inside of a barbershop or hair salon until they were grown or in their late teens. Haircut time meant going out in the yard and draping a cloth over the person’s shoulders and cutting away. Hair clippers were used or maybe even a pair of scissors.

The term a “soup bowl” haircut came from those days and perhaps much earlier. The result was a haircut that resembled a cut around the bowl that supposedly was placed on the child’s head in upside-down fashion.

The 1920s bought a marked change in women’s wear. Prior to that time all genteel women wore dresses and mostly longer dresses. The older hoopskirts were long gone, but corsets were standard wear for ladies. No real “lady” would think of going out to church or any other function of the time dressed in anything but a dress.

Most mature ladies of the time wore hats whenever they went to church or other occasions. Some of the hats were quite ornate, with flowers, feathers, and other decorations attached to them.

After World War l the younger generations of women staged an almost open rebellion against the old ways of dress. The Woman’s Suffrage amendment came about in 1920. Soon thereafter there arose a “breed” of younger woman called “flappers.” The term connotes a younger woman with disregard for the old mores of the time, and several things are associated with it.

The “flapper” had her hair “bobbed” (cut short) whereas the older ladies all had long hair that was almost regarded as sacred. The “flapper” even dared to smoke cigarettes, though many older women still dipped snuff. The “flapper” wore high spiked heels, whereas older woman distained such. She also dared to use make-up, often in excess. And, even worse in the eyes of the older women, flappers dared to wear short skirts and maybe even pants.

Many older people looked askance at them with the term, “What’s this world coming to?”

For an unmarried woman to have a baby was regarded as such a scandal, for obviously she has been promiscuous. Of course, it did happen from time to time and the woman was sort of banned from proper society.

The term “pregnant” was not used in those days. Women who were expecting a baby were said to be “in a family way.” For the most, part, particularly in the latter months of pregnancy, the mother-to-be stayed almost in seclusion.

Men’s attire changed quite a bit also during the 1920s and 1930s. Men wore suits and ties to church and other such events. Dress shirts had a detachable, stiff collar that fit around the neck and must have been very uncomfortable. These sort of went out of style by the end of the 1920s. For dress wear, men almost always wore a hat, never a cap.

Workwear for men changed also during this time. Denim pants (or blue jeans) were not common until after World War ll. However, men did wear bib overalls for workwear on farms and elsewhere. Boys often wore them to school also.

What a change has come about in the many years since that time. Women now wear pants, both dress wear and for casual wear. Shorts were associated with being indecent in those days. Men would never have thought of going out in shorts, nor would older women of that time.

So much for styles and clothes of yesteryear. Those are memories of a time so different from that of today.