Canadian Boys' Clothes: Chronology


Figure 1.--This Canadian boy was photographed in 1959. His hair style and clothes are indestinguishable from an American boy at the same time. Note the patterened shirt, khaki slacks, and sneakers.

HBC has only limited information on Canadian boy's clothing trends. At this time we have virtually no information on the 19th century. After the turn of the century knickers began to replace kneepants. In the 20th century the trend has been primarily a shift from English and French fashions to American styles. Canadian boys in the inter-war period wore varied styles, including short pants, knickers, and long pants. Reflectibng the English and French influence, short pants were worn by some boys, but not nearly as commonly as in Europe--probably due to the severe winters. After World War II, HBC has noticed little difference between Canadian and American fashions. Canadian boys in the late 20th century appear to dress little different than American boys. The major difference is that warm weather summer fashions are less common in Canada than in America.

The 19th Century

We have very limited information on Canada during the early 19th century. War flared with the United States in 1812. One illustration dated 1832 from Montreal shows boys wearing brimmed hats with what look like skeleton suits that have dark jackets and white pants. They have a sailor look to them, but do not look like the sailor suit uniforms that appeared in the 1840s. The two boys are dressed alike, suggesting that they are brothers. The drawing is from Montreal. Boys in rural areas might have dressed quite differently. John McDonald a Scot and Georges-Etienne Cartier a French Canadian founded the Confederation of Canada. Another war with America was narrowly averted over the Western border. After the Civil War, the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians in 1867. This undoubtedly afected British policies in Canada. The Confederation of Canada was formed in the same year. The British were concerned that the western provinces by decide to join he United States. McDonald as Canada's first Prime Minister promised a railroad from coast to coast. It took 20 years to build. Until the construction of the railroad, trade between western and eastern Canada was limited. As far as we can tell, Canadian boys at this time mostly wore English styled clothing. Boys from Scottish families might wear kilts. Boys began to wear kneepants in the 1860s. Our understanding of Canadian boys' fashions in the 19th century is still very limited. We think that English styles were still very important. We are unsure to what extent French fashions were worn in Quebec by French Canadian boys. American mail order catalogs like Sears and Wards are believed to have been very important in spreading American fashions in the sparsely populated plains provinces.

The 20th Century


Early 20th Century (1900-20)

After the turn of the century we notice boys fashions in Canada that seem rather like America. Boys commonly wear suits. Norfolk suits area popular style. We note knickers began to replace kneepants. We have very few inages from the early 20th century at this time, but many of the boys we have note appear appear to be wearing kneepanrs or knickers with long stockings. By World War I (1914-18) we increasingly see boys wearing knickers rather than kneepants. Many of the knickers are above the knee styles. Sailor suit were popular. We notice boys wearing flat caps.

Inter-war Years (1920-45)

Canadian boys in the inter-war period wore varied styles, including short pants, knickers, and long pants. Reflecting the English and French influence, short pants were worn by some boys, but not nearly as commonly as in Europe--probably due to the severe winters. The primary pants styles, as in America was knickers. One view of the 1920s can be seen in the French Canadian family photographed in 1926. Knickers were widely worm, but had begun to decline on popularity by the late 1930s. Canadian catalogs provide useful information on available clothing styles in the 1920s. A Canadian reader recalls wearing T-shirts and short pants during the Summer. He also had short pants suits which he wore with both kneesocks as well as long stockings.

Post-war Era (1945-70)

Canadian boys fashions virtually merged with American styles in the post-war era. By the mid-50s there was virtually no difference with styles and trends in the northern United States. The same was true of hair styles. Note the Canadian boy photographed in 1959. His hair style and clothes are indestinguishable from an American boy at the same time. Note the patterened shirt, khaki slacks, and sneakers (figure 1). One factor here was the importance of American media in setting fashions. Long pants became increaingly common after the end of World War II. Canadian conhtributors note that some boys still wore short pants and long stockings into the 1950s. Canadian boys also wore knickers in the early 1950s, although by the mid-50s they were no longer common. Somestyles that look destinctly Canadian, such as Indian sweaters, are usually shared styles with the northern United States, especially the northern tier border states like Montanna, North Dakaota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Late 20th Century (1970-2000)

Canadian boys in the late 20th century appear to dress little different than American boys. The major difference, howeve, is that warm weather summer fashions are less common in Canada than in America. Warm weather summer fashions, such as tank tops, shorts and sport sandals are worn by all Canadian children, but probably for a shorter time than in the US. They are worn by all Canadian children from June to September as the weather in Canada is hot only during that period. HBC thought that it might be best to say warm, but a Canadian reader tells us, The summers in Canada are very hot (80-90 degrees F), and the weather is warm during spring and fall. So to say it's warm only in the summer gives the wrong impression that the rest of the year is always cold and that's not true." Thus Canadians boys dress essentially the same as the boys in the northern United States. They may often look somewhat different than the boys in the southern United States, but only on a seasonal basis.

21st Century


Notman Studio

A wonderful archive of both adult and children clothes in the Notman Studio collection. The Notman Studio in Montreal was one of the most important in Canada. William Notman set up a photographic studio in Montreal, Canada only a few years after photography was developed, about 1845. It was one of the principal photograohic studios in Canada. Both English and French speaking Canadians were photographed there. As Notman and his sons opperated their studio until about 1935, it provides a wonderful pictorial history of the Canadian people. The whole collection comprises about 450,000 negatives and is archived in the Musée McCord. The Museum explains, "Portraits comprise a major part of the Notman collection. Prominent Montrealers and visitors from abroad sought out William Notman's studio to have their likenesses committed to silver for posterity."

Related Sites

Canadian fashions: A site maintained by the Canadian Goverment provides some wonderful historical images.







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Created: June 22, 2001
Last updated: 3:20 AM 5/30/2005