Norfolk jackets

Norfolk Jackets and Suits

Norfolk jackets appeated in England around the 1860s. They are often associated with outdoor activities in England, especially shooting and fishing. They were immediately adapted for boys and the fashion persisted through the 1920s.

The Norfolk suit appears to be a rather cumbersome attire, especially as it is often associated with sporting. It appears to have encased a boy in thick tweed or a similar material (always lauded by the makers as extremely 'hardwearing' material in an effort to entice thrifty parents. From available photographs it does indeed appear to have been usuallu made with very sustantial materials. The standard Norfolk suit had a high-buttoning jacket and integral belt. It was was standard everyday wear for many well-dressed British boys as well as some American boys. The style, howerver, never proved popular on the Continent.

Norfolk suits in their heyday of from about 1870-1930 were usually worn by boys with with two standard assecories:
Eton collars: Most photographs show that the Norfolk was usually worn with a stiff Eton collar which does not appeared to have added to the comfort of the boy alread encased in the redoubtable tweed suit. It was much more common for boys, as well as adults, to be formally dressed than in our modern era. Thus boys would wear a Norfolk suit and Eton collar for many occasions that would today call for casual clothes. Affluent and middle class families liked their children to be well dressed properly dressed at all times, as his atire and deportment reflected on them.
Knickers: Norfolk suits were generally worn by boys with knickers, or knickerbockers to our British friends. The knickers were worn with thick woollen stockings and heavy boots, whether for work or for play.

The style of the Norfolk jacket changed little overtime. The style of the knickers or knee pants associated with them, however, did change.

As uncomfortable as the Norfolk suit appears, we should remember in our era with common central heating that British homes were not well heated. Thus the stout Norfolk jacket was probably well suited for winter or cool weather wear. Another factor to consider is that Norfolk jackets appeared at about the same era as Little Lord Fauntleroy suits. Note that one almost never seesva boy in long hair wearing a Norfolk suit. They appeared to have been primarily purchased for boys after they had reached about 8 years old and had been sent off to their boarding school. Kilts were another alternative, also popular among doting mothers. Thus many a British boy may have welcomed the more grown-up looking Norfolk suit. Another alternative was the sailor suit, which would appear to have been a much more comfortable mode of dress.

Litterary References

Norfolk jackets were often mentioned by novelists in the later 19th and early 20th cebturies:

Robins, Elizabeth in Our Little Sister (1913): What was happening at home all this time? I began to walk faster, with a great misery at my heart. What was the good of this man who wasn't a general practitioner? He was too like all the other broad-shouldered young golfers in Norfolk jackets--far too like them, to help in so dire a need as ours.

Lewis, Sinclair in Our Mr. Wrenn (19??): He noticed, as he went, that the men crossing the green were mostly clad in Norfolk jackets and knickers, so he purchased the first pair of unrespectable un-ankle-concealing trousers he had owned since small boyhood, and a jacket of rough serge, with a gaudy buckle on the belt. Also, he actually dared an orange tie!


Norfolk suits: The British Boys' Costume Gallery has some wonderful photographs of the Norfolk suits worn by British boys.

Christopher Wagner

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Last updated: March 30, 1998