English Boys' Clothes: Chronologies


Figure 1.--Victoria and Albert and their young family. The fashions selected by Victoria for their young brood had an enormous and enduring impact on children's fashions for generations.

HBC seeks to focus primarily on the modern era in its clothing and historical assessments. We have, however, development some limited information on boys' clothing during earlier periods. Modern specialized boys styles in many way began in England during the late 18th century. European and American boys' styles were largely determined in England and to a lesser extent France during the 19th century. Major fashions such as sailor suits, kilts, Eton suits, Norfolk jackets, short pants, and others were all English creations. English styles continued to be important until after World War II (1939-45) when American fashions began the globilization of boys' fashions.

Ancient Times

HBC has not yet done a great deal of work on ancient times. We have developed some information on the Celts and Romans, but not specifically in Britain. We do note that the Roman soldier who occupied Britain found that the kilt-like garment they wore in the milder Mediterrean world was not suitable for the cooler British climate and many began to wear the trouser-like garment that the Celts who they encountered in Britain wore. Romans had earlier seen the Celtic trousers uncivilized. The Celtic trouser-like garmnts were called "bracae" which was the origin of the English word "breaches". Trousers were tradutionally called "breaks" in Scotland down to modern times. We have also archieved an interesting, but not always accurate overview article, '"The Pageant of British Boys", which does focus on Britain.

The Medieval Era

HBC has begun to develop some information on the Medieval era in general, but information specifically on Britain is limited. The information on Boy Bishops in the medieval era does include information on Britain. We have also archieved an interesting, but not always accurate overview article, '"The Pageant of British Boys", which does focus on Britain and provides information throiugh Tudor times as Britain was emerging from the Medieval era.

The 16th Century

Henry VIII initiated the English Reformation which was to transform the country over the century.

The 17th Century

The 17th century is when modern male fashion began to evolve. Styles at the beginning of the century look very dated, men did not even wears garments regonizablee as pants and trousers. They wore the trunk hose that were the principal male garment in the 16th century. By the end of the decade we see recognizable jackets and trousers. The jackets were long and the trousers knee breeches, but they were clearly recignizeable jackets and trousers, the main stays of what became modern dress. There were no destinctive children's clothing. Younger boys might wear dresses. After breeching, boys wore small versions of the clothes their fathers wore. At the time, social class was more a determinant of clothing than natiionality. The aristocracy throughout Western and central Europe wore very similar syles, often set in Italy and France. We see a variety of ornate styles and decorative trim and luxurios fabrics. Clothing was influenced by the developing social and religious divide in English society. The Church of England was the most Catholic of all the the Protestant sects. Dissenters wanted to take the COE much further down the Protestant path. The so called Puritrans believed in dressing more plainly, often in back and white. From this group came the Pilgrims who settled New Enhland as well as the Roundheads who would fight thre Crown and much of the aristocracy in the Civil War. We still see some of the earlier fashions at the beginning of the century such as doublets and hose, often called trunk hose. This was s pants-like garments done as balooning garments that only came to mid-thigh or higher and worn with long stockings covering the leg. The trunk hose were very common in the 16th centurty, but in the early-17th century first began to increase in length and then evolved into breeches which by the end of the century began to look like the knee breeches commonly worn in the 18th century. This evolution occurred with both the clothing worn by adults and boys. The clothing of the aristocracy is much better represented in the available art work than that of the lower classes.

The 18th Century


The 19th Century

The early 19th century was dominated by long pants skeleton suits and tunics. Many were comfortable loose fitting garments. There were major changes at mid-centurty as new styles inspirred by Queen Victoria began to tale hold like sailor suits and kilts. The tightly buttoned Eton collar replaced ruffled collars and kneepants and knickers replaced long pants. The comfortable styles of the early decade had become much more restrictive as well as more elaborate--culminating with the Fauntleroy suit of the 1880s. nglish boys throughout the 19th Century wore dresses as little boys. Styles were quite similr to those worn by their sisters in the early part of the century, but became more plain by the end of the century. The dresses followed the styles of the day, very long at the beginning of the century and becoming shorter as the century progressed. Shorter dresses were worn discreetly with pantalettes. Dresses were often worn with pinafores by both boys and girls, but this became less common for boys by the end of the century. I am not sure how common smocks were in England, but hope to acquire some information on this topic. The boys' style most associated with this period is the skeleton suit which dominated bous fashions in the first three decades of the century. Tunics were another popular style. t was in the Victorian age that many modern social values as wll as modern fashions began to appear and Queen Victoria and her family was at the center of it all. Fashionable English boys at the turn of the Century wore skeleton suits and tunics. Younger boys wore pantalettes, older boys long trousers. Major changes occurred during the Vicorian Era. The young Queen and her engaging family popularized the sailor suit and kilt which were to become major fixtures of the 19th century boys' wardrobe. After mid-century knickers and kneepants became more common. The Eton collar became the standard dress for formal occasions. Major societal changes were at work in the Victorian era.


Figure 2.--At the turn of the century we continue to see boys wearing suits with Eton collars. Knickers and long stockings were still common although we akso see knee pants as well. We notice a variety of cap styles. Hats were not very common. The photograph here is undated but looks like the 1900s to us. It was taken in Cornwall near Truro Perranwell. We do not know what Frog Pool Tea Boys. We do not know what that means.

20th Century

English boys clothing went through very substantial changes during the 20th centuries. Many of the styles and changes in England proved very influential in other countries. The formal Victorian styles of the late-19th century continued into the Edwardian era of the early-20th century. We see a range of cap styles. Boys wears shifted from the Fauntleroy suits to more restraibed styles. Kilt suits disappear. We still see Eton collars. Many boys wore knickers and long stockings. Knee pants or long sgort pants began to appear before World War I (1914-18), influenced by the new Boy Scout movement. There were major changes during and after the War. We begin to see far grearter infornality and pracgicality than was common before the War. Short pants became standard for boys. They were still commonly worn with suit with suit jackets or blazers in the inter-war years. This was often because boys wore blazers or suits to school. Peaked caps became very cimmon, usually a boy's school cap. Working-class boys continued to have very limited wardrobes. Schoolwear was often his dress up outfit. Closed-toe sandals become standard for schoolwear. After World War II Continental styles were influential. Especially after the 1960s, informal styles often originating in America became increasingly common. We se boys increasingly wearing long pants. Shirt pants and knee socks become less common. Trainers also become popular. By the end of the decade, except in school uniforms, English boys had adopted the kind of pan-European style of highly informal, casual clothing. Baseball caps become popular. Short panrs were mostly casual summer wear. Shorts began to become long and baggy by the end of the century.

21st Century

Early 21st Century

A major problem with children's clothing is the implied "status" of designer wear. Children don't think they look 'cool' unless their apparel has a famous logo shouting out its message. It may seem a great expense initially, nevertheless, it certainly eliminates most of the pressures that designer wear creates. One English dad in 2001 reported that an powerful influence on boys is probably footballers. The regular changes of "uniform" made by premier league clubs may irritate some parents (financially!), but the boys are stronly influenced by fottball gear. He reports that his sons have pictures of the the latest uniforms of his club on their bedroom wall. He reports that the general effect of this culture is to make the wearing of shorts more politically correct (with greater street cred) than was the case 10-15 years ago.

Personal Experiences

Some interesting details are available on specific families as well as articles from fashion magazines:

The 1850s: The Brownings
The 1860s: The Tennysons
The 1880s: The Stracheys
The 1880s: The Shepardsd
The 1880s: The Allinghams--informal clothes
The 1890s: The Woods
The 1890s: The Sassoons
The 1890s: The Tolkiens
The 1890s: The Llewyn-Davis boys of Peter Pan fame
The 1900s: Stephen Tennant
The 1940s: Alexander Mosley
The 1940s
The 1940s: War time boyhood
The 1940s-50s
The 1950s
The 1950s: A council and secondary modern
The 1950s: Working-class family
The 1950s: A secondary modern
The 1950s-60s: John
The 1950s-60s: Grey flannels
The 1960s
The 1960s: Michael and his school uniform
The 1970s
The 1970s
The 1970-80s: Scotland
The 1970-80s: Formal clothes for church
The 1970s: Stephen
The 1970-80s: My short pants suit and buying school shorts
The 1980s
The 1990s: Andy

Interesting Links

Some other interesting web sites have information on English boys clothing:

English boys clothing: The 1930s-90s

British prep schools: Prep school uniforms in the 1980s







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Created: October 4, 1999
Last updated: 2:58 PM 11/22/2013