Jackets and Trousers
Boys began wearing the modern style of jackets and trousers in the early
19th Century. There were endless variation of this theme, centering on the
style of the jascket and length of the pants. Generally boys wore dresses
when very young and then after they were breeched would wear a variety
of costumes such as
Often when he was about 12 or 13 he would receive a relativlu adult
looking jacket and trousers. One
fashion columnist wrote in 1843:
In my opinion a boy when he leaves off wearing a tunic should only wear a
single-breasted jacket. As he grows older, say at 12 years of age ...
a smartly made and well-fitted double-breasted jacket makes a nice kind
of transition between the juvenile single-breasted jacket and the more manly frock
(i.e. frockcoat). [J. Couts, Practical Guide, 1843.]
Over time, boys have had several different jacket styles to
- Norfolk suit:
- Double breasted suit:
Boys have also worn pants and trousers of different length. [Note:
the authors have generally chosen the American word pants. In
the proper word would be trousers, pants in Britain refer to
were common in the first decade of the 19th Century, but had generally been
replaced by knee-length pants and long stockings by the 1860s
boys under 12 years of age, but some older boys were also wearing
them. The age of boys wearing knee pants gradually increased in the
Century. By the turn of the Century even older teenagers commonly
wore knee pants.
The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine
reported in 1863 that the knickerbocker suit "reigns supreme". It contibued to do
well into the first half of the 20th Cenuary. The development appears
to be a little later in America, but eventually American boys were
also in knee-lenght pants. The knee pants were full, closed at the knee with
buckles or buttons, or simply
cut off at the knee.
The fashions for the pants worn with suits appears to have been roughly:
- 1860s: Knee-length pants become common in England during the
late 1850s and early 1860s. Knee pants by the late 1860s had spread
to America, especially among affluent families in the major cities.
- 1870s: The knee pants became closer fitting, appearing almost
like knee breches.
- 1880s: A Lord & Taylor' catalog for 1891 showed various juvenile styles
for boys up to 11, but jackets and suits with pants cut off at the knees
for boys from 5-12. Longpants suit were available for boys beginning at 10. Often
the legs were slped for a close fit below the knee, Knee pants still commonly appeared as trousers cut off at the
knees, according to Woman's World in 1888. As the decade progressed, knee pants
were increasinly worn by older boys.
- 1890s: The fashion magazine The Delineator describes knee pants suits for boys
up to 16 years.
- 1900s: A clothing catalog offers knee pants suits for boys, some with waist sizes
up to 28 inches (about 16 years) and others up to 33 inches (18 or
- 1910s: Shorts were still relatively rare, but knee pants now often bloused up
and were closed above the knee. They were usually worn with over the knee stockings,
but small boys during the summer might be seen with bare legs. An American clothing
catalog in 1919 offered
of various styles.
Younger styles for boys from 3/5-8/9 and older styles for boys from
Short pants and knee socks appeared in England before World War I (1914-18) and
became common in Europe during the 1920s. At first they were knee length, but
gradually became shorter, especially on the Continent. Shorts appeared in
America after World War I, but knickers were much more
popular with boys. A clothing catalog in 1923 offered knicker suits for boys
up to 18 years.
- 1930s: Short pants were commonly worn in Europe, but
in America knickers
were the primary suit pants, except for very small boys.
- 1940s: British and European boys continued to wear shorts. In
America knickers began to disppear and by the end of the decade were
- 1950s: Boys in England and Europe commonly wore short
pants suits. It
was lest common in America and mostlt for younger boys.
- 1960s: Shorts were still commonly worn in England and the Continent
at the beginning of the decade. British catalogs, for example
offered smartly tailored grey dress shorts,
commonly worn fo school, for boys with waists up to 26 1/2 inches and in
some cases up to 28 incjes which would be about 15 or 16 years.
in short pants suits generally declined during the decade in both
England and Europe.
- 1970s: Short pants suits for boys generally went out of
fashion in Europe during the decade. Some smaller boy
although might wear them. English boys often wore short pants, but
generally with blazers
as part of a school uniform. (A few schools had grey suits as a
uniform rather than blazers.)
American boys over 7 rarely wore shor pants suits.
- 1980s Almost all boys except for the very smallest wore
long pants suits. Some boys during the summer might wear blue
blacers and chino shorts, usually if accompanying their parents to
some social event, but for all but the smallesr--never with knee socks.
Note: Space limitations do not permit me to provide more
information on jackets and trouser styles or
photographs of the great variety of styles. There is,
however, a great deal of additional information and many historical photographs
on the expanded Boys Historical Clothing web site. For details click
Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
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