As the 19th Century progressed, another garment was added to the small boy's wardrobe--a smock-like tunic. The tunic suit was a form of jacket, close-fitting to the waist, with a gathered or pleated skirt. Lengths varied, but many of the early tunics fell to mid-calf. The length became shorter as the century progressed. It usually buttoned down the front. Unlike the skeleton suit which was not belted, tunics (unlike true smocks), often were belted at the waist. The belt was frequently quite broad. Tunics suits were worn from the 1820s (some authors give a later date)to the 1870s.

The tunic was the costume in all-white linen or merino that American boys were put into when "breeched," an event which visually took place about the age of 4-5 years of age, but some doting mothers might delay until 5 or even 6. Little Victorian boys, after they graduated from their toddler dresses wore a variety of these smock-like garments before they began wearing more boyish skeleton suits or Eton suits.

Tunics for little boys even at mid-Century provided many opprtunities for a doting mother to fuss over her son. Boys wore long pantaletes (drawers) or pants under their tunics. Small boys between 3 and 6 might wear tunics with white frilled drawers showing below the hem. This style lasted into the 1850s. Older boys would, of course, wear planer pants. The tunics themselves tended to be quite plain, often in subdued colors such as dark blue and brown. The principal adornment was a ruffled or lace collar. Even older boys wearing plain pants rather than little boy lacey pantaletes, might wear elaborate lace collars. In some cases these collars were quite large, some extending to and covering the sholders. Boys' sleeves were as diversified in shape as were their sisters', slim, full and leg-o'-mutton.

Boys wore caps and hats like their fathers' even to the topper.

The suits of older boys comprising trousers, short jackets, waistcoat and white shirt with lay-down collar was known to Americans as the Eton because it was worn by boys at England's prestigious Eton College, England. The Eton suit set a fashion standard for a generations of English schoolboys.

During the Romantic Period in the 1830's there was quite a flare for dressing boys in historical costume, especially in Europe. They were garbed in doublets, hussar tunics, Spanish dress, the Van Dyck style and Turkish too. In many cases the tunics were done up in romantic versions of these outfits, in other occasions complete outfits were worn. The trend in America was to emulate preceived British styles. American mothers often chose Scottish kilt and the sailor suit, both an influence of Queen Victoria's love for Balmoral Castle and the baby Prince of Wales.

All legs whether of boy or girl were covered to the ankles by trousers, pantaloons which were those fulled or shirred at the ankles, and pantalets. Another feature of the 1830's was the apron or pinafore for little girls and small boys. One reads that those of fine white muslin, white cross-barred cambric and printed calico were not as fashionable as aprons of silk, green in color and made with brettelles, the whole edged with self-ruching. The crinoline ranges between 18-10 and 1865 and was the silhouette of the period for all females large and small. Like that of the grown-ups, the crinoline of the 1840s was a full petticoat corded and stiffened with crin, the French word for horsehair braid. The crinoline was also bolstered by several starched skirts over one of flannel. In the 1850s came the petticoat of wire hoops held together by tapes, an American invention called the American cage in Europe. It was very light in weight and a wonderful relief after the wearing of such a clutter of muslin underskirts. By the 1860s the skirt fullness was being pushed toward the back in the trend to the bustle of the 1870s. Regardless of full skirts, pantalets were still in the picture but very often they had turned into long frilled drawers. Stockings striped round the legs in bright colors came into vogue for boys and girls. Shoes for both were the flat-soled strap slipper, while for outdoors an ankle-high shoe with elastic sides was proper and popular.

As the century progresed, tunics for boys got progressively shorter. One of the most popular styles were Russian box-pleated tunics with matching blomers and/or knickers. In the early decades of the 19th Century boys wore long trousers under their tunics which could be quite long. Neither boys or girls exposed their bare legs. Some younger boys might wear lace trimed pantalettes under their tunics instead of long trousers. As the Century progressed boys knee length garments for boys appeared. For the most part boys in knee length garments wore long stockings, but some younger boys began to appear with bare knees, a fashion to be developed in the 20th Century. Boys still in tunics by the end of the 19th Century commonly wore knee-length bloomers and, unlike his early 19th Century predecesor, rather than long trousers. This fashion disappeared after the First World War. Some wealthy European children, however, continued to be dressed in tunic-like smocks at home into the 1920s.

Related Links

Additional Information

  • Historical information

Christopher Wagner


Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Smocks] [Buster Brown suits] [Kilts] [Style Index] [Biographies] [Boys' Clothing Home]