Today, I shall be taking a look at vintage shorts from their birth in the 1930s to the modern 1950s. From pleated shorts to tailored shorts, from pedal pushers to Capri pants, there are many styles of vintage shorts and cropped trousers to choose from. With summer fast approaching, we turn our minds and our wardrobes towards lighter options. Now is the time of year to finally put those wool layers to one side, and seek out the cooler fibers of linens and cotton.
The social acceptance and popularity of women wearing shorts really only occurred in the first few decades of the 1900s. In the late 1920s, women would wear shorts for active sportswear only; indeed, even on the beach, most women would don full-length beach pyjamas rather than shorts.
As women took up sport playing (tennis) as well as hiking and camping, the need for cool summer shorts grew exponentially.
1930s Vintage Pleated Shorts
In the 1930s, short styles were loose and billowing, with voluminous amounts of fabric. They were worn high on the waist, often featuring pleats to control the fullness at the waistline while flaring out over hips and upper thighs. This early style of short developed from sportswear, with this style being worn for tennis and similar sporting activities.
Tennis shorts paired well with polo shirts which were taken from men’s tennis outfits as well. Polo shirts could be zip up, lace up or with a single button at the collar. They usually came in white but could be any number of pastel colors for casualwear. Rust red, tan and green were less common but nice options.
Another popular style of short was a wide leg short without pleats. It often had contrasting stripes on the side and it was sold with a matching belt. Buttons and sometimes laces fasted on the side of the leg. The front fly short for women was still several decades away.
It was the sailor button shorts that made the 1930s unique. The front yoke flap with six white buttons was copied from men’s sailor pants. Women wore sailor pants too so naturally they also turned them into shorts. They were usually navy blue shorts white white or red buttons. White shorts with red buttons was the other trendy style.
As mentioned previously, eventually shorts would cross the divide from simply sportswear to becoming an acceptable item of clothing for women to don as leisurewear or casual wear. Such has been the case with many items of women’s clothing throughout fashion history; with the path to social acceptance of garments developing via sports and activewear.
Team pleated vintage style shorts with a demure blouse or knit top for a cute retro style. Ensure you tuck the top into the waistband of the shorts to show off that great vintage high rise waistline. To keep the look casual, choose either flat ballet pump style shoes (Keds!) or sandals.
Both pleated shorts and sailor shorts continued to be worn during the war time 1940s. As most clothing took men’s tailoring and applied it to to women’s wear shorts were reimagined. They now had a slightly slimmed leg, a high waist, side buttons and optional straight of cuffed hem.
Vintage 1950s Shorts
By the 1940s, both pleated vintage inspired shorts and culottes retained popularity. Towards the end of the decade, shorts started to become more fitted, but were still worn high on the waist.
This new more tailored style of shorts continued to be in demand over the next few decades. In the 1950s, shorts were very figure-fitting, with the waist being enhanced through the use of waspish wide belts.
For a 1950s bombshell look, team a pair of tailored high waist vintage inspired shorts with a stretch jersey top – this one (below) from the House of Foxy has a wonderfully flattering 1950s style neckline. Finish the look with color coordinating accessories, and to enhance that waistline cinch a belt over the outfit.
Learn more about 1950s shorts, culottes and pedal pushers.
Vintage Culottes Shorts
During the sporty 1930s, culottes became popular. These could be described as a kind of cross between the styles of shorts that were popular at the time and the beach pajama.
Culottes were worn high on the waist, then flared out to a very broad hemline, hitting either just below the knee or around the mid-calf. Again, culottes were a popular choice for leisurewear. In the 1930s, they could be teamed with a revealing halter neck top for sunbathing, a button-down shirt, or a neat bolero jacket for a smarter take on the style. Read more about 1930s culottes, beach pajamas and long pants.
There are some fabulous styles of culottes available today, some featuring wonderfully wide hemlines perfect for recreating a 1930s style. For warm temperatures, team culottes with a camisole top and a loose jacket. Finish the look with a long strand of beads, a sun hat, and wedges for an ideal vintage style.
Vintage Pedal Pushers
During this time a new style of short emerged — the pedal pusher. This style was worn on the waist and was gently tailored, with a straight leg. Earlier styles normally hit just on the knee, with later incarnations the following decade usually hitting just below.
This style was first worn by youths of the era – teenagers, as they would later become known. The pedal pusher was not just reserved for teenagers or cyclists as its name suggests — from the late 1940s on through the 1950s, the pedal pusher made the perfect component of many women’s holiday wardrobes. Matching sets emerged, in which the pedal pusher had a matching sun top, jacket, or overskirt to be worn.
Today, the pedal pusher is good alternative to shorts, particularly if you are unsure about baring your legs! This is a good option if you normally wear knee length skirts, as the similar length of the pedal pusher will retain its familiarity. For a casual 1940s style, team pedal pushers with a blouse and a loose jacket – a swagger jacket or blazer would be perfect.
For a 1950s style, pair pedal pushers with a crop top, or dare to bare in an off-the-shoulder top!
Vintage Capri Pants
By the late 1940s, a variation on the pedal pusher arrived – the Capri pant. These were worn high on the waist, with a straight streamlined leg. The length was fairly long, being just cropped enough to differentiate them from full-length trousers. The Capri pant is probably one of the most well-known and recognizable styles of trousers, due to its soar in popularity during the 1950s.
Audrey Hepburn donned a pair of Capri pants in both Sabrina and Funny Face. Grace Kelly also favored them, as did Doris Day.
By the early 1960s, Capris became tighter as fabrics became stretchy and figure fitting. They were also available in a host of colors and patterns – gingham checks and bold stripes were popular summertime choices. Find 1960s inspired capri pants.
The allure of the Capri pant lives on today, and rarely are they out of style. Team with a crisp shirt or blouse for a relaxed but smart style, or pair with a sweater and belt for a mid-century look. The styling possibilities for Capri pants is almost endless, which is a testament to their timeless popularity.