Chronology of the Development of Boys' Clothing Styles

I'm building a chronology describing the development of boys' clothing styles. Currently only limited information is available for some decades and this is only a preliminary drafts. Please let me know if you have any material on the various periods or suggestions/corrections on what I have gathered so far:

1500s-1600s : Fashions changed very slowly before the modern era. Babies and young children wore dresses. The dresses for both boys and girls were vitually identical. Boys were "breeched" by 5 to 7 years of age and were immediately put into small replicas of the styles worn by their fathers. There was little in the way of styles designed specifically with children in mind.

1700s: Boys continued to be dressed as their fathers after they were breeched. The fashion of the day was knee breeches for both men and boys. A novel idea, however, developed in England. For the first time, some English parents at mid-century began dressing their sons in sailor suits, choosing the long pantaloons worn by sailors. For the first time in the modern era, some parents began to think of specialn juvenile styles designed specifically for children. The sailor suits proved popular with the boys. It did not, however, become widely worn until popularized by Quenn Victoria and her growing family in the next cebntury. It eventually proved to be one of the most enduring of all boyhood fashions, lasting nearly three centuries. In the latter part of the century new juvenile fashions developed, involving long trousers and frilly or ruffled open necked blouses--laying the basis for the Empire style of the early 1800s.

Early 1800s: Throughout the century, babies and toddlers were kept in dresses-- little different from those worn by their sisters. Both boys and girls wore white frilled lacey pantaletts under their frocks which covered their legs to their ankles. Some time between the ages 3 or 6 years, depending on mother's whims, boys were "breeched" or put into various styles of smocks/ tunics or suits, the Russian pleated tunic being one of the most common in the early decades of the 19th Century. Boys wearing tunics often continued wearing pantalets, perhaps less elaborate than those of their sisters. Older boys were allowed to wear various boyish styles of suits, such as and skeleton and sailor suits. The first two decades of the 1800s was the period in which the Empire fashion raised waistlines of women, girls, and small boys up under the arms. This basically classic style was viewed as charming and artistic. Many saw it as the most appropriate, of all children's costumes ever designed, especially for little girls--but some also considered it charming for boys. It served as the basis for Kate Greenaway's (1846-1901) lovely drawings and endless later day Valentine cards.

Mid-1800s: Babies and toddlers were still kept in similar dresses. The Victorians, however, introduced many new styles for boys. Victorian boys, after they graduated from their toddler dresses at about 5 or 6 years of age, were put into various styles of fancy suits, especially kilts, Russian box pleted tunnics with matching bloomers, and sailor suits. Styles were heavily influenced by Britain's Queen Victoria in the mid-19th Century who commonly dressed her sons in kilts and sailor suits. The appearance of the kilt for boys was an innovation as it had virtually disappeared in Scotland. The Victorians were extremely fond of these styles and there popularity carried over into the Edwardian period before the First World War. English styles greatly influence uper-class American dress and middle class Americans followed the styles adopted by the upper class.

Late 1800s: A variety of new styles appeared, including fancy Little Lord Fauntleroy suits, Buster Brown suits, and tunic suits. Kilts and sailor suits remained popular. Frances Hobson Burnett also had a major impact in the 1880s with the publication of Little Lord Fauntleroy. A generation of American and British boys were introduced to fancy velvet suits, often with elaborate lace collars and trim. Kilt suits continued much in vogue. Some mothers added long hair and curls to complete the effect. While mothers often adored this style, it was generally despised by even the youngest boys. Some mothers kept their sons in smocks. The boys involved had a variety of preferences.

1900-1920: Clothing styles for boys became some what less formal. Little boys emerged from dresses at earlier ages. Rompers for todlers and little boys became popular nursery attire. Little Lord Fauntleroy suits became less popular. Some mothers continued to choose them, but somewhat less fancy styles. Sailor suits continued to be very popular. Mothers in England often kept their sons in juvenile clothes until about 8 years old when they were sent off to their boarding schools. On the Continent even older boys wore sailor suits, even with short pants. Eventually as boys grew, they achieved the dignity of suits with below the knee pants. Eton suits with stiff white collars were commonly worn by English school boys. Some boys in knee length pants began wearing knickers, knee length pants which pursed out at the knee.

1920s: Sailor suits continued popular after the First World War, but for increasingly younger boys. Knicker suits became increasibly popular. For the younger boys after the First World War, short pants suits (short trousers for our British friends) worn with knee socks became increasingly common. The style at first was for rather long shorts extending all the way to the knee. Many English private schools adopted uniforms requiring colorful blazers and short pants. Short pants suits were worn by young teenagers in England and even older boys in Europe. European boys as old as 16 wore short pants suit. Some schools required that even secondary school children wear short pants. Younger boys in America wore short pants suits, but most boys wore knickers, even many American high school boys. Knickers were originall designed to be worn buckled above the knee. Some mothers insisted on this. Short pants were relatively long in England, usually worn just above the knee. The style soon spread to the continent where shorter lrngths became fashionable. English short pants suits were often gray, while black or navy blue was more popular in the United States. What ever the color or style, getting your first pair of long pants was a major rite of passage for American and European boys.

1930s: Mothers in France and other European countries increasingly selected shorter length shorts for boys. Very young American boys at the beginning of the decade wore shorts, but by the time they reached 8 or 9 years old, they wanted to wear knickers. Knickers by the end of the decade had begun to go out of fashion. Sneakers became increasingly popular for casual wear. Eton suits stiff collars and long trousers became increasingly less common in England as the decade progressed. Increasingly English schools turned to brightly colored and stripped blazers with short grey pants. Sailor suits for older boys disappeared in Britain and America, but were still seen on the Continent.

1940s: Knicker suits in America disappeared during the mid-1940s. Younger boys might wear short pants suits, but most wore knicker or more commonly by the middle of the decade, long pants suits. Conventions such as cuffs and pleats were ended as economy measures during the war. Boys increasingly asked for blue jeans for casual wear and picked up on GI "t" shirts after the War and sneakers grew in popularity. Jeans, "t" shirts, and sneakers were virtually unknown in Europe. British boys virtually all wore shorts until about 13, some longer if they went to a conservative school. Most Euriopean boys continued to wear primarily short pants suits, even some quite old boys on the Continent. While some boys wore longs, the predominate style was longs. Presumably the strained finaces of most families after the castastrophe of global war meant that some older teenagers were kept a little longer in shorts because of the cost of a new suit. The disruptions of the war meant that fashion was a largely frivalous concern until the recovery began to take hold toward the end of the decade. The development of synthetic fibers was intensified by the war and would hace a major impact on clothes and fashion after the war.

1950s: Short pants suits continued to be commonly worn by even older boys in Europe. American blue jeans, however, began to be seen in Europe for the first time. Jeans dominated the American boyhood fashion scene, although they were banned from most secondary schools. Short pants Eton suits became popular for younger American boys. American boys wore both long and short pants suits, few boys continued wearing shorts much beyond 10 or 11 years of age. Knee socks were much less common for boys than in Europe. American boys did begin to wear shorts as play clothes, especially in the South. Sailor suits disappeared for all but the younger boys. Eton suits appeared in the United States. They had jackets without collars and were worn with rather short short pants. Knee socks continued to be commonly worn in England, and Europe, but became increasingly rare for boys in America.

1960s: Young boys in America often wore shortalls. Slightly older boys might wear short pants Eton suits. A few older boys, mostly in weathy families, wore short pants suits, mostly black suits--unlike the grey suits more common in Europe. Shorts pants suits gradually disappeared, especially in America. But even in Europe by the late 1960s they were becoming increasingly rare. Dressy shorts continued to be somewhat more common in England and Scotland because many schools required them as part of a school uniform. Many schools on the Continent continued to insist on shorts, but this began to change after the Paris' student movement in 1969. British scouts went to long pants.

1970s: Little boys dressed up in shortalls and Eton suits. Some boys at about 7 would wear short pants suits, but in America such clothes were rarely seen on boys older than 10. Older American boys dressed up in suits little different from their fathers. Mostly they wore casual clothes with shorts becoming increasingly common. A major change occurred in Europe with shorts ans kee socks virtually disappearing on older boys who insisted on jeans and other informal American clothes. A few traditional private schools continued to insist on shorts. Older boys dressed up in suits little different from their fathers. Mostly they wore casual clothes with shorts becoming increasingly common. The hippies and flower children of the anti-war movement began to have a significant impact on fashion with long hair and colorful-old clothes, jeans, and military surplus clothes adopted by teenagers. For the first time "unkempt" clothes, a style intoduced by Americans with little social status began to infuence how middle and upper class children wanted to dress. Designer jeans apeared and became increasingly acceptable at schools and other occasions besides outdoor wear.

1980s: Short pants suits disappeared for all but the youngest boys. Informal shirts and play shorts, however, became wide-spread in America. During the early and mid-1980s boys wore quite short play shorts with atletic knee socks, influenced by the growing popularity of soccer and basketball. By the latter part of the decade, however, longer shorts first appeared on the Continent and became more common. Slowly many of the traditional English schools which had insisted on shorts dropped the requirement, especially for the older boys.

1990s : Virtually no boys, except for the very youngest dressed up in shorts. Toddlers often has long pants suits and outits, even long pants tuxedos. Log baggy shorts by mid-decade became common, part of the hip-hop fashion trend, in part inflenced by black basketball stars who objected to the short shorts basketball players formerly wore. Repeating a trend began in the late 1960s, a group with relatively little social status was setting fashion tends, the opposite of the pattern at the beinning of the Century and as recently as the early 1960s when the upper class set fashion. "T" shirts and caps are popular, especially when emblazoned with designer labels or logos.

Christopher Wagner

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Style Index] [Biographies] [Bibliographies] [Contributions]
[Boys' Clothing Home]