German Boys' Clothes: Garments--Dresses

Figure 1.--This image is unidentified. It was probably taken in the 1890s. The younger child looks like a boy, but we are not positive that this is the case. Note the flowers that he is holding. We are not sure if this was a prop meant to suggest gender. The portarit was taken in Reichenbach. I'm not sure precisely where that is in Germany. Image courtesy of the BP collection.

Young German boys like boys in other European countries wore dresses. In the early and mid-19th century, these dresses were just like the ones their sister's wore, although before mid-century abd the advent of photography we have few actual examples to study. HBC has only limited information on this fashion convention in Germany. We do not yet have enough informationfor a detiled assessment. We have aubstntial German archive, but primarily from the 20th century by which time this convention had largely wained. We do know that younger German boys did wear dresses and other skirted gatments. An 1838 portrait shows a brother and sister wearing the same dress style. HBC has also noted the future Kaiser Wilhelm II about 1860 wearing a dress. What we do not fully understand is prevalene. Out preliminary assessment is that the convention of dressing younger German boys in dresses was less pronounced than in msny other European countries.


While we know that young German boys wore dresses as boy in other european countries, we do not yet understand to what extent this fashion may have differed in Germany. This is of interest, because HBC does not fully understand the reasons for this fashion. HBC has been collection information on the reasons that boys were outfitted in dresses. Some authirs maintain that it was primarily practical sanitary reasons. This may have been a factor, but there was clearly much more involved. Other thoughts such as the clothing conventions begun in the middle ages when both men and women wore robes, the role women played in the raising of younger children, and prevailing ideas about the nsture if childhoo also seem to be important factors. If so, then you would assume that the conventions concerning dressing younger boys would have not have varied significantly between countries like Germay and France. If there were signifiacnt differences between Germany and other couutries like France and England, than one might suspect that other cultural factors were also. Some German boys were outfitted in dresses, but based on the photographic record the prevalence seems lower than many other European countries. The hyper-military tradition of the Prussian monarchy may be a factor. This would mean that conventions my have been different in the various Germn states before unification (1871). Unfortynately our German archive before the 1870s is very limited. A more pan-Germanic factor is the roles of German mothers and fathers. European men dominated the familiy. This was the case throughout Europe, but was especiually pronounced in Germany. Women in America, England, and France had much more established rights and social status. Women in america had even begun to vote and hold office in some srates. Men in Germany, however, had comceded little to women. Social classseems to have been a factor, although our limited archive makes this difficult to assess. It looks to us that this convention was most pronounced amony well-to-do upper anbd affluent mkidd,e-class families.



The German word for dress is Kleid (plural Kleider).


We have just begun to develop information on chronological trends concerning the dresses worn by German boys. Our preliminary assessment is that the German pattern differed somewhat from the rest of Europe. We do notice images of German boys wearing dresses, but it does not seem to have been as common in Germany as in some other European countries. Of course are assessment is complicated some what because until 1871 there were many independent German states before the German Empire under Prussian leadership was created. Hopefully as our information expands we will be able to more accurately understand German trends.

Dress Types

German boys wore a variety of dress types. The most common dress was the variously styles little white dresses for younger boys, but there were msany other types of dresses worn by boys. Here we do not have a lot of information because we do not know a lot about dresses, but as our German archive expaands we hope to develop information on the various different dress types. Any information readers have on this subject would be apprecited.

Color and Patterns

Color and patterns re another important feartures of dresses. Generally speaking, dresses could have bright er colors and nolder patterns than most other garments boys wore. Unfortunately we have very little information about dress colors becaise of the black-and-white photography of the 19th century. Tinted portrairs provide some clues. White dresses were very popular, especially for younger boys. We also see many colored dresses which unforunately we can not assess the colors. We have more information anout patterns which if course we can see in the photogreaohic record, although we can not tll the colors involved. One popular pattern was plaid in America and Britain. We also see plaif in Germany, but we are not sure how popular it was. We note both boys and girls wearing plaid dresses. We cam not yet determine gender conventions such as relative popularity. Dresses were done in mnu other patterns.


We see German boys of various ages wearing dresses. Of course it was most common for very young boys to wear dresses. The age conventions as in other countries varied over time. We have a limited archive of 19th century images, but have begun to collect some information. Generally speaking we see fewer older boys in Germany wearing dresses than in other countries. This appears to be the case in the late 19th century by the time of German unification (1870). We rarely see a German boy older than 4 years of age outfitted in dresses. We are unsure just when and where German age conventions concerning boys wearing dresses began to diverge from those prevalent in other European countries.With the popularity of photography we can follow German trends in some detail at this time. We know less about age trends in the early and mid-19th century before photography was widely available. Another complication we are unsure about age trends in the various German states before unification.

Family Trends

We are not sure yet about family trends concerning boys wearing dresses.. We susoect that boys with older sisters might have been more commonly outfitted in dresses than boys with older brothers. Several factors were involved here. The family dynamics could be different. The mpther may have delt differently and the boy involved as he got older would have felt differently. At any rate, it was up to the mother who in the 19th century had substantial disgression in such matters. The photographic record offers some clues as to the family conventions involved.


We know that young German boys wore dresses in the 19th century as was common in Europe and America. The photographic record clearly shows this. We suspect that breaching continued to occur earlier in Germany than several other countries. Here we are just beginning to acquire German 19th century photographic portraits, so our assessment is just beginning. We note, however, that there are many images of very young German children wearing trousers or kneepants, even in the 1860s and 70s. This suggests to us that German boys may havde been breached at an earlier ager than boys in many other European countries (England, France, and Italy) and America. This observation is tebntative as w still have realtively few older German images. Also we not know if this was true for the early 19th century or if this was a common pattern throughout the various German states (Landen). We have no written information from Germany on breaching at this time.

Coordinated Outfits

Parents, we assume mostly mothers, liked to dress all their children in the same outfits. Some times there were out outfits for the girls and other outfits for the boys. Sometimes these outfits could be coordinated. sailor styling was especially useful for this approach. Some mothers wanted all the children in exactly identical outfits. It was not considered proper for girls to wear pants, but younger boys could wear dresses. Thus if a family had older girls anf younger boys, the etire family for a few years could be dressed just the same. Of corse this could only be done for a few years, essentially until the oldest boy reached school age. We do not se a lot of family photographs showing this convention, but we see enough of them to known that it was an accepted comvention in the 19th century.

Photographic Record

We still have only a small number of 19th century images from Germany. As a result, we are just beginning to assess the photographic record. One problem here is that mot only do we have a limited number of images, but the gender of the children is not always identified in the old images. Actually most available imafes do not have the children identified. Thus boys wearing dresses can easily be confused with girls, especially if they also have long hair. A good example here is an unidentified child who we think to be a girl, but certainly looks like a boy.


We note many German children wore long sockings with dressess. Our archive of 19th century German images is too limited at this time to assess German hosiery trends associated with dressess. We note that long stockings were also common in America, but socks of varying length often worn in England and France. Here sock were especially common with younger children and long stockings more common for older children, although trends also varried chronologically. Long stockings were not needed in the early 19th century as children wore lon dresses and or long pantalettes. As dresser and pantalettes were worn shorter, than long stockings became more common in the second half of the 19th century.


We notice that many German 19th century photographs showing children wearing dresses with patalettes. We are not entirely sure how common they were because in available portrits, the most important source of information on pantalettes, it is often not clear if a child is not wearing pantalettes or if they are covered by the skirt. Dresses were note the only garments worn with pantalettes, but were the most common garment worn with them. We note both boys and girls wearing them. Boys' pantalettes might be more plain than the ones girls wore, but both boys and girls wore them. We have few details about colors at this time, but we believe most were white. We also have very limited information on styles.

Reader Comment

A French reader writes, "I think that the little child here is a boy (figure 1). The hair had been cut rather short. A little girl would most likely have had long hair. The frock or dress could be a worn by both geders." HBC tends to agree. We have seen, however, American girls with their hut short. We are less sure how common this was in Germany.


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Created: December 3, 2002
Last updated: 3:26 PM 8/25/2015