French Boys Clothes: Chronology


Figure 1.--Zola his pictured hear reading to his son Jacques who appears to be giggling in contrast to his rather serious father. The gingham smock is a back buttoning style with a large ruffled collar. It is being worn over his knickers which seem to be worn just below the knee. The photograph was taken during the summer of 1897.

The fashion industry was important in France even in the 18th century. It was after the mid-19th century, however, that the industry began to explode. There were in 1850 about 25 Parisian dressmakers and ready to wear (confection) houses. That had increased four fold to 800 by 1863 and 1,090 by 1870. This was partly due to the expanding bourgeois and increasingly wealth of late 19th century France. More consumers with available disposable income could support the expanding industry. In addition, technological improvements were reducing the real costs of material and garments. Individuals beyond a handful of rich artistocrats and merchants who formerly might have had only a few changes of clothes, might now have a whole wardrobe. Not only could more people afford more clothes, but the clothes were increasingly well made and fitted. The poorly fitted garments of the early and mid-19th century, by the 1870s had become increasingly well-tailored garments. The look of fashionably dressed childern in the 1870s and especially the 1880s contrasts dramatically to the poorly fitted baggy garments still common in the 1850s and even the 1860s. By the 1870s kneepants were becoming increasingly common in France. Knickers were also worn ,but not so commonly. After the turn of the century sort pants were commonly worn and this did not begin until the 1960s. Today French boys have adopted the same pan-European syyle of jeans and other casual clothes.

The 16th Century


The 17th Century

HBC has only limited information on French fashions during the 17th century. The best known fashions are the rich, elaborate Cavelier fashions of the nobility. Less well known are the course clothing of flax and wool worn by the poorer classess. Cotton which in the 18th century was produced by the increasingly efficent processes of the Industrial Revolution became an important fabric for the humble classess, was still reltively expensive in the 17th century. Period artists provide detailed depictions of both classes.

The 18th Century

The fashion industry was important in France even in the 18th century. Most of the attention was of course devoted to women's clothing. At the beginning of the century there were not even any specialized children's styles. Only in the late 18th century did French mothers begin see the need to buy clothing specially designed for children--especially boys. French boys through much of 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 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 France, although it did in the 19th century. The idea 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

Younger boys throughout the century wore dresses, in many cases just like the ones worn by their sisters. Many of the clasic styles worn by boys appeared in the 19th century or are based on 19th century styles. The first popular style for boys was the skeleton suit. By mid-century other popular styles were kilts and sailor suits, imports from Britain. One French fashion was the crispin suit, the forerunner of the Fauntleroy suit. Another important French style for boys was the smock which was widely worn by school boys in the late 19th century. French children wore directory styles clothes for the first decades of the 19th century. Younger boys wore classic Empire dresses, many with low neck lines. White was a popular color. Dresses were commonly worn with pantalletes. All through the Napoleonic period boys commonly wore skeleton suits, a popular style for boys throughout western Europe and America. While the fashion industry was important in France even in the 18th century, it was after the mid-19th century, however, that the industry began to explode. There were in 1850 about 25 Parisian dressmakers and ready to wear (confection) houses. That had increased four fold to 800 by 1863 and 1,090 by 1870. This was partly due to the expanding bourgeois and increasingly wealth of late 19th century France. The poorly fitted garments of the early and mid-19th century, by the 1870s had become increasingly well-tailored garments. The look of fashionably dressed childern in the 1870s and especially the 1880s contrasts dramatically to the poorly fitted baggy garments still common in the 1850s and even the 1860s. The advent of commercial photography, perfected in France, during the late 1830s and rapidly appearing throughout Europe and the Americas in the 1840s, dramatically chronicled this shift. Paintings often depicted wealthy clients whose often expensive clothes were either well-fitted or drawn to give that affect. Much less expensive photographic images were available to an ever increasing clientel as the cost of photographs declined and the earnings in the new industrial economy increased.


Figure 2.--I believe this is a photograph of a French boy taken in the 1930s, but I have, unfortunately, lost the reference. Note the white knee socks.

The 20th Century

The 20th century saw the development of comfortable, practical clothing for children designed for the more casual life-style of the modern boy. Some 19th century styles remained popular ion the eraly 20th century, but majpr changes were easily observable after World War I (1914-18). Available information suggests that smocks were commonly worn by boys in the early 20th century. Boys wore blue smocks to school. Other popular outfits appear to be sailor suits and above the knee bloomer knickers. A well dressed boy in the early 20th century appears to have always worn a sailor hat or a variety of stylish caps. After World War I in the inter-war era, little boys no longer commonly wore dresses. French mothers, however, did adapt a number of styles for such as modified Fautleroy suits with short shirts, white kneesocks, and strap shoes. A whole generation of French boys were wiped out in World War I. I can see why boys born after that War were cherished by their parent and grandparents. French boys in the 1920s were outfitted in the new short pants style. Certainly not having to wear long stockings in the summer must have been more comfortable. French short pants by the l930s were generally worn shorter than in England, often well above the knees, and not as baggy. French boys, even older boys, commonly wore shorts during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Younger boys might wear short pants all year round, including the winter--but with knee socks. Some mothers might buy long pants for winter wear. Most boys, however, mostly wore shorts. Formal short pants suits were worn with knee socks, but ankle socks were often worn on more casual occasions and were more common than in England. Short pants and knickers were widely worn by French boys in the 1920s and 30s. After World War II short pants were still worn, but gradually gave way to jeans and other casual clothes. The Paris Student riots had an important impact on fashion. French boys today dress virtually indistinguisably from boys in Germany, Spain, Italy, Britain, and the United States. Boys wear jeans, large "t" shirts, sweat shirts, and tennis shoes--a kind of pan-European style for boys and teenagers. 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.

The 21st Century

HBC has not yet developed information on French fashion trends in the 21st century.

Individual Details


French family: 1880s-90s (The De Lesseps)
French family: 1890s-1900s (The Renoirs)
French family: 1890s-1900s (Paul)
French family: 1890s-1900s (The Zolas)
French boy: 1900s (Jean Daubeville)
Alsatian boy: 1930s-40s (Tomi)
French boy: Boyhood clothes and the lycee--the 1950s
French boy and smocks: 1950s-60s
French boyhood: 1960s
American boy in France: 1960s
American boy at French school: 1960s







HBC






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Created: October 30, 1998
Last updated: 12:19 AM 6/16/2011