United States Boys' Clothes: The 1870s


Figure 1.--This portrait is undated, but we believe that it was taken in the late 1870s. Note the kilt suit, hat style, and stripped stockings. Note the small size of his collar and the plaid trim on his jacket cuffs. Also notice his favorite toy, a hoop and stick.

America was still a fashion backwater in the 1870s. Fashions were still largely imported from Europe, largely England and France. Americans might rework European fashions. Thus while the Highland kilt never proved greatly popular in America, the reworked kilt suit proved to be a very important style until the turn-of-the century. Little Americam boys in the 1870s, as in Europe, continued to wear dresses. The kilt suit appered in the 1870s. Thios was a fashion inovation based on the Scottish kilt that Queen Victoria had helped popularize for boys. While American boys did not wear Highland outfits, the kilt suits became very popular. Some were worn with tartan kilt skirts rather than the more muted materials more common in subsequent decades. Sailor suits appeared in many forms, but were not yet the dominate style for boys. Fancy velvet suits for boys appaered showing a French influence, but they were not yet called Faintleroy suits. Some had fancy collars and bows, but generally not the huge collars and bows that appeared in the 1880s. Many styles of hats appaered for boys. Collars began to increase in size as did bows by the end of the decade. Boys were increasingly dressed in kneepants rather than long pants. By the end of the decade, kneepants had become a widely accepted fashion for boys, although they were generally not yet commonly worn by teenage boys, except for the very youngest. Boys wore long stockings with knnepants. Stripped stockings were considered stylish.

Fashion Origins

America was still a fashion backwater in the 1870s. Fashions were still largely imported from Europe, largely England and France. Americans might rework European fashions. Thus while the Highland kilt never proved greatly popular in America, the reworked kilt suit proved to be a very important style until the turn-of-the century.

Garments

Little Americam boys in the 1870s, as in Europe, continued to wear dresses. The Mint Museum of Art In North Carolina displayed is a young boy's dress with a rosette "bustle" purchased in 1879 in Chicago for 4-year old James Cromwell. Such garments were worn over flounced petticoats with lace-trimmed or plain pantaletts beneath. The kilt suit appered in the 1870s and was enormously popular for younger boys. This was a fashion innovation based on the Scottish kilt that Queen Victoria had helped popularize for boys. While American boys did not wear Highland outfits, the kilt suits became very popular. And no where was it more popular than in America. Some were worn with tartan kilt skirts rather than the more muted materials more common in subsequent decades. Sailor suits appeared in many forms, but were not yet the dominate style for boys. Fancy velvet suits for boys appaered showing a French influence, but they were not yet called Faintleroy suits. Some had fancy collars and bows, but generally not the huge collars and bows that appeared in the 1880s. Many styles of hats appaered for boys. Collars began to increase in size as did bows by the end of the decade. Boys were increasingly dressed in kneepants rather than long pants. By the end of the decade, kneepants had become a widely accepted fashion for boys, although they were generally not yet commonly worn by teenage boys, except for the very youngest. Boys wore long stockings with knnepants. Stripped stockings were considered stylish.

Fashion Articles

Articles on style and fashion in contemprary magazines are very important in understanding contemporary fashion trends and terminology. They help understand the phphographs archived on HBC. We can make outmany clothing details in the photographs, but the stlistic conventions are often more elusive. We are constantly looking for these articles addressing boys' fashions. We note a brief article on "Small Boy's Clothes" from Harper's Bazar Magazine. We are not yet sure when it appeared in Harper's. The copy we found was in the Waterloo Courier (July 18, 1877, page 2). This was the Waterloo, Iowa newspaper. It describes the fashionable styles for young boys to wear before they are breached.

Individual Accounts

We are collecting individual accounts from the 1870s. In some cases we have details. In other instances we can only assess images that we have found without any provinance.

Unidentified child

James Cromwell






HBC





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Created: April 13, 2002
Last updated: 9:58 PM 2/26/2009