Chronology of the Development of Modern Boys'
Clothing Styles: The 18th Century



Figure 1.--One of the artists who provided wonderfully detailed paintings showing how people dressed in the 17th century was English painter William Hogarth. This is the Graham children in 1742. It is held at the Tate Gallery. It is a wonderful depiction as to how children in a prosperous middle class family London, UK

Clothing styles in the 18th century, especially male, fashions for the first time begin to look more like modern fashions. European and American infants for much of the 18th century were normally swaddled which mean being bound to a board or neck which kept the neck and back straight. This was just the opposite of the modern concept of stimulating and developing activities to exercize an infants mind and body. Swadling was seen as benefecicial to both the child's moral character as well as his physical development. Swadling continued until about 2 years of age when boys anf girls alike were put into ankle-length dresses with leading strings. Little boys in the 18th century continued wearing dresses just like their sisters. Once breeched, men and boys wore the same styles. The only difference was that boys' outfits were pbviously scaled down to fit. Male garb in the 18th century was dominated by knee breeches and long stockings. Knee breeches were the pre-runner of modern trosers. Both men and boys wore them. There were no specialized boys clothes until the later decades of the century when the skeleton soon first appeared. Early skeleton suits had knee breeches, but soon they were made with long pants--well before gentlemen stated wearing trousers.

Chronology

The histoy of dedicated boys' clothing begins in the late 18th century. Until then boys after breaching wore outfits that were essentially scaled down versions of thir father's clothing. Except for the airistocracy and affluent middle class, boys' clothing was often the cut down clothing of their fathers or hand-me downs from older brothers.

The Early 18th Century

European and American infants for much of the 18th century were normally swaddled which mean being bound to a board or neck which kept the neck and back straight. Boys continued to be dressed as their fathers after they were breeched. The fashion in the early 1700s after breeching was knee breeches just like their fathers. Both men and boys wore knee breeches, often with long jackers. Children continued to wear scaled down versions of their parents clothes.

The Mid-18th Century

There were major develipments in in retailing and distribution and etiquette during the 18th century. It was the time of the rise of the dress designer and couturier. Important developments were made which would lead to the ruise of ready-made clothes in the next century. [Ribeiro] Little boys continued to wear dresses just like their mothers and sisters. At mid centurty, however, a novel idea began to develop in England--specialized fashions for children. For the first time, some English parents began dressing their sons in sailor suits, choosing the long pantaloons worn by sailors. This was the first time in the modern era tha some parents began to think of special juvenile styles designed specifically for children. The sailor suits proved popular with the boys. It did not, however, become widely worn until popularized by Queen Victoria and her growing family in the next century. 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.

The Late 18th Century

Social developments in the late 18th Century brought about marked reforms in children's costumes. Boys after breeching wore jackets and knee breeches. The first skeleton suits were worn with knee breeches. As the turn of the century approached, jackets became shorter and by the 1790s long trousers began replacing knee breeches. Workers had begun wearing trousers--the famous sans cullotes, literally the without short pants. They were considered crass and suitable only for peasants and laborers. Boys even artistocratic or wealthly merchant families began to dress boys in the long trousers as part of a skeleton suit. The skeleton suit was one of the most important innovations in modern boys' clothing. The open collar, loose blouse, and comfortable pantalettes and long pants were ideally suited for childhood and dominated boys' fashions by the 1790s.

Garments

Swadling clothes

European and American infants for much of the 18th century were normally swaddled which mean being bound to a board or neck which kept the neck and back straight. This was just the opposite of the modern concept of stimulating and developing activities to exercize an infants mind and body. Swadling was seen as benefecicial to both the child's moral character as well as his physical development.

Dresses

Swadling continued until about 2 years of age when boys anf girls alike were put into ankle-length dresses with leading strings. Little boys in the 18th century continued wearing dresses just like their sisters.

Suits

Once breeched, men and boys wore the same styles. The only difference was that boys' outfits were pbviously scaled down to fit. Male garb in the 18th century was dominated by knee breeches and long stockings. Knee breeches were the pre-runner of modern trousers. Both men and boys wore them. A HBC reader reports, "At the museum of Fine arts in Boston I attended a lecture where many of the portraits from the 18th century had wealthy gentlemen wearing coats with just 1 button at the chest and a vest underneath. The curator giving the tour of the portrait section stated that the reason the style was that way was to make the shoulders look small and the waist large. Small shoulders and large waist meant someone did not work the fields and was a sign of wealth." There were no specialized boys clothes until the later decades of the century when the skeleton soon first appeared. Early skeleton suits had knee breeches, but soon they were made with long pants--well before gentlemen stated wearing trousers.

Countries

We have begun to work on 18th century pages for individual countries. European fashion was stronhly influenced by two countries, both England and France. They set fashions in the Americans, at least for the colonists that could afford fshionable clothing. We currently only have an 18th century page for America. There fashion was not only influenced by European styles, but utility and Native Americans. Fashion at the time was very destincive with esily reconizable styles in China, India, and the Middle East. Styles were much less more static in these areas, especially Muslim North Africa and the Middle East.

Sources

Ribeiro, Aileen. Dress in Eighteen Century Europe: 1715-1789 Revised Edition (2002).

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston






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Created: October 10, 1998
Last updated: 1:39 AM 9/22/2012