1920s Wool Knickers for Women

I’ve wanted (or, rather, needed) a pair of 1920s wool knickers for some time, and so my heart skipped a few beats last week when I finally found a pair. I had been hoping to find a pair with a matching jacket, and even told myself I was going to hold out for a set, but the minute I laid eyes on these I knew I had to add them to my collection.

Why all the fascination with knickers? For one thing, knickers were both the shorts and the slacks for 1920s women and girls. Except for bloomers worn in gym class and at the end of the decade, pajamas worn on the beach, knickers and the similar garment, breeches, were the only options women had for wearing pants in public.

I’ve heard lots of stories from women who were young during the 1920s of how they raided brother’s closet to daringly wear his knickers. But by the early 1920s that was not even necessary, as mass-market catalogs like Montgomery Ward carried knickers for girls and women.

The clothing above is from the 1925 Montgomery Ward catalog. On the left are breeches, and on the right is a pair of wool tweed knickers. Note that both button on the side, on both sides actually, and the front drops for convenience. Whenever I find a photo of a woman wearing knickers I always try to see the closure, but usually it is obscured as you can see in the photo above.  The presence of a front fly would indicate the woman is wearing men’s knickers.

My pair has pockets that hide the buttons of the opening.

The seam edges are secured with an overlock stitch made by an early machine of this type. Overlocking is most commonly seen on sportswear in garments before the late 1960s.

Here’s another pair from Montgomery Ward, this time from the 1930 catalog. You can see that the style is little changed from the ones made five years earlier.  Knickers were more utilitarian than fashion, but soon after 1930 women’s knickers disappeared from catalogs. In their place were shorts, slacks, and pajamas. My 1932 Sears catalog has no knickers at all for women. It does have breeches and ankle-length knicker-like pants for skiing, and even a pair of actual slacks. Times were definitely changing.

I’m still in the market for a great 1920s wool knicker suit if anyone happens upon one.

11 Comments

Filed under 1920s fashion, Camping and Hiking, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

11 responses to “1920s Wool Knickers for Women

  1. I will ad your wishlist item knickers suit to my “searching on behalf of friends” list.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. KeLLy aNN

    I’ve always been fond of knickers!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Was puzzled (and slightly concerned) by your yearning for wool knickers!

    In the UK ‘knickers’ are what you in the the USA call ladies’ panties! We call that sort of man’s short trouser fastened under the knee, plus twos or fours (depending on the amount of fabric below the knee), also breeches ( or breeks in Scotland). Usually worn today by men taking part in country pursuits (shooting etc) and (in the past) golfers. And famously for women recruited into the WWII Land Army – though those were usually corduroy and more often resembling riding breeches so often slightly longer below the knee where they were laced – sort of ‘plus eights’.

    Best wishes, Cecile.

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  4. I thought this post was going to be about underwear, too, but the first picture puzzled me as that garment does not look like undies. I think they would generally be called knickerbockers here (Australia), but never shortened to “knickers” because that would make them underwear. I am thankful for Celine’s comment – I’ve never known exactly what “plus fours” were until now!

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    • The original word is knickerbockers, and it is American in origin. Diedrich Knickerbocker was the name assumed by Washington Irving as the narrator of his 1809 book, A History of New York. The book was illustrated with drawing of old-fashioned Dutch men wearing their breeches with a bottom band, and people started using the word knickerbockers as a name for those type pants. It would be interesting to study how the word got shortened to knickers, and how knickers came to mean panties in the UK.

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  5. jacq staubs

    They are great! I am looking (old fashion person) at the accessories! The cap toe shoes/spectators and the belts – the blouses and leg wear. “Manish” is an interesting choice !? Is the matching jacket a short or long? What a find!

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  6. Reba Worth

    Knickers used to be the uniform at Interlochen Music Camp back in the 1980’s. Not sure if students still wear them, but I loved wearing mine!

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  7. Gord B

    A bit of history for the 80’s resurgence. In around 1980-1983, Princess Diana was known to sport a pair of knickers, plus either knee socks or tights. There are a couple pictures floating around of her wearing them. This bit of royal support caused an insurgence in their popularity with young ladies and women.

    Matched corduroy suits were common at the time, and you’d often see them matched with a dress shirt/blouse. Mind you, the blouses tended to have frilly collars/lapels.

    I have a particular fondness of corduroy Knicker Suits, with a a white dress shirt and white tights. In today’s context I’m sure it would get some strange looks. The story goes that when I was a young 10 year old boy in 1983, I remember seeing a girl wearing a powder blue knicker suit, with white tights, and thinking for the first time that “Huh… Girls aren’t icky, she’s pretty”. So, for me, that look was forever burnt into brain associated with “Girls are pretty”. (Think: “Sweet and Fond Memory from of a boy in his Tween Years”, not “Heaving breathing weirdo on the internet”)

    Anyhoo, a little more history is that the look of knickers also came back into style in the late 60’s and 70’s as an offshoot of the style of one of the ladies on the Mary Tyler Moore show, who was wearing oh-so-scandalous capris ,which became popular.

    Then as time progressed tights came into existence. Who knew they were actually such a recent invention. (As an aside, pantyhose were invented in the 50’s, but “tights” as we know them didn’t really show up until the 60’s. They are what enabled the whole invention and acceptance of the miniskirt), Tights got combined with various forms of knickers as more of a formal look, and knee socks were common for day wear. Although, if you want to see a crime against fashion and all that is holy, look up crochet knicker suits.

    So, fast forward to today. You can actually still find “Fine Wool Breeks”, made by companies specializing in English Country Shooting Attire. As well, various Tweed Rides tend to bring out people sporting these.

    Anyways, this was a little rambling, but I hope I contributed something.

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