Summertime Means Shorts Time

Summer is in full swing, and here in my corner of the world, that means shorts time! I’ve loved wearing shorts ever since I was a little girl and we were not allowed to wear them to school. Shorts meant school was o-u-t, so shorts meant freedom!

Unfortunately, I’m having a non-shorts moment. It’s bad enough that my 54 year old legs really aren’t what they used to be, but to add insult to injury, I had a bad accident involving a crazy dog and a step ladder. I won’t go into details, but believe me when I say the sight of my bruised leg is not for the faint hearted!

So instead of wearing shorts, I’ll just write about them. Shorts-wearing by women is a relatively new concept, having its beginning in the 1920s, but not really catching on for any place other than the beach or sports field until the 1940s. The first reference to shorts being worn by women that I’ve ever found is in a 1925 Bonwit Teller Catalog. In this page from the catalog, the shorts are meant to be worn under the sports frocks: “Little Chanel running trunks to match, made to special order if desired.”

Toward the end of the 1920s, school and college girls began trading their gym bloomers for shorts.  In this ad from 1929, the shorts are still referred to as “trunks.”  (Also of great interest is the use of a slide fastener, or zipper.  It was another decade before zippers became commonplace.)

And another from a 1931 Sears catalog shows a sports costume, and this time the garment is called “shorts.”

By the mid 1930s, someone had come up with the idea of a playsuit – a one piece shorts and top over which the wearer could add a button-up skirt after she was through with the tennis match, or when she left the beach.  It was just not okay for a woman to be seen on the street wearing something as revealing as shorts. The playsuit/skirt set was so practical that it lasted for years.  One of my favorite summer outfits in the early 70s was one I made from a stretchy knit with a little ladybug print, and a matching red wrap skirt.

In the 1940s, shorts became very popular, and women began wearing them for more than just active sports.  Personally, I think the best looking shorts ever came from the 40s, with the flaring legs and mid thigh length being so  flattering… at least to the young and fit!

I got the above ad from Pam at The ad comes from 1944 – note the reference to War Bonds.  Even though clothes were rationed and fabric was in short supply, the American sportswear makers still managed to come up with some wonderful sportswear.  This pleated (front only, to save fabric) short style is one of the most flattering shorts ever made, and they look just as fresh in 2009 as they did in 1944.  Here are these shorts:


Posted by Mary Catherine (APrizeEveryTime):

Terrific illustrations, Lizzie. So breezy and pert!

Tuesday, June 9th 2009 @ 7:37 PM

Posted by Joules:

Wonderful story of shorts! Love seeing the Jantzens, complete with ad, and the label. So great!

Wednesday, June 10th 2009 @ 3:37 AM

Posted by Couture Allure:

I always love seeing an actual garment matched to the original advertisement. Great post, Lizzie! I hope you’re OK, and that your bruises heal quickly.

Wednesday, June 10th 2009 @ 4:40 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

I’m glad you all love these!Jody, I’m fine and today the bruises do look a little better.

Thursday, June 11th 2009 @ 6:10 AM

Posted by Tara:

What a great post! I think I might actually wear shorts if I could find some in the 40’s style!

Wednesday, June 17th 2009 @ 9:08 A

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Filed under Advertisements, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, Vintage Photographs

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