Boys Clothes: The 1910s

Figure 1.--Boys in the years after the turn of the century through the First world War commonly wore sailor hats even when not wearing sailor suits. Note the two different style hats.

Boys fashions at the beginning of the decade were little changed from the turn of the century. Formal dress was still common, although the freshair and sunshine movement had some impact. Boys commonly wore knee pants, although in america, knickers becane sandard for boys. World War I proved to be a major dividing point. Many major changes occurred after the War and by the 1920s boys were dressing very differently than at the turn of the century. It is unclear just how the War had this impact. It certainly had the impact of destroying all the old certanties of pre-War Europe.


Some of the major changes emerging during the decade included:
Dresses: Some mothers still dressed their younger boys in dresses, but the convention of dressing young boys in dresses and kilt suits became increasingly less common.
Shorts: Boys began wearing shorts with knee socks rather than knee pants and long stockings. The shorts worn in the 1910s, however, were quite long. This was much more common in Europe than America.
Fauntleroy suits: Fauntleroy suits were still commonly worn at ther beginning of the decade, but by the end of the decade were not genereally worn, except in modified versions on special occasions.
Sailor hats: Boys at the beginning of the decade commonly wore different styles of sailor hats, often with dangling streamers. By the end of the decade this style had almost disappeared.
Knickers: Knickers had been worn for decades. Until the turn of the century, however, kneepants were more commonly worn by boys in America. (I'm less sure about Britain.) Knickers became more commin in the 1900s and by the 1910s most American boys were wearing knickers. Quite old boys wore knickers, some all the way through high school. I think older boys wore knickers/knee pants as part of suits than during any other period in America history.
Stockings: Boys still commonly wore long over the knee stockings at the beginning of the decade. By the end of the decade knee socks had become increasingly common.

The sailor suit fashion continued popular in the 1910s. Styles at the beginning of the decade were little changed than at the turn of the century, except that shorts and knickers largely replaced knee pants. By the end of the decade sailor suits were being worn by increasingly younger boys in Britain and America, although older boys continued to wear them in Germany and other European countries. Most American boys wore knickers, often including high school age boys.

Figure 2.--This boy sports a sailor suit typical of the early 1910s. Note the longish short pants and knee socks.


Natural fibers (linen, cotton, wool, and silk) used, with rayon (artificial silk) a new invention in 1910. Rayon invented in 1910 as the first artificial fiber. It was introduced to common fashion in the late teens, but used by Chanel as early as 1915. Medium to heavyweight fabrics like serge and gabardine seen for everyday wear. Jersey and denim?? were popular fabrics for pay clothes.

Fashion Conventions

Although bow, lace, and ruffles were commonly used for boys clothes in the late 19th century, many boys did not wear these styles. There were always some who quetioined this fashion. These voices by the 1910s, especilly after World War I, were becoming the dominate voice. One such voice was De Pinna Company. The 1917 De Pinna Co. catalog wa issued in hard over. De Pinna was an important New York retailer. It was located on 5th Avenue with other exclusive retailers and was the New York branch of an English boys clothing store that was founded in London, 1880, so I presume that the text was written by them.) The catalog advises, "The manly appearance of an English lad is always noticeable. Over there, the dressing of boys and young men has been standardized for years. There is lacking in their dress that suggestion of feminine intervention which has crept at times into the dress of American boys. There is no reason why any good healthy American boy should be decked in ribbons, frills, and laces. There is every reason why he should wear--according to his station in life--clothing and accessories that closely resemble those of men ..." The text runs on another few pages to tout the importance of "manly" attire... It is interesting that this word is no longer used in children's fashion ads It certainly was used a lot around the early 1900s! One wonders why the term fell out of favor. Sometimes the changing rhetoric of fashion is just as mysterious as fashion trends themselves. Also note the phrase "good, healthy". There is a psychological implication here. Did men innately regard a boy who is ill or a invalid as more the property of his mother than a "good, healthy" boy? One factor that needs to be considered is that De Pinna was a menswear retailer. Boys were likly to be brought there by their fathers and thus frilly clothes would not normally offered there. Fancier outfits were more likely to be found at dress shops which commonly offered clothes for young boys nad department stores. In both these, it would be more likely that boy would be likely to be bought by their mothers.

Hair Styles

We have begun to collect some infoemation about hair styles for boys in the 1910s. The elaborte long hair styles, both ringlet curls and straight hair continued to declinein popularity, but had not yet disappeared. Those boys still wearing curls were more likely to have shorter curls. Also it became increasingly rare to find school age boys in curls. One veru popular style for boys were bangs. This was the case in many countries. Mostr school age boys wore short haor cut around the ears. This was worn both with bangs and with side parts. Mosy but not all boys had left parts.

Figure 3.--This American boy wears a new short pants suit with long stockings. The photograph appears to have been taken in the late 1910s.

National Trends

We have begun to collect some unformation on boys' clothing trends in other countries during the 1910s. Most of this information concerns America and European countries at this time. There were still destinct national differences in the 1910s, but a variety of common styles like sailor suits. Wold war I began in 1914 and impacts from the War can be seen in combatant countries. Some of the major trends in individual countries were as follows.


Little American boys still wore dresses. The age for outfitting boys in dresses began to decline and it was now rare to see a boy much above 5 years old still in a dress. The styles for these dresses also became much less fancy than a decade earlier. This was the last decade in which boys were commonly outfitted in dresses. These changes were particularly notable after the end of the World War in 1918. Sailor suits remained a popular style for boys at the beginning of the decade, but had declined in popularity by the end of the decade. Sailor suits with short pants or knickers were popular for little boys. The sailor suit was rarely worn with long pants, as older boys no longer wanted to wear them by the end of the decade. Boys still wore kilt suits at the beginning of the decade, but this style had virtually disappeared by the end of the decade. Boys wore modern looking suits toward the end of the decade. Younger boys wore short pants, usually with long stockings as keen socks were not considered dressy enough for formal occasions. Older boys wore knicker suits. The Norfolk jackets were very popular.

Figure 4.--This upper class English family was photographed in 1910. It shows a cross section of fashion worn by children in the 1900s. The ages of the children are: Clare (b. 1896), Bim (b. 1897), Christopher (b. 1899), David (b. 1902), Stephen (b. 1906). Note the knickers worn by the older boys, the strap shoes and short pants worn by David and the dress by Stephen. For a closeup of Stephen, click on the image.


Shorts pants, or trousers as the British refer to them, became increasingly common for boys. Older boys wore knickers, often with Eton collars. Younger boys were still often kept in dresses. Kilts, Fauntleroy suits, and sailor suits were popular styles at the beginning of the decade, but by the end of the decade these styles had become less common and boys were more likely to be dressed in short pants and a suit jacket or blazer. Eton collars were still considered necessary for formal occasions.

Figure 5.--Postcards from France provide insights into period boys' outfits. This boy wears a tunic outfit. The long shorts on such a small boy date the image to the 1910s or very early 1920s.


I have little specific information on French clothing during this period. We do know that as in Britain and America the practice of dressing smakk boys in dresses declined, especially after the War. French mothers, however, turned to smocks to a much greater extent than in Britain or America. Smocks and smock-like garments were very popular in France. Schoolboys wore smocks to school. Sailor suits were popular, but not as popular as in Germany. Short pants were growing in popularity, but still were rather longish. This was to change during the 1920s. French mothers also liked the look of white kneesocks on boys as well as girls. White kneesocks in America and Britain were usually worn by girls or very small boys. White kneesocks also became popular in Germany, but not nearly as popular as in France. Hopefully some of our readers can provide more detailed insights.


HBC has only limited information or photographs that can be specifically attributed to the 1910s. Some of the avaialble school photographs, however, do provide some information that is either dated or for which HBC has estimated the dates. Because German schools did not normally require school uniforms, the clothes boys wore to school provide a good cross section of boys wear during this period. We hope to pursue chronological information on clothing in greater detail. Until we are able to do this, available information from school photographs is instructive. We note considerable variation from school to school. This may reflect regional and demographic variables. Some boys wear sailor suits, but they are not as popular as they were in the 1900s. Many boys have suit coats with Norfolk styling.


I have no specific information on Italian clothing during this period, but hope that some of our readers can provide interesting insights.

Individual Boys

We are compiling some information about individuals in the 1910s. In some cases we have some information about their lives. In other cases we have just the name or an especially interesting photograph.

1911: Raymond Bykes: America--messenger boy

1916: Harold Walker: America--agricultural laborer

Girls Clothes

While HBC focuses on boys clothing, we have collectd considerable information on girls' clothinng as well. Here you can view some of the clothes worn by girls during the 1900s. There are large numbers of images of girls outfits, almost all dressess, archieved on HBC, both in America and Europe. White dresses were popular. Often girls wore their dresses with pinafores. Girls also commonly wore smocks. Weare less sure to what extent girls wore tunics and rompers. Hair bows were especially popular--sone remarkably large.

Fresh Air and Sunshine Movement

German doctors found the cause of tuberculosis and developed the closed institution or sanatoriia approach to treating the disease (1880s). And a central focus was exposing the suferers with a healthful environment including fresh air and sushine. This was a major shift as until the 1880s the general approach was to wrap up children from head to toe. A factor here was modesty, but protecting children from both fresh air and sunshine was also a factor. Slowly we begin to see attitudes toward fresh air and sunnshine changing and those attitudes beginning to affect fashions. This was notable in the 1890s. We note, for example, more boys wearing knee pants, cut shorter, and to an older age. And in Europe, fewer boys wearing long stockings with knee pants. Swimsuits begin to become more sensible. This varied from country to country. The impact on fashion in the 1890s was still limited, but we begin to see the beginning of important fashion shifts. Other related dsevelopments can also be seen such as the summer camp movement in America which was an effort to get kids out of the polluted cities abd into the fresh air and sunshine of thge countryside. These trends were even more pronounced by tge 1900s even though there was still a pronounced foirmality in dress. The Scouts appeared in the 1900s were an effort to get youth involved in outdoor activities. We also see the appearance of barefoot sandals. Tghe trends were ecven more notably in the 1910s as they merged with the new casual styles introduced during World War I.


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Created: October 12, 1998
Last updated: 1:18 AM 4/12/2012