Estonian Boys' Clothes

Figure 1.--This the family of Karl Eduard Sööt Villem Grünthal. I believe that he was an Estonian writer. The photograph was taken in July 1939 a few weeks before the NAZI invasion of Poland and the Soviets began to take over Estonia. I do not know what happened to the family after the Soviets took over the country. Click on the image to see another Estonian family.

Estonia has for years been associated with Russia. Until 1818 it was part of the Russian Empire. As a Baltic country, Estonia was exposed to Western influences more than most areas of Russia. It was briefly independent until seized by Stalin in 1940 and then occupied by the NAZIs in 1941. After World War II it was administered as a Republic of the Soviet Union. It's location close to Finland meant that it was the only part of the Societ Union exposed to Western television. Estonia was the first part of the Soviet Union to gain independence (1991). As a result of its historical experience, Estonian fashions have been stronly influemced by Russian and German fashions. Hopefully oue Estonian readers will provide further information.


The modern border of Estonia borders the Gulf of Finland on the north and Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Roga on the West. There are over 1,500 mostly small islands dotting the shore. The two largest islands are on the western coast, Saaremaa (island land) and Hiiumaa. They are today popular vacation spots. Estonia is a mostly low, flat country. The highest point is Suur Munamägi (Egg Mountain) in the hilly southeast corner of the country. Estonia has a marine border with Finland and land borders with Russia to the east and Latvia for the south. The largest city and chief port is Tallinn. Other important cities are Tartu, Narva, and Pärnu.


The demographic structure of Estonia is complicated. The area was dominated by the Estonians in the Middle Ages. War II the Estonian population was about 1.1 million. The population was made up largely of Estonians and Russians. The Estoniams are destinct from the population of the other Baltic Republics (Latvia and Lithuanian). The Estonians are more relasted to the Finns and their language Finno-Ugric language. Although Estonia is geographically grouped as Baltic Republic, culturaly and ethnically, they are not relasted to the other two Baltic Republics. Redish hair and blue eyes are common in Estonia. The Germans moved east in the Medieval era and helpfed found many coastal cities. Thre Gernans dominated the cities along the southern coast of the Baltics. The cities became memnbers of the Hanseatic League. The Tsars seized control of the Baltics in the Great Norther War. Tsarist officials, however, dis nor attempt to alter the demographic ballance. Unlike the other Ba;tic Republics, there were very few Jews in Estonia. Estonia like the other Baltic republics achieved independence as a result of the turmoil associated with World War I and the Russian Revolution. At the time the population was primarily ethnic Estonians. The NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (1939) permitted Stalin to carry out a series of aggressions, including the occupation of Estonia (1940). Stalin ordered the KGB to arrest and deport many Estonians. Many never returned. Stalin also encouraged the emmigration of ethnic Russians to alter the ethnic ballance. Many Russians came to Estonia because living conditions were generally above that common in Russia. As a result, after World War II the poulation of Russians increased substantially and affected the ethnic ballance in the country. This is a major issue in Estonia today.


The Estonian language is part of the Finnish group of the Finno-Ugric division of the Ural-Altaic language family. There are two prevalent dialects, northern and southern. The northern dialect is the basis for the written language and generally considered the basis for correct speech. The language patterns also suggest ethnic relations.A HBC reader writes, "I have been to Estonia. Estonia, Hungary and Finland are inhabited by people who genetically are linked. Furthermore, Estonians told me that they can understand both Finn and Hungarian even if they could not speak it. So they felt the languages were similar to. Almost like dialects of the same language."


Estonian boys' clothing, as in the case in many countries at high northern lattitudes, is strongly influenced by the climate. The climate in Winter can be severe, but the country also has a relatively hot summer.

National Influences

Estonia has for years been associated with Russia. Until 1818 it was part of the Russian Empire. As a Baltic country, Estonia was exposed to Western influences more than most areas of Russia. It was briefly independent until seized by Stalin in 1940 and then occupied by the NAZIs in 1941. After World War II it was administered as a Republic of the Soviet Union. It's location close to Finland meant that it was the only part of the Soviet Union exposed to Western television. As Estonian and Finnish are related languages, Estonians could understand the Finnish TV broadcasts. With this exposure to the West, it is no accident that Estonia was the first part of the Soviet Union to gain independence (1991). As a result of its historical experience, Estonian fashions have been stronly influemced by Russian and German fashions.


Estonia was unknown to the ancient world. The Baltic was a rough neigborhood in the mid-Middle ages as the Estonians were exposed to Viking raids. The country enters into the written record as Christian Europe begins tom spread east. Estonia was a part of historic Livonia and ruled by the Livonia knights (13th century). Sweden acquired Estonia (1561). Russia under Peter the Great conquered the area (1710). Under Russian rule Germans as a result of the Livonian Knights formed the ruling class. As a result of the World War and the Russian Revolution, Estonia achieved its independence from Russia (1918). A formal treaty was signed with the Bloshevicks (1920). A democratic republic ruled the country. President Konstantin Päts began authoriative rule (1934). After the start of World War II, Stalin began to move against the Baltic republics. He first demanded bases (1939) and then invaded all three countries and annexed them to the Soviet Union (1940). The NAZIs occupied the Baltics as part of the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Soviets retook the Baltics (1944). For four decadeds the Baltics languased within the Soviet Empire, but was relatively prosperous. For most of its history, Estonia has played a small role in European history. This changed dramatically late in the the 20th century. It was in Estonia that the first overt opposition within the Sigiet Union appeard leading to the unraveling of the country. Today Estonia is both democratic and prosperous with afree enterprise economy. A sharp contrast to the path that President Putin has chosen for Russia.



We do not have much chronological information on Estonia yet. Political developmens had a substantial impact. Estonia in the 19th century was part of the Russian Empire. There was subsantial industrialization in the late 19thcentury with Estonins moving into the cities which had a substantial German population. We see boys wearing Russian styled sailor suits in the early-20th century. At the time of course, Estonia was a part of the Russian Empire. We think styles in the cities were indluenced by both German and Russian styles, we are less sure about the clothes worn in the country side. After World war I (1914-18) we see an increasing German influence in clothing, in part because the Soviet Union was such a society and fashion was not seen as important matter by state economic planners. After World War II (1939-45), Estonia disappeared within the Soviet Empire. Estonia and the other Baltics while not as fashioinable as the West, were the most fashionable areas of the Soviet Union. Fashions managed to penetrate the Iroin Curtain, although there was a time delay. Since independence (1992), Estonias rapidly adopted the generalized pan-European fashions.


We have noted Estonian boys wearing the same basic garments and styles as those worn in Germany, Russia, and other neigboring countries. Estonia until World war I was a Russian possession. Estonian cities had, however, aubstantial German population. The Lutheran religion also created contacts with Germany. And as a Baltic sea countries, there were contacts with Scandinavia. We do not al this time know of any destinctive Estonian garments. Estonian boys during the Soviet era seem to have been dressed a little more stylishly than boys in other areas of the Soviet Union. We noted that vests were seen as very stylish in the 1970s. After World War I many boys wore short pants, often with long stockings. Suspender and H-bar shorts were common for younger boys.

Hair Styles

We notice a lot of boys with close-cropped hair in the early and mid-20th century. This was especially common among working-class families. We believe that one of the reasons for the popularity of this style was the prevalent sanitary conditions. Also it was inexpensive becaise mother could clip the boy's hair and he did not have to be sent to the barber. Boys in more affluent families were more likely to have at least enpugh hair to comb. Note the moddle-class family here (figure 1). After World War II, bangs became a popular style for boys.


We have little information on Estonian families at this time. Estionia is a very small country. And our archive is limited. These family portaits are very useful because they show how the different menbers of the family were dressed at various times. We have managed to find a few Estonian family images. We note a mother with her four children in what looks liike a portrait taken by an itinerant photographer. Typical dress for a middle-class family during the era of independent Estonia can be seen here (figure 1). We have some information about the Tomasson family which the Soviets deported in 1941. We have information on another family, that of Captain Uno Kangur who was the captain of a Baltic fishing boat. The information comes from 1972 when Estonia was still a part of the Soviet Union.


We do not yet have much information on individual Estonian boys. We do have a page on two unidentified Estonian brithers in 1915.


We have begun to collect information about the activities in which Estonian boys engaged abd the clothes associated with those activities. School of course was a primary activity. The oldest educational facility in Estonia is the University of Tartu, establisged in 1632. The educational system was heavily influenced by the Soviet system. We note boys without school uniforms right after World War II, but presumably as the country began to recover from the War, the standard Soviet school uniform became more common. Since independence, Estonian school children no longer wear uniforms. I'm unsure just what other changes have taken place in education since independence. One change is there are now schools that operate in the Estonian as well as the Russian language. We also notice youth groups. During the Soviet era the Young Pioneers became essentially manditoruy. Religion was more complicated. Estonian was a largely Protestant country, but the Tsarist Goivernmrent promoted Orthodoxy and the Communists athism. The importance of religion in Estonian life was substantially reduced during the Soviet era. We see some children with pets, but for the most part keeping pets was difficult during the soviet era.

Folk Costuming

We have noted Estonian boys and girls wearing folk costunes, but do not know much about it at this time. The ones we have seen seem similar to some Scandinavian and German folk costumes we have see. The boys wear 18th century black knee breaches with white stockings. This is the general pattern in European folk costumes which genrally seem to have become fixed, based on late 18th century styles.


We do not yet have a lot of information about the Estonian film industry. Estonia was part of the Tsarist Empire when movies first began to be made. The Russian film industry was, however, still in its infancy. We know of no Estonian films made before World war I. Nor are we sure to what extent foreign films were shown in Estonia and the rest of Tsarist Russia. After World War I (1914-18), Estonia gained its independence. We have no information on how the film industry developed in Estonia during this period. There were serious limitations on film industries in small countries like Estonia. Durung the first decade, films were silent which meant that there was the possibility of export, but with the appearance of the talkies (sound film), there would hsve been only the small national market to support the industry. It is likely thst most films shown in Estonia were American or German, but we have few details. Nor do we know to what extent Soviet films were shown because of the ideological content. The Soviet Union invaded Estinia during World War II and incorportated it into the Soviet Union. Estonia remained a art of the Soviet Union (except for a brief period of NAZI control) until the disolution of the Soviet Union (1992). During this era there were some films made in Estonia in the Estonian language. We are not sure just how common this was. We do not yet information on the Estonian film industry since independence.

European Union

A German reader writes, "It is very interesting to read the HBC Estonian pages! The fate of the Baltics under Communism is a subject that is not well known. It was fascinating to read about these peoples and their heart-rending suffering for about 60 years. I am very glad that the Baltic people in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithunia are now able to really join the free world and the European Communities, about 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet regime."


Related Baltic Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Estonia] [Latvia] [Lithuania] [Prussia]

Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[The 1880s] [The 1890s]
[The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s]

Related Style Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Smocks] [Long pants suits] [Knicker suits] [Short pants suits] [Socks] [Eton suits] [Jacket and trousers]
[Blazer] [School sandals] [School smocks] [Sailor suits] [Pinafores] [Long stockings]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Page
[Return to the Main European country page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: April 8, 2004
Last updated: 7:12 AM 7/14/2013