Boys Clothes: Kilts in the 1870s

Figure 1.--Unfortunately I do not have the date for this photograph. The Scottish kilt suggests probably the 1860s or 1870s. The short hair, pantalettes, and small collar would likely date the boy to the 1860s or early 1870s.

The kilts popularized by Queen Victoria continued to be a popular style for boys. It was most popular in Britain, but fashion magazines show that it was also worn in France. The style reached America in the 1840s, but it was not until the 1870s that large numbers of American boys--most with no or only the most tenous conection to Scotkand--were outfitted in kilts. It seemed an ideal choice for mother who were not yet ready to breech their sons. The kilt was the height of fashion for boys in England and France. It also crossed the Atlantic. It was not the Highland kilt, however that proved popular in America, but rather the kilt suit that had virtually no relationship with a true kilt, other than both were skirted garments.


A variety of diffrent styles were worn in the 1870s that were either kilts or related to the kilt style. Of paricular interest was the development of the kilt suit in America.

Highland kilt

The proper Highland kilt with a Scotch cap, short jacket, plaid kilt, sporan, and kneesocks was primarily a British fashion. Theu are seen in French fashion magazines, but I'm not sure how widely they were worn.

Figure 2.--This kilt outfit was shown in an 1879 American fashion magazine. Note the jacket is made of the same material as the kilt skirt, giving the appearance of a dress. Note the larger collars that appeared toward the end of the decade, but also note that it was worn open rather than closed which was the dominate style in the next decade.

Kilt suit

The kilt suit became an important fashion in the 1870s. They were widely worn in both France and America. In France they were usually not called kilt suits, but rather just suits. In America the term kilt suit was common. I'm noy sure how common the kilt suit was in Britain.

Plaid dresses

Kilts influenced dresses. Plaid dresses were especially popular for young boys. Presumably in the eyes of people in the 1870s, as the kilt was a man's garment, that made plaid a suitable material fora boy's dress. This is one of the first indicators that HBC has noted that parents and fashion designers were beginning to differentiate the dresses worn by young boys and girls.


One particularly popular style during the 1870s was double breasted styling. It was not only jackets that had double brasted styling. The skirts worn as part of the kilt suit might also have double breasted styling.

Country Trends

There was a great deal of similarity in the clothes worn by boys in the 1870s, but the kilt was one fashion which varied substaintally among countries.



French boys in the 1870s might wear a Highland kilt with varying levels of the accompanying acoutements. Boys also wore skirtred suits. Fashion magazines show them in sizes up to age 8 years. They were generally referred to as just suits, not kilt suits.


I do not think German boys commonly wore kilts, it was probably to identifiably British for the nationaltically inclined Germans--due in part to their recent emergence as a new nation. I'm not sure if kilt suits were worn.


Figure 3.--Identifying gender and assigning the date to unmarked photographs is often difficult. HBC beieves, however, that this is probably an American boy dressed in a kilt suit during the 1870s. The front buttoning jacket suggests a boy. The small collar, but good sized bow suggests the 1870s. Note the ringlets.

United States

American boys did not commonly wear Scottish Highland kilts. Rather they wore kilt suits where the jacket and kilt were the same fabric. The colors did not include bright red plaids like the dresses the boys wore, but rather dark muted plaids. One American clothing magazine in 1879 comtained the following description, "For a boy of 4 to 6 years we have a large plaid, in blue and green, made double breasted, and with a kilted skirt. Over this is a wide belt, cut on the bias, and bound on bith edges with a braid. This is lined with stiff crimoline, and fastened on the dress in place, except in front where it is left loose, and fastens with a button and buttonhole. Pointed cuffs and a large turnover collar, square at the back, over which a linnen one edged with lace or Hamburg, is to be worn. If preferred, the kilted skirt can be arranged to an under vest. It that case, the upper part is made into a short paletot, and instead of the belt, trim the edge of the paletot with a wide cross band of the plaid, piped either with silk, or bound with braid. Large, smoke pearl are bone buttons are used (figure ?).

Christopher Wagner

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
[Return to the Main 1870s chronology page]
[Return to the Main kilt page]
[The 16th century] [The 17th century] [The 18th century] [The 1800s] [The 1810s]
[The 1820s] [The 1830s] [The 1840s] [The 1850s] [The 1860s] [The 1870s]
[The 1880s] [The 1890s] [The 1900s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web dress pages:
[Pinafores] [Sausage curls] [Smocks] [Bodice kilts] [Kilts] [Fauntleroy dresses]
[Sailor dresses] [Fancy dresses]
[Dresses: 16th-18th centuries] [Dresses: Early-Mid-19th century]
[Dresses: Late-19th century] [Dresses: Early 20th century]
[Difficult images] [Movie dresses]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Material] [Chronology] [Countries] [Activities] [Photography] [Clothing styles] [Biographies] [Bibliographies] [Contributions]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: December 17, 1999
Last updated: December 17, 1999