Boy’s Clothing in High School – 1940s

I was a freshman in the Snyder, Oklahoma High School when Pearl Harbor was bombed.  Even before we entered the war, many families had moved to California and elsewhere to work in defense plants. This severely reduced the school enrollment.  More people moved away during the war so that there were only twenty-seven students in our graduating class in 1944 and 125 in the entire high school.

As in any group, there are style setters but we boys dressed much the same.  There were three clothing stores in our town of 1400 people.  We could shop in near-by larger towns at J. C, Penney’s or Anthony’s Department Stores.  Shopping in the other towns was limited because of the rationing of gasoline.

We all wore long sleeved colored shirts which usually had a stripe of some kind.  This type of shirt would be called a dress shirt today.  There were no short sleeved or knit shirts.  In warm weather we would roll up our sleeves.  Often the roll would extent to above the elbow and other times the cuff would be folded a couple of times to the middle of the forearm.  Occasionally a visitor from California would be seen wearing a loud figured short – sleeved shirt with the straight shirttail hanging outside the pants.

Pants were solid colored cotton and maybe dark wool for Sunday.  We often wore khaki cotton pants with a plain front much like we now wear.  Absolutely no one wore blue jeans or anything made of denim.  The only denim pants we ever saw were heavy ones worn by the railroad crews.  In cold weather, some of us wore corduroy pants.  No one of either sex wore short pants unless you were under six years old

There normally was enough space between the cuff of the pants and the shoes so that colorful cotton socks could be seen.  The socks were often made of loud colors and we were especially proud of the ones with stripes.

Boy’s shoes were plain black or brown shoestring oxfords.  Once in a while someone would wear a white pair in the summertime.  We would polish our shoes on Saturday night to wear to church the next day.  The only boys who had a second pair were those who played basketball and they were not usually worn on the street.

When holes appeared in the soles of a shoe, we would place cardboard inside the sole and try to avoid puddles and mud.  There was not always money available to buy all the new shoes a boy needed if he was hard on them or if his feet were fast growing. Also during the war, shoes were rationed to three pairs a year for everyone.

When it came time for a suit, we would find one in the department store that had two pairs of trousers.  One pair had pleats which we would call slacks.  The other pair had a plain front and they were called pants.  I remember that the suit I bought as a senior in high school was made of green wool tweed.  In college, I was told by boys in the dorm that tweed could not be worn to any function that was the least bit formal.  Anytime a suit was required, regardless of the season or weather, I wore my other one, which was a tan summer suit.  It could be a bit chilly at times.  The burden of tying a tie was almost overwhelming but our dads would come to our rescue.

Our hair was cut fairly short but long enough to form a pompadour in the front.  Some had their hair cut very short like the soldiers.  This was called a crew cut or a flat top if it was cut level across the top.  We applied hair oil to keep it in place.  The brand that most of used was Rose Hair Oil, which cost ten cents a bottle. If too much was applied, oil could be seen running down the side of our head.

I don’t remember very much about what the girls wore but they wore dresses or skirts with cotton or knit blouses.  Some of their clothes were made by the girls or their mothers.  They usually wore plain cotton socks and with plain shoes or penny loafers with a penny showing in a slot across the arch.

As I remember they wore their hair shoulder length with soft curls on the ends.  Occasionally some of the girls would have their hair cut short which was called a victory bob.  Girls sometimes wore snoods that held their hair off of their shoulders.  These snoods were made of net with a ribbon that tied at the back of their head.

In cool weather, everybody wore cotton or wool sweaters and cold weather called for heavy woolen coats. The bottom of the coats extended to the middle of the thigh and colors were rather nondescript.  Boys rarely wore hats or caps.  Girls often wore scarves folded into a triangle and tied under their chin to protect their hair from the wind or cold.

Wartime restricted a large array of styles and there was not much money to buy fad or fun clothing.  There was no television to display styles of the beautiful people of the world.  Nevertheless, we were happy kids and thought we were beautiful and dressed stylishly.

Jim Pershall

August 2010