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 tunic suits, smocks, kilts, and sailor suits.

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.]

Boys have also worn pants and trousers of different length. [Note: the authors have generally chosen the American word pants. In British English the proper word would be trousers, pants in Britain refer to underwear.] Long trousers were common in the first decade of the 19th Century, but had generally been replaced by knee-length pants and long stockings by the 1860s boys under 12 years of age, but some older boys were also wearing them.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 late 19th 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 19 years).
  • 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 knicker suits of various styles. Younger styles for boys from 3/5-8/9 and older styles for boys from 8-15 years.
  • 1920s: 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 rarely seen.
  • 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. Dressing 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 here >>>>>> Expanded Site.

    Christopher Wagner


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

    Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
    [Early 19th century] [Mid-19th century] [Late 19th century] [1900s] [1910s] [1920s] [1930s] [1940s] [1950s]

    Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
    [Skeleton suits] [Eton suits] [Norfolk jackets] [Kilts] [Knicker suits] [Blazers] [Short pants suits] [Long pants suits]