Eton Suits and Collars

English boys in the early decades of the 19th Century began wearing short jackets which came to be know as Eton suits as the fashion was worn at Eton school. Entry requirements at Public schools (private boarding schools) varied greatly during the first half of the 19th Century. Some schools accepted quite young boys. These younger boys might arrive in Russian tunics or other more juvenile attire. Many schools at the time did not have a detailed uniform that the boys had to wear. The Eton uniform was originally quite colorful, including blue jackets and res waist coats. The school adopoted black jackets in 1820 in morning for George III. The jacket was worn with a large stiff white collar. The collar certainly looks uncomfortable. One correspondent reports:

I was at a boot sale last summer. (Boot sales are an outdoor sale where people sell unwanted goods from their cars. I believe you Americans call them garage sales.) I happened upon some old Eton collars, plainly marked so on the inside. They were only size fourteen and a half but very wide and stiffly starched. I tried one about my neck and imagined what a penance it would be to have to wear all day and everyday - very irksome and confining.

The Eton unifom set the style for boys suits. Many boys eventually worn Eton suits even though they did not go to Eton School. Boys generally received their first Eton suit when they went to their boarding schools at about 12/13 years of age.

Actually Eton School had two different uniforms. The uniform we now think of with the stiff white collar and short jacket was the junior uniform. Senior boys wore long jackets with tails. Boys when they reached 5'4'' were allowed to wear the senior uniform. But this meant that shorter boys might have to wear the junior uniform even at 16 or 17. Finally in 19?? the school abolished the junior uniform and all boys now wear tails.

After the First World War, this style gradually began to disappear. For many years, many did not believe a boy poperly dressed with out the collar. Many schools continued to require them well after the collars had become generally unfashionable.

A spin off of the Eton suits became fasionable for small American boys beginning about 5 years of age. The suits had very short jackets with no lapels and were generally worn with very short short pants. The suit was usually worn without a tie with the collar folded over the jacket. A Peter Pan collar was usually used and not the stiff Eton collar formerly worn by British boys. Eton suits were worn until about 7 or 8 when the boy would given a more adult-looking suit with longer short pants or longs. The suits were generally blue or black with matching knee socks, but sometimes with ankel socks. Grey suits were also worn. Eton suits generally disappeared in the 1980s, although very small boys are still dressed in them. The shorts, however, in the 1990s tend to be knee length in contrast to the rather short shorts worn during the 1950s-70s.

Mothers in the 1990s have long since given up dressing all but the youngest boys in Eton suits. The fashion, however, appears to continue to appeal to the maternal instinct. Ladies collecting dolls often like to dress then in Eton suits and other fancy outfits. Of course the dolls have the advantage that they do as they are told without complaint.

Eton suits are still sometimes seen at formal weddings wear the ring bearer might be dressed in a blue or white Eton suit. Often white knee socks are worn at weddings, with both white and blue suits.

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Christopher Wagner

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