Boys Clothes: 1860s Garments


Figure 1.--These wood cut images from fashion magazines provide great detailmabout boys' fashions. This "Delineator" image from an August 1867 issue shows what is described as "a Scotch blouse rimmed with black velvet. White themeste. Tocque of black velvet with white plume." A tocque is a cap, I'm not sure why the white plume doesn't show.

HBC has collected information on the principal garments worn by boys in the 1960s. Thre decade was importnant because many of the styles worn earlier in the century were disappearing and the garments and styles that were to become important later in the century were appearing. Young boys still wore dresses in the 1860s. The age at which they were breeched was still left to the disgression of the mother and, as a result, could vary widely. Class destinctions had some impact on breeching. While most younger boys might wear dresses, generally it was boys from wealthy families that were kept in dresses the longest. Pantalettes were still worn by boys in the 1860s. They appear to have been more common in England than in America. (I'm not sure about Europe, but assume they were worn by French boys) Pantalettes were comminly worn by American girls, but by the 1860s it was becoming increasingly less common for boys to wear them. The pantalettes worn by English boys by the 1860s were worn to show just at the hem of the boy's dress. One alternative to trousers for the doting Victorian mother were the kilt outfits for boys which appeared in England during the 1840s and had reached America by the 1850s. It was quite common in the 1860s for younger American boys to wear kilts. It was less common for older boys in the 1860s, but the age for this style increased in subsequent decades. The kilt style was popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 1840s when they dressed the young princes, but not at first the princesses, in kilts as part of the popularity for things Scottish and the Royal family's astute political judgement. I am not precisely sure when knickers first appeared. I have seen several 1860s images of boys wearing knickers. Thus while knickers made not have first appeared in the 1860s, they do appear to have been much more prevalent in the 1860s. Jackets often had fancy embroidery, but usually in muted dark colors. Many of the jackets, especially the plainer ones, have a distinctly modern look. This is a major departure from the styles prevalent in the first half of the century. The classic sailor suits also worn by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's children in the 1840s spread to the continent and America. The style can be seen in America during the 1860s, but it was not the almost prevasive symbol of boyhood reached by the 1880s. The hats worn by boys in the 1860s were much more varied than later in century when the sailor hat was almost universally worn by boys. Little boys in dresses wore fancy hats of widely varying styles, just like those worn by girls. One style began to be seen was the sailor hat. The large collars worn during the 1880s were not worn rare in the 1860s. Collars were generally small and fancy styled collars were generally rare. The ruffled collars so popular in the early decades of the century had passed from style.

Dresses

Young boys still wore dresses in the 1860s. The age at which they were breeched was still left to the disgression of the mother and, as a result, could vary widely. Class destinctions had some impact on breeching. While most younger boys might wear dresses, generally it was boys from wealthy families that were kept in dresses the longest. Raised at home under constant supervision of nannies and governesses, boys from wealthy families, closted in nurseries, often had very little contact with other children. The interactions that did occur were mostly with relatives or children of the same social class and this other boys who may have also be kept in dresses. Schooling was one factor affecting breeching. Public education was becoming increasingly prevelent, especially in the northeastern states. Presumably boys in more affluent families where they were closely supervised and perhaps schooled at home would be likely to wear drsses the longest. More and more state-supported schools were appearing in America and public education was becoming an excepted norm. (State education was slower to develop in England as the entrenched political influence of wealthy rural landowners and industrialists were worried about the social impact and cost of educating the masses.) It was, however, well delveloped in several Continental European countries.


Figure 2.--American mothers from a wide spectrum of the social scale also continued to outfit their little boys in dress during the 1860s. One source identified this image as a 1860s image. It looks to be a dress without any boyish features.

Boys would almost always be breeched before being sent to school. Thus for the most boys, the age at which they began public education would put an upper limit on the age in which at which most boys still wore dresses. Public education was still developing. It was most advanced in European countries like Prussia which saw education as an important foundation for national power. America was also building a system of public schools, although on a state by state basis. Important countries like England still did not have a national system of public schools, as important elements in socirty were still suspicious of educating the masses. Boys from affluent families were still oftem educated at home. The idea of sending their young sons out to face the world, even at private schools did not appeal to some mothers. In fact, pribate schools could be quite rough places, even though much improved over conditions in the early 19th century. Educating a boy at home would not have imposed an upper age limit on breeching. The mother was more free to dress her son as her fashion inclination directed, as long as the father went along with it. Thus children from affluent might often be breeched at a later date than working class children.


Figure 3.--This photograph shows a brother and sister during the Civil War era. The boy wears a plain dress with destinctive side buttons. He also appears to be wearing pantalettes with his dress.

One interesting aspect of the dresses worn by little boys was that some styles were sleveless. Interestingly shirts for boys and men were always almost always made with long sleeves. In viewing hundreds of 19th Century images, I rember seeing only one short-sleeved outfit for a boy, a kind of velvet skeleton suit worn with a front buttoning pinafore. Thus even images that do not show all of a boy's outfit can be assessed by the sleeves. If the boy has short sleeves, it srongly suggest that he is wearing a dress. Dress styles varied. Some boys wore styles indistinguishable from those worn by ther sisters. Some mothers brought plainer styles for their sons, although they were not yet marketed as boy dresses. Even boys outfitted in the plainer boy dresses, however, might wear the with pantalettes. Boys' dresses came in a wide variety of styles and embelishments. The low open necklines common in the first half of the century had begun rise. Collars were increasingly common on dresses, but tended to be relatively small. Ruffled are lace collars were common. Often a dress would have wrist ruffles matching the ruffles or lace collar. Hems for boys wearing dresses were usually at or slightly below the knee. A boy might wear a belt on his dress, but this was not common on a girl's dress. The process of buying a boy his first pair of pants to replace dresses or kilts is not well researched in the historical record. I am not quite sure how this progressed. Was a complete new wardrobe purchased for the boy? Was just a dressy pair of pants purchased? Or perhaps pants for play and rough wear? Did he continue to wear his dresses until they wore out or given to a younger sister or brother?


Figure 4.--This English boy in the 1860s wears a plaid dress. Note the small lace collar and wrist ruffles, the belt, and pantalettes. Lieutenant General Sir James Lindsay and his grandson Ludovic, later 26th earl of Balcarres, who was destined to have a remarkable career which included the creation of one of the world's finest collections of rare books. He was also a brilliant astronomer, and by the age of thirty was president of the Royal Astronomical Society and a felow and vice-president of the Royal Society. Added to this he was with the help of the young Italian engineer Sebastion de Ferranti, a pioneer in electricity and radio.

Some dresses were made in plaid material. Both boys and girls wore plaid, but boys dresses were more commonly plaid than those of girls. Apparently as plaid dresses incorporated the same patterned material as kikts, they were somewhat more acceptable than some of the fancier materials used for girls' dresses. Plaid dreses might be referred to as Scotch dresses or even kikts, but they were actual one-piece dresses. The plaid dresses were worn in both America and England, although kilts whch first apprared in Ameriva during the late 1840s and 1850s, became increasingly popular for boys as the decade progressed.

Pantalettes

Pantalettes were still worn by boys in the 1860s. They appear to have been more common in England than in America. (I'm not sure about Europe, but assume they were worn by French boys) Pantalettes were comminly worn by American girls, but by the 1860s it was becoming increasingly less common for boys to wear them. The pantalettes worn by English boys by the 1860s were worn to show just at the hem of the boy's dress. The part of the pantalettes that showed were likely to be timed in lace. I am not sure if these pantalettes were made especially made for boys or if boys and little girls simply wore the same short style. Older girls, of course, would cover their legs and thus wear long pantalettes, many of which were elaborately trimmed in ruffles, lace, and even ribbons.

Kilts

One alternative to trousers for the doting Victorian mother were the kilt outfits for boys which appeared in England during the 1840s and had reached America by the 1850s. It was quite common in the 1860s for younger American boys to wear kilts. It was less common for older boys in the 1860s, but the age for this style increased in subsequent decades. The kilt style was popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 1840s when they dressed the young princes, but not at first the princesses, in kilts as part of the popularity for things Scottish and the Royal family's astute political judgement. Thus even an American boy, at least in an affluent family, might by the 1860s wear a kilt suit even after being breeched. This style became even more common in the 1870s.


Figure 5.--These American brothers photographed about 1864 wear popular styles for boys. Note the generally plain, unflaboyant styles. There are no lace collars or large bows--a far cry from the elaborate styles which appeared in the 1880s. Also note that kneepants and knickers were not as common for older boys as was to be the case later in the century.

Trousers

The process of buying a boy his first pair of pants to replace dresses or kilts is not well researched in the historical record. I am not quite sure how this progressed. Was a complete new wardrobe purchased for the boy? Was just a dressy pair of pants purchased? Or perhaps pants for play and rough wear? Did he continue to wear his dresses until they wore out or given to a younger sister or brother? I know of no references to this and would be most grateful for any historical references that visitors might be aware of. Once breeched, boys--even young ones--might wear long pants, especially working-class boys. The almost universal style of knee pants for boys common at the turn of the century was just beginning to develop. Bllomer knickers which appeared in the 1850s became much more common for younger boys, especiall city boys from aflluent families. These bllomer knickers were commonly worn at calf length. Some younger boys did wear kneepants--but cut at many different lengths. Most boys, even some quite young boys, still wore long pants--especially in the early 1860s. The common cut at just below the knee popular by the 1870s had not yet become standardized. Boys from affluent families wore variously styled suits with bloomer knickers. The suits syyules could still be quite fanciful as in te 1850s. Civil War styles such as Zouaves were popular. These bloomer knickers, called knickers, were a practical alternative to long trousers for active boys. The bloomer knickers were loose pants gathered at or below the knee. They were normally worn with with long stockings in America, but sometimes socks in France. Styles varied from country to country.


Figure 5.--This British family during the 1860s has dressed their four boys in identical knicker suits, with mo observable difference between the youngest and oldest. Despite the relatvey modern looking jackets note the difference between the boys' and father's coats.

Knickers

I am not precisely sure when knickers first appeared. I have seen several 1860s images of boys wearing knickers. Thus while knickers made not have first appeared in the 1860s, they do appear to have been much more prevalent in the 1860s. They were worn with varying garments, including tunics, fancy suits, as well as more boyish looking suits in muted fabrics. The knickers were gathered at the knee by elastic. They were worn bl ouced both above and under the knee. Interestingly the fashion of making minor changes in a boys dress as he got older was not as universal in the 1860s as it had become by the 1880s. Some families did adhere to this practice. Other families might dress all their boys identically, at least those within a certain age range. This was somewhat more practical in the 1860s because after breeching, it was acceptable to dress boys in rather plain looking suits. While some alternatives existed, not nearly as many as in the 1880s and 1890s where boys might be dressed in a variety of fancy outfits such as Little Lord Fauntleroy suits.

Suits and Jackets

We note suits in the 1860s that look much more modern than early 19th century suits. The jackets or coats are longer. The suits more commonly are made of matching material and colors instead of the contrasting convention that was common in the 1860s. There were a variety of juvenile-styled suits made with short cut-away jackets and bloomer knickers. Many of these styles were similar to those worn in the 184s and 50s. We notice older boys boys wearing long pants suits. These were suits with more mature stylying, largely with jacket and pants in the same style and color. Jackets were single breasted. Even quite young boys wore long pants suits. We notice some boys wearing pants with legs that were above the shoes. We are not sure to what extent this reflected a boy growing out of his pants or the waythe suit was styled. By the late 1860s, we begin to see more boys wearing kneepants, although they were usually cut well below the knee.



Figure 6.--An August 1867 fashion magazine describes the garment on the left as suitable for a boy from 6 to ?? years of age. The caption read. "Straw hat simply trimmed with a ribbon rosette. Costumes entirely made of poplin. Small straight jackerts, slightly rounded off at the sides and trimmed with ???? jet and buttons to match. Plain waistcoat. ??? sash. Wide straight trousers, trimmed with jet buttons." Note that while the boy wears long trousers they are cut well above the ankles.

Sailor Suits and Other Uniform Styles

The classic sailor suits also worn by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's children in the 1840s spread to the continent and America. The style can be seen in America during the 1860s, but it was not the almost prevasive symbol of boyhood reached by the 1880s. Sailor suits were not the only clothes based on militay-style uniforms worn by boys in the mid-19th century. Many suits for American boys were modled on Civil War uniforms. The Zuoave uniform was a particularly popular style for boys. Some boys did more than play at being soldiers. Thousands of American boys served in the Civil War. The older boys were actual soldiers. The younger boys served as drummer boys.

Caps and Hats

The hats worn by boys in the 1860s were much more varied than later in century when the sailor hat was almost universally worn by boys. Little boys in dresses wore fancy hats of widely varying styles, just like those worn by girls. One style began to be seen was the sailor hat. Sailor styles were of course introduced with the English princes were outfitted in sailor suits during the 1840s. The sailor hat was not yet a boy's fashion mainstay in the 1860s, but it was growing in importance. Sailor hats were worn by older boys, but not as commonly as in the 1880s. Some Scottish styles were popular, but mosly for boy outfitted in kilts.


Figure 9.--This poor-quality image from the 1860s shows that long pants were still commonly worn by boys. Also notice the collar. While still relatively small, it is larger than collars commonly worn by boys in the 1850s.

Collars and bows

The large collars worn during the 1880s were not worn rare in the 1860s. Collars were generally small and fancy styled collars were generally rare. The ruffled collars so popular in the early decades of the century had passed from style. As had the comfortable looking open collars. Properly dresses boys in the 1860s always buttoned their collars. Some mothers had began using lace as collars for their sons. The lace collars employed in the 1860s, however, were smaller and much less oustentaeous than those that appeared during the 1880s. Boys wore ties, often slender ribbons or bow-ties like their fathers. The large bows also popular in the 1880s were rarely seen.







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Created: November 1, 2002
Last updated: 9:16 PM 11/4/2004