United States Boys' Clothes: Chronology--early 19th century (1800-40)


Figure 1.--One of the most important sources of information on early 19th century American fashions is folk art. Not only were these paintings done in the towns and few cities, but itinerant painters fanned out all over rural America where most people lived. I am not sure when this painting was done, but it looks like the 1830s.

American boys dressed up in styles reflecting the latest European styles. The idea of specialized styles for children was beginning to become widely accepted. Many of the popular stylesfor boys were empire styles originating in France, although many were passed on through Ebgland. Little boys wore dresses, often the long dresses popular at the time. Older boys might wear skeleton suits with open ruffled collars. Interestingly at the turn of the century men wore knee breeches, the typical costume presidents like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe are in. Boys on the other hand, once breeched, would might wear long pants skeleton suits. Academic sources report that early as the 1830s, social trends like urbanization and industrialization were beginning to change merica from the agrarian and craft-based economy of the 18th century. The impact was far reaching. One result was to create youth who spent more time in school and were thus more dependent on their parents for a longer period. Until the early 19th century, most boys lived on the farm or were apreticed at about age 12. This began to change by the 1830s with more boys continuing their education in schools for longer periods. This development was to give rise to a new phemomenon--youth culture that was to have a great impact on fashion and dress. adults.

European Styles

American boys dressed up in styles reflecting the latest European styles. The idea of specialized styles for children was beginning to become widely accepted. Many of the popular stylesfor boys were empire styles originating in France, although many were passed on through Ebgland. Little boys wore dresses, often the long dresses popular at the time. Older boys might wear skeleton suits with open ruffled collars. Another important boys' style in Europe during the early 19th century was tunics. We are not yet sure how commonly worn tunics were in America.

Destinctive Boy Styles

Interestingly at the turn of the century men wore knee breeches, the typical costume presidents like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe are in. Boys on the other hand, once breeched, would might wear long pants skeleton suits. While men of the affluent classes still wore knee breaches in the 1800s and 1810s, by the 1820s trousers were become accepted for men and were nearly universal by the 1830s. Boys continued to wear long trousers through the 1830s.

Youth Culture

Academic sources report that early as the 1830s, social trends like urbanization and industrialization were beginning to change America from the agrarian and craft-based economy of the 18th century. The impact was far reaching. One result was to create youth who spent more time in school and were thus more dependent on their parents for a longer period. [Graebner, p. 11.] Until the early 19th century, most boys lived on the farm or were apreticed at about age 12. Many boys received no schooling or only limited schooling. Abraham Lincoln who was to describe his schooling a "deficient" probably spent less than a year in the classroom. This was not unusual, especially in the 18th centurty, but was beginning to change by the 1830s. More boys continued their education in schools for longer periods. This development was to give rise to a new phemomenon--youth culture that was to have a great impact on fashion and dress.

Specific Decades

We have very limited information on American boys clothing during the early 19th century. There are few magzines or newspapers with advertisements or illustrations. Photography was not yet invented which severly limits the number of portraits. We have some paihntings, but they often are not dated. Most are by primitive.naive artists with varying attention to details such as clothing. While our information is limited, we are attempting to gather information and images if boys clothing in the eraly decades of the 19th century. For the most part, refined American families would have followed European styles. In the backwoods, more practical considerations governed clothing.

Slave Children

A sizeable number of Americans through the mid-1860s lived in slavery. These black Americans lived in the southern and border states. The fashions discused on HBC for the mid-19th century are those worn by free whites. Some blacks lived in northern and even southerm states as free, but not all franchised citizens. The vast majority of blacks, however, were slaves living in the South. The clothing worn by these Americans need to be addressed.

Sources

William Graebner, Coming of Age in Buffalo: Youth and Authority in the Postwar Era (Temple University Press, 1990).






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Created: July 17, 2002
Last updated: 3:20 PM 6/22/2011