Christian Religious Activities: Clothing

Figure 1.--These American children appear to be Catholic. The photograph was probably taken in the 1910s. We are guessing that the older children here are doing their First Communion. I'm not sure why the younger children were included in the photograph. Unlike many photographs we know the children's names. Click on the image for more details.

Information on the clothing worn to church and church related activities provide some interesting information on the clothing boys wore during various historiacal periods. Religious garments once adopted tended to persist for cebturies--in effect freezing fashions . The formal clothing worn by children attending church services and events, howeve, is another matter. While such formal attite was often conservative--it did change with time. Some of the religious events we can identify by the clothing. In other cases we are not sure justg what the event is.


Boys used to be dressed in their best party suit for church. Beginning in the 1920s dress began to become less formal. Boys often would wear a sports jacket and tie or during the summer just a white shirt and tie. Conventions vary from church to church, but by the 1980s many boys no longer wore ties to church.

Altar Boy

Many Catholic boys have fond memories of seving as altar boys. Choir and altar-boy costume among Catholics varied widely from parish to parish. I understand that there is a similar variety of choir and altar-server costume among Anglicans/Episcoplians.

Sunday School

Families used to dress children in their best clothes and take them with them for church services. Gradually it became increasinly obvious that church was not the bestbplace for childrn. Some parents began sending smaller children to sunday school, alothough others insisted that the children attend both sunday school and church.


Different churches approach First Communion differently. Many pursue it indiviadually and at various ages. Others like the Catholic Church pursue in for whole school classes. More attention was given to girls' than boys' First Communion outfits. A boy traditionally wears a suit for these events, often a suit purchased for the event. This is less common today, even though girls continue to dress in new white dresses. Innsome countries, such as France, there was also a cerremoy for renewing one's vows. Children would also dress up for this event.


Weddings are the most formal event that most people partcipate in. Many of the traditiins assiociate with the modden wedding, including dressing a boy as a page, date from the Victorian era. Boys often dressed in their best suits for weddings. Beginning in the 1920s wedding atire for children could become less formal, especially during the summer. The ring bearers and ushers participating in the wedding, however, continue to dress formally in all but the most informal wedding.


Choirs in many European countries were established to provide musical accompaniment to religious services. Some of the great cathedrals have wonderful boy choirs with long traditions and extremely high standards. There are even some smakker churches that have choirs. In addition to the cathedral and church choirs there are now also nopw some wonderful secular clothes as well. In recent years girl and mixed children's choirs have also been formed.

Boy Bishops

A popular custom of the medieval Christian church was the Boy Bishop which became part of the Christ,as festival. This custom was very common in several European countries. A boy of the Cathedral choir (and later at schools as well) was elected on Saint Nicholas day (December 12). On the Eve of Feast of the Holy Innocent (December 28) he took with his colleagues possession of the cathedral performing all the ceremonies and offices except mass. Several ecclesiastical councils attempted to abolish or restrain the abuses of the custom, and the Council of Basel prohibited it in 1431. It was however too popular to be easily suppressed. In England it was finally abolished by Elisabeth I. An analogous custom survived until the late 18th century in Germany, were a schoolboy was elected as bishop in honour of St. Gregory the Great, the patron of schools.


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Created: April 7, 1998
Last updated: 1:42 AM 12/29/2004