Belgian Boys Clothes: Chronology

Despite the limited information on Belgium, I can sketch out a basic outline on the basis of available paintings, drawing, and photographs. There appear to be many similarities with France. Hopefully Belgian visitors to HBC will eventually provide some historical details. While we still have realtively little information on the 19th century, we have begun to compile a much better assessment of 20th century fashions.

The 16th Century

Thanks to the marvelous artists of the Dutch/Flemish Renaissance we have a great deal of information on how the Dutch dressed in the 16th century. here we are talking not only about the modern Dutch, but the Flemish in what is now Belgium. at the time, the Spanish Netherlands included most of what is now the modern Netherlands and Belgium. We suspect that substantially the same clothing trends prevailed in the Waloon (French) areas. And unlike other countries we have a very good idea of clothing trends for a wide spectrum of the population. Quite a number of talented artists painted portraits of the wealthy merchany class, but we also have genre works. Certainly the most important was Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c1525-69). In fact, he became known as 'Peasant Bruegel' becase he devoted so much attention to the peasantry. And not only do we see many peasant impages, his painting 'Children playing' (1560) shows us not only how children and youth dressed, but how they played and diverted themselves at the time. The girls wore dresses and skirts. The boys wore both long robes and short jackets with medieval hose (something like tights)--both appear to be standard. Most of the children have headwear. We get a good idea about color, including blue, brown, cream, and red. Sone of the activities are easy to see such as bowls. In other case we are not really sure what is going on.

The 18th Century

French and Belgian boys in the 18th century dressed much as boys in other European countries. Little boys wore dresses like their sisters until they were breeched at about 5 or 6 years. The clothes they wore after breeching were much like their fathers, a jacket and knee breeches. The kind of clothes Americans assiociate with the colonial period. Depending on the wealth of the family, some of these outfits could be quite elaborate. French and Belgian parents toward the end of the 18th century began to adopt fashions specifically for children. The sailor suit for boys had appeared in England, I'm not sure if this fashion had immediately caught on in Belgium or if it became as popular as in France. The fashion of clothes espeially designed for children were undoubtedly influence by the writings of Rosseau and new ideas about child rearing. The trends began in the years before the French Revolution (1789), but became wide spread after the Revolution began. Dresses for young boys and girls were loose, comfortable unrestricted frocks. Comfortable open knecked blouses, often with ruffled collars were introduced. Long pants were introduced for boys several years before men wore them. Above the ankle length trousers were worn as part of high waisted skeleton suits. Younger boys wore pantalettes that peaked out under the hem of their pants. The fashion became known as the directory style and soon spread to England and America. spread to England.

The 19th Century


Early 19th Centurry (1800-1840)

Belgian children, like French children, wore directory styles clothes for the first decades of the 19th century. In fact, Napoleon incorporated what is now Belgium into the French Empire. The modern Belgian monarchy was created in 1830 when Leopold I of Saxe Coburg accepred the offer of the throne. As in many European countries, the clothing of the royal family influenced popular fashions. HBC has developed considerable information on the Belgian royals.

Mid-19th Century (1840-70)

HBC has little information on this period, but would be very interested in any infomation readers could provide. We believe that Belgian fashion were strongly influence by French fashions and there was little difference between French and Belgian fashions--but these needs to be confirmed. Readers may want to view the French mid-19th century page. Younger Belgin boys wore dresses. Somewhat older boys wore tunics as a transition between dresses and fashions. We note that elaboratedly puffed sleeves were popular for boys and girls in both Begium and France. We have details on one tunic outfit in 1852.

Late 19th Century (1870-1900)

Many new publications in the late 19th century appeared with greatly expanded information on fashions. The primary focus was women's fashions of course, but there was also substantially expanded coverage of children's fashions. The record is somewhat difficult to follow because of the similarities between clothes for younger boys and girls. Often the illustrator provided subtke clues which usually, but not always, allow the reader to disern gender. Pictured here is a a variety of childrens fashions, showing that many of the syles popular in America and Britain at the time were also popular, at least among the mothers, in Belgium and France. There were, however, distinct French touches. The 1906 illustration on this page shows three groups of boys and girls (figure 1). Note that the three youngest boys all have long curled shoulder length hair. The first group shows two older children, probably about 11-13. Note the boy's military-style cap, stiff Eton collar, bow, knee pants, and long stockings. The second group is less obvious as the long hair suggests the two younger children are girls. They are, however, almost certainly boys. They would be about 4-6 and 3-5 years of age, perhaps older. We can be sure they are boys as girls would have been wearing proper dresses and these two outfits are Russian blouse tunic with sailor collars. One boys wears a Glengary cap giving his outfit a Scottish touch. A girl would not have worn this style of cap. The other boy's sailor collar is trimmed in lace and ruffles and he wears a matching sailor cap with knee-length knickers. (The knee length knickers appears to have been a particularly popular style at the turn of the centurt. The third group shows two girls with a boy of about 6-8 years, he is older than the two younger boys as he wears knee pants, but with short white socks and strap shoes. He has most interesting outfit. He wears his hair in long curls, without bangs, and tied with a hair ribbon. From the looks of concern on his sisters' faces, he is obviously the precious baby of the family. His sailor suit appears to have a lace collar and he wears a large sailor hat. Older Belgian boys in the late 19th century were wearing knee-length suits with long stockings. Only younger boys and girls wore short socks. I'm not sure if the Fauntleroy suit was a popular as in England and America. Images of the Belgian royal family suggest that Fauntleroy suits were worn by Belgian right up to World War I (1914-18). Kilts do not, however, seem to have been as widespread. Sailor suits were, however, popular. Some of the designs may have followed the destinctive uniform of French sailors, a design that was rarely seen in England and America. I don't even know if Belgium had a navy of its own. I beleve that Belgium boys, like French boys wore smocks to school, although I don't know if berets were as common. I'm not sure when Belgian boys began to wear smocks to school, but it probably began in the late 19th century. I also don't know if it was introduced as part of a national regulation, or just adopted by parents and individual schools. Most schools did not require uniforms, but the smocks served as a kind of uniform.


Figure 2.--This 1906 magazine illustration shows a cross section of French children's clothes a little after the turn of the century. I believe this also reflects French fashion, but would be very interested in fashion advertisenents from Belgium publications.

20th Century

We have been able to collect much more information on the 20th century, especially after World war I in the 1920s. We do not note any destinctive Belgian styles, Rather we see boys wearing what look like mostly German and French styles. Here there may be differences between the Waloon and Flemist communities. HBC still has very little information on Belgian boys' clothing during this period. I'd be interested in any details visitors to this page may have. Available information suggests that smocks were commonly worn by boys. As in France, sailor suits were very popular which is interesting because the country had virtually no navy. Boys at the turn of the century mostly wore kneepants. The blouced knicker style seemed to have been popular. Gradully short pants became increasingly popular, especially after the 1900s. As in England, the Boy Scout movement had an important influence. Smocks were still commonly worn to school, but were less common whe the boys came home from school. Older boys might wear knickers. One particularly valuable source of information on early-20th century boys' fashions are postcards as children were popular subjects of cards during this period. Little boys after World War I in the 1920s no longer commonly wore dresses. Belgian and French mothers, however, did adapt a number of styles for such as modified Fautleroy suits with short shirts, white kneesocks, and strap shoes. Belgian boys in the 1920s adopted the new short pants style which was becoming popular in France. Formal short pants suits were worn with knee socks, but ankle socks were often worn on more cassual occasions and were more common than in England. Belgian and French short pants by the l930s were generally worn shorter than in England, often well above the knees. One particularly valuable source of information during the 1920s on boys' fashions are postcards as children were popular subjects of cards during this period, but they became less common in the 1930s. Belgian boys continued to wear short pants after the war. The style was common well into the 1960s. Traditional styles tended to persist longer in many rural areas. Smocks and shorts were less common in the 1960s, but still worn by many boys. Smocks were still commonly worn in many elementary schools. Many boys still commonly wore shorts, both for play and dress in the early 1960s. Probably about half of Belgian boys still wore shorts until they were 12 or 13 years old. Many of these boys, however, might have long pants for cold weather wear during the winter. Most of the boys wearing shorts wore ankel socks during the summer, some with sandals. Boys usually did not wear shorts much past the age of 14. Some traditional parents, however, had boys wear shorts up to 16 years, especially if their school required a short pants uniform. Major changes followed the Paris Student riots in 1968. Belgium boys today dress virtually indistinguisably from boys in France, Germay, Spain, Italy, Britain, and the United States. The pan-European boys' fashions appears to have swept even traditional Belgium. Boys wear jeans, large "t" shirts, sweat shirts, and tennis shoes. Distinctive French outfits are a thing of the past. Baseball caps are less popular in France than in America, but that is one of the few differences.

21st Century


Early 21st century

Boys' clothing shows a lot of variety in the early 21st century. Shorts appea more commonly in Belgium and Luxembourg than in the Netherlands. The lengths ranged from just a couple of inches above the ankle, to several inches above the knee. Occasionally, you see clothes that reminded you of the late 50s or early 60s styles, but they weren't commonly seen. Shirts and shorts styles inspired by soccer uniforms might be worn even for school wear. Denim shorts didn't seem nearly so popular there as in the United States. Plaids and bold stripes don't appear to be well liked now in the Benelux. Black, greys, greens, and cream colors seemed to be most favored, generally in solid colors.






HBC






Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossary] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]



Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Belgin pages:
[Return to the Main Belgian country page]
[Belgian choirs] [Belgian movies] [Belgian royals] [Belgian schools] [Belgian youth groups]



Created: September 21, 2001
Last updated: 2:20 AM 11/2/2017