Chronology of the Development of Boys' Clothing Styles

Figure 1.--This Georgian minature is unidentified and undated. We believe that it was probably painted around 1810. The blue jacket and brass buttons show a decidely milatary influence. We wonder if he might even be a young British midshipman.

HBC is building a chronology describing the development of boys' clothing styles. Our focus is on the modern era. Yet it is not possibe to fully understand the modern era without an assessment of earlier periods. Thus we have decided to provide some basic background history on human civilization from the dawn of man. We will not persue these early epocs in the same detail as the modern era, but we believe that it is seential to look at ancient civilizations to begin our assessment of clothing and fashion. The medueval era is particularly important in understanding the evolution of modern garments and fashions. We have concentrated on Western fashion, but we will also look at the advancement of civilizatioin in other areas as well. We do this in part because developments in the East have had a major impact and not always fully understood impact on the West. Our knowledge of non-European fashions and clothing is limited, but we will add this information as well as it becomes available. Our focus is on clothing and fashion, but of course some basic understanding of the overall society is needed to understand clothing trends which are strongly influenced by the overall technological level of a civilization. And as a coralary the fashions of a civilization or era offer insights into that period that are not always availavle or reflected in the written record.

Human Hair

Human beings are the only primate without copious hair or fur. This is and the erect stance are the two major detinctions between humanoids and other primates. The loss of fur opened several oportunities for humanoids. It meant that human ancestors could sweat more allowing them a greater degree of heat regulation. This was important because it allowed for running longer distances which was a competitive advantage and a factor in the upward stance. It also created a need for clothing to provide warmth on cool days or at night. Clothes of course would not have developed if there was not need for them. The problem here is that almost all we know about humnoid ancestors is the fosilized bones that have been recovered. And bones can only tell us so much. Bones can not tell us when our ancestors lost their hair. Imaginative anthropologists now speculate that this was probably about 3 million years ago, well before the emergence of humanoids. The evidence of this comes from of all things lice, specifically crab or public louse. And the these lice or unrelated to the more common human head and body lice. Crab louse are related to gorilla lice. This means that our ancestors caught them from another species. So by determining when this separate species developed, we have a rough estimate as to when our primate ancestors began to lose their hair. Because DNA mutations occur at a relatively constant rate, the time of separation can be calculated and this turns about to have been about 3 million years ago. [Rogers, et. al.] Confirmation can be found in studying the gene governing skin color which became more important with the loss of fur. The primate involved was a still small ape-like species. This does not mean that this was w\hen clothing first appeared, but it is when the need for clothing first appeared.

Neolithic Clothing

No one knows when humanoids made the first clothing. Some recent work suggests that early humanoids began making clothes much earlier than previously believed. Again the evidence comes from lice. There are two types of human lice, head lice and body or clothing lice. The two species are related and body lice evolved from head lice. So the species evolutionary differentiation can provide a rough approximation as to when clothing developed, again assessing DNA mutations. This means that clothing first appeared about 170,000-83,000 years ago. [Touos, et. al.] It occurred while anatomically modern humans were still in Africa. This was a major development because until man could make clothing, he could not survive in the colder climate found north of Africa in Europe and Asia. The development of clothing was necessary before humanoids could move out of Africa into the colder climates to the north. Almost certainly the first clothes were animal skins. Here there were two steps. First was just draping amimal skins over their bodies. The next step was to begin manipulating these skins in some way to make them more effective and easier to wear. Unknown is precisely when people first took the step from just draping animal skins on them to actually fashioning crude garments. This was the true beginning of clothing. No one knows for sure when this occurred and when various plants began to be used. This required a much greater technological level. There is little direct evidence that anthropolgists have been able to develop about clothing worn in prehistory, primarily because clothing deteriorates over time. And early clothing is very rare even from ancient cultures, let alone the neolitic period. Textiles abnd furs are very fragile and simply do not exist for early humanoids. Some fascinating finds in the Middle Eastern deserts or the Ice man in the Alps provide fascinating information about the clothing of early man, but not about when man began wearing clothes. Anthropolgists believe that bone needles and other artifacts suggest that people were sewing clothes at least 25,000 years ago and possibly as much as 40,000 years ago. .

Ancient Clothing

An associated aspect of the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution was the cultivation of fiberous plants and the domestication of animals with wool and lether than could be used for clothing. Weaving was a major technological advance. Initially txtiles were very simple and men simply wrapped them around the body. Over time humans developed more form fitting garments. bearing animalss and the development of the technology to produce We know a great deal about some ancient civilizations and virtually nothing about others. Until Greece and Rome, our knowledge of ancient clothing is based largely on the level and survival of artistic depictions. As clothing is made out of textiles that are perhisble, there are relatively few surviving garments. Some exist, but artistic depictions are the primary source of information. With Greece and Rome we have surviving texts that provide information on clothing and fashion.

Medieval Europe

Our information on medieval clothes is still limited. It is not a topic that we have yet addressed in detail. HBC focuses primarily on the modern era beginning with the 16th century. The medieval period covers a period of about 1,000 years, half of the time since the birth of Christ. One might expect that as a result there were great changes in clothing and fashion over this period. Surprisingly there was relatively little change in fashion, especially during the early medieval era. The pace of change quickened in the late-medieval era. We have not yet developed information on many specific garments. One destinctive medieval garment was stockings. They were called "haut de chausse" in France, a country which was very influential in fashion during the medieval era. There is a page on medieval stocking supporters. Assessing children's clothing is somewhat of a misnomer as the comcept of childhood as we know it today did not esist at the time. Very young boys wore dresses. Once breeched, however, boys were clothed much like their parents. There was no specially designed children's clothing. Another important factor is that clothing was determined by social class. The peasantry for centuries wore essentially the same clothing. Fashion was a phenomenon of the upper classes. At this time the only work we have done on medieval fashion has been that of page boys. Here page boys can be considered as basically similar to aristocratic boys in general.

Middle East

We cover the Middle East in ancient times in the aincncient civilization pages. With the Islamic conquest, clothing an fashion were significantly affected by Islamic dress codes. Also very important is Ottoman fashions in that the Ottoman Empire controlled much of the Middle East for several centuries.

Medieval Asia

Medieval Africa

Native American Civilizations

The Modern Era

The modern chronolgy pages explore the relationship between children's and adults' fashions as well as broader developing social trends in our modern era . The modern chronology pages begin with the 16th century (1500s). This is after the Renaissance had opened the eyes of Medieval Europeans and Cloumbus had completed his voyages opening the new World and the era of discoveries. These and other developements were to lead to a European intelectual, economic, and military expansion that was to create our modern world. The focus of the modern chronolgy pages is the era beginning with late-18th Century when boys' suits began to depart from the tradition of clothing children as miniature adults. The chronolgy pages then chroicle the development of specilized children's clothes, decribing the popular styles in each decade. And of course we are able to say much more when photograph appers (mid-19th century), providing vast numbers of imges which can be used to follow trends.

Country Chronologies

Many readers are interested in fashion trends concerning specific countries. HBC has prepared chronologies for many countries. Here our readers have assisted with infomation and images. Most of these country chronologies are for countries in North America and Europe. HBC is an American-based site and American images are particularly plentiful. Thus our American chronology is especially detailed. We also have chronologies for the more important European countries. We have quite a bit of information on England, Frabce, Germany, and Italy. We have less detailed information about other comtries, although we have some information on Japan. Some European countries have been especially important in the world of fashion. Italy was particully important in the medieval era as was France. Britain which developed a huge fabric industry as part of the Industrial Revolution became particularly important in male fashion. Grance became especially importantin the women's fashion world beginning in the 18th century. Germany also developed a large clothing industry and influenced fashion throughout Central and Eastern Europe. America for many years fillowed European trends. America's first major fashion contribution was the Fauntleroy suit which appeared in the 1880s. in the 20th century had a major influence on the casual fashions tht became popular after World War II. These are some of the larger countries and fortunately there is a wealth of photographic evidence avilabke for fashion researchers. As HBC develops we are gradully adding chronology pages on many smaller countries as well.

Time Line

The history of boys' fashions and changes over time, like other types of fashions, are intermingled with many other developments in publishing, photography, cloth and clothing manufacturing, war and social upheaval, book and magazine publishing, and other developments. HBC though it might be useful to develop a time line to sketch out the chronology of these events over a long time period.


Rogers, R.A., D. Iltis, and S. Wooding. "Genetic variation at the MC1R locus and the time since loss of human body hair, Current Anthropology Vol. 45, (2004), pp. 105-108.

Toups, Melissa A., Andrew Kitchen†, Jessica E. Light5, and David L. Reed*. "Origin of Clothing Lice Indicates Early Clothing Use by Anatomically Modern Humans in Africa, Molecular Biology and Evolution (MBE) Vol. 28, No 1 (2011), pp. 29-32.


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Created: October 10, 1998
Spell check: August 20, 2003
Last updated: 2:24 AM 3/1/2012