Boys Clothes: 1850s--National Styles

Figure 1.--The boy in this 1855 family photograph wears a plaid outfit, although it is unclear to determine just what kind of suit he is wearing.

Industrailization in some countries was affecting life style. Rising incomes afforded more money which could be spnt on fashionable cothiong. Ready made clothing was not yet available in quantity so clothing still tended to be realtively expensive. Many styles were pan-European. Americam fashions were striongly influenced by European fashions, espcially in nthe growing cities. we are just beginning to develop information on specific countries. Two countries, England and France, seemed particularly important in influencing American fashions as well as those in other European countries. Germany and Austria inflienced trends in centrakl and Eastern Europe. Royal dynastic were important factors affecting fashion trends among the affluent classes in Europe. One of the most notable developments in many countries during the 1850s was the appearance of shortenened-length pants--such as bloomer knickers which younger boys began to wear.


Many boys upon being breeched, especially in the United States during the 1850s, might wear quite adult-looking clothes. Some boys' suits while looking relatively dull might have some distinctive features such as military-looking buttons. Collars were small as was neckwear. Large bows were not worn. Neckwear was commonly small bowties, but some small collar bows were worn. Long pants were commonly worn after breeching. Short hair for boys was prevalent, especilly after breeching. The long hair for older boys which was to become common later in he 19th century was still rare. One source suggests that boys mostly parted their hair at the side and that a center part during the 1850s suggests a girl. (I have yet to confirm thuis.) If so, this is one the indicators which could help determine gender in unidentified images. As children matured into pre-teen and teen years, their clothing more and more resembled that of adults. Tennage boys in the 19th Century increasingly were dressed in destinctive juvenile fashion, such as knee length pants. This was much less common at mid century. Their duties were adult. They were often aprenticed or went to work by the time they were 12 or 13 years old. There was no "teen culture" as we now know it. Certainly there was no particular fad clothing for youth. Boys often wore hand-me-down clothing of their parents, unless the family was very wealthy. Even wealthy families might pass clothes down. Queen Victoria, for example, reportedly never threw clothes away. In middle class families as well as working class families, it was usual for clothing to be passed down from child to child, even shoes. One monentous development for future American generations, and eventually children around the world, was the invention of jeans, called overalls at the time. Though the ubiquitous blue jeans of today are worn for comfort, the rugged pants were born out of a necessity for work clothes: young entrepreneur Levi Strauss came out with the first pair made out of canvas and later out of denim for use by miners. Only in the late 1940s did the modern jeans emerge for boys. As for the women of the 1850s, they have yet to acknowledge the merits of trousers over skirts despite the advice of feminist Amelia Bloomer. But 40 years later guess what style women were are sporting on their leisurely bicycle rides? You got it--"bloomers."

Figure 2.--This photograph taken in 1858 shows a wide variety of clothes worn by English boys. Notice the boaters, peaked cap, blazer, and rather modern looking suit worn by the boy at right, although his belt is outside his jacket. Also notice that all the boys were wearing long pants. Remember that England was a key style setter for 19th century boys clothes.


The Victorians introduced many new styles for boys. Victorian boys, after they graduated from their toddler dresses at about 5 or 6 years of age, were put into various styles of fancy suits. There was the sailor suits of past generations which the Queen helped to popularize even more when she dressed the young prince in one. Queen Victoria was emensely popular and her tastes in clothes had enormous influence on how young Briton's were dressed. There were other new styles such as kilts. Queen Victoria in the late 1840s began dressing her young sons in full Scottish Highland outfits. This created a sensation when the boys appeared at a series of public functions wearing their kilts. Like the prince's miniature sailor suit, it set off a fashion craze. Scottish kilts appeared all over Europe. Victoria apparently disliked throwing anything a way, including clothes. Thus the chidren's clothes were available for the grand children. The appearance of the kilt for boys was an innovation as it had virtually disappeared in Scotland. By 1855, Scotch plaids, kilts, and accessories had caught on in the United States where the fashion became even more popular than in Europe. The uniform invoked images of the British aristocracy which appealed to many American parents. The kilt didn't begin to make real inroads for American boys, however, until the 1870s. Various other styles, including Russian box pleted tunnics with matching bloomers were also popular. The Victorians were extremely fond of these new styles and there popularity carried over into the Edwardian period before the First World War.

Figure 3.--This suit with knicker-length pants was worn by a European boy in the late-1850s or more probably the 1860s. Buttons were used both vertically and horizontally in the otherwise plain styling. Collars in the 1850s were generally quite small. Notice the striped stockings.


Younger French boys continued wearing dreses in the 1850s. Boys gradually began wearing pantallets less and a shorter lengths. Boys suits could be quite fanciful. Zouave suits were one popular style. Military style caps were popular in the 1850s. Kilts were a sensation in the 1850s. The influence of kilt and tartan styling was still seen. Kilts became fashionble, but primarily for boys from affluent families. Collars tended to be relatively small. Bows were not common. Boys still commonly wore long trousers, but stylishly dressed boys from affluent families began to wear shortened trousers. A kind of bloomer knickers were the most common. These shortened trousers were generally worn by younger boys . Teenagers even younger teens mostly wore long trousers. Some boys wore stripped socks. Boys continued to wear relatively short hair, but some longer styles to the ears were worn by some boys.


HBC has little information about German boys fashions in the 1850s at this time. There probably were considerable differences among German states in the 1850s, especially betwwn Prussia and Austria, as Germany was not unified until the 1871, following the Franco Prussian War. We note that as in other European countries that boys in the 1850s had begun to wear bloomer knickers. We still, however, have very limited information on Germany in the 19th century.


HBC also has little information on Italy during the 1850s. Italy was still divided with large areas still under Austrian control. Italy was finally unified in the 1860s by Garabaldi's red shirts.


We do have a grreat deal of information on Scotland in the 1850s yet. We notice a portrait of a Scottish boy painted in the 1850s. The portait shows that Scottis boys might dress up in kilts for formal occassions.


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Creaed: September 26, 2002
Last updated: 10:25 AM 9/15/2013