United States Boys' Clothes: Individual Experiences


Figure 1.--We believe that this American boy was photographed about 1900. We do not know him name, but we have images of how he was dressed as a younger and older boy.

Here we have gathered details about American boys describing their clothing and boyhoos experiences. This information has come from a variety of sources. Some pages are based on available portraits with or without personal deails. Other pages are biographies of both known and unknown individuals. that American HBC readers have contributed details about their boyhood for the more recent decades. We have also added summaries of published accounts. Perhaps you have always wondered to write your aithbiography. Here is your chance. You are welcome to draft an outline and add details as you see fit. All we ask is that your account include details about your boyhood clothing. For organizational simplicity, we have archived these accounts as to the earlist date referenced. Thus for any given decade, there may be accounts in the previous or following decade that are pertinent.

The 1840s

Tmomas Smith (1840s)

This Daguerreotype portrait of a boy aboy 5 years old. The boy is named in the protective case, but the writing is difficult to make out. We seem to see Thomas Smith, but can't make out the rest of the writing. Hopefully readers will be able to pick out some of the other words in the names. The names could have been the parent's name who ordered the portrait. The boys wears a button up tunic with a small ruffeled collar and no bow. The portrait has been colorized. Note blue has been selected. We suspect that the color is accurate, but we are not at all sure about the shade. I seem to see "color dress Blue" on the third line. Perhaps tht was instructions to the colorizer. Note that the boy's tunic was referred to as a dress. I am not sure his mother or people in the fashion industry woukd have used this term. The portrait is undated. Ww suspect it dates to the 1840s, in part because of the simple brass frame plate. More ornate frames were common in the 1850s, although this assessment is only suggestive, not definitive. Notice that the boys holds a small basket. This may mean that the portrait was taken in the spring fof Easter. Note that his boy's thumb is hooked into his tunic above a button for support. This presumably was instructions given by the portutarist.

The 1850s

Unidentified boy (1856)

We note a portrait of an American boy. Unfortunately we do not know the boy's name. We do know the portrait was painted in 1856. It provides a good view of an affluent American boy in the years just before the Civil War. Note that the boy wears an outfir with a suit jacket and pants in contrasting colors. This was much less common in the 1860s when suits mostly had jackets and pants in the same color.

The 1860s

Unidentified boy

HBC has virtually no information on this portrait, but it almost certainly is Ameican, probably painted in the 1860s. It is an excellent example of an 1860s boys' suit.

The 1870s


Adolph Korn (United States, 1870)

An Apache raiding party kidnapped Adolph Korn on January 1, 1870. He was kidnapped while tending the family's sheep with his twin brother along the Llano River in the Texas Hill country. Their stepfather was a German immigrant. He had been a confectioner, but decided to raise sheep in Texas--quite a change. He was, however, having a hard time making a go on a sheep ranch. Adolph spent 3 years with the Apaches. Native Americans generally did not have the same concept of race as the Europeans. Captives might be killed, especially the men. Women and children might be accepted into the tribe. Boys might become warriors fighting for the tribe against their own people. Adoph's experience with the Apache was a powerful one. He appaer's to have accepted the tribe. He had a difficult time adjusting to a European life style after he returned to his family. He did not want to sleep indoors and would disappear into the hills for days at a time. [Zesch]

Joseph Breckinridge

Joseph was born in 1872. He was photographed in July 1876 at the age of 4 years, 4 months old. Joseph wears a rather ordinray kneepants outfit with a kind of short back-buttoning tunic top. He has stockings with a destinctive horizontal stripe, with alternating colors. He has interesting style shoes and wears a bow tie. His hair is is worn in long ringlets. The front hair which looks to be short, but also too long for bangs, is braided to side of his head and tied with a hair ribbon. The hair braiding is interesting. Is his mother letting his bangs grow out?

The 1880s

We have noted several accounts about hair styles and various clothing styles during the 1880s. Several are published accounts. Others are submitted by readers oe based on the analysis of avilable photographs. The 1880s is of course one of the most famed or to many boys notorious decades in terms of boys' fashions becaise of the publication of Little Lord Fauntleroy and the resulting fashion for velvet suits with ace collars, often worn with long hair done in ringlet curls.

The 1890s

The 1890s: The hated Fauntleroy suit
The 1890s: Heywould Broun
The 1890s: Dresses and Fauntleroy suits (Sammy Morrison)
The 1890s: Dresses and Fauntleroy suits (Unknown boy)
The 1890s: Kneepants (Harry H. Seckler)

The 1900s

We have collected information about several individual American boys during the 1900s. Because of the time factor, no HBC reader has sent us a personal account of their boyhood experiences. We have noted accounbts in biographies as well as a great deal of photographic evidence. Younger boys were still outfitted in dresses and other skirted garments, but not as commonly as in the 1890s. We have noted many unidentifiedimages showing boys wearing dresses in the 1890s. One example here is Ernest Hemmingway whose mother liked to dress him and his sistr in matcing outfits. One of the most common outfits for yong boys after breaching was the tunic suit. Buster Brown and sailor styles were very popular. Harold Fitzroy-Carrington and the Ohio boy are good examples here. There ar many others. Boys still wore Fauntleroy suits, although sailor suts were much more common. Tom Wolfe wears a popular style of sailor suit. Older boys suits. Norfolk jackets were especially popular. Most boys wore their suits with kneepants or knickers, often with black or other dark-colored long stockings. The Pittsburg brothers are examples here. Most boys had short hir cuts, although shaved heads were rare. Some boys wore longer hair, even ringlets, although this was becoming less common. Even a few older boys, like Tom Wolfe, wore ringlets, but hated them. A few boys even had hair bows.

The 1910s

1910s: Memoir--Lutie Stewart Wilson

The 1920s

The 1920s: First long pants suit
1920s: Long stockings--Peggy and Tony
1922-25: Brothers and sister--Velma
1925: First long pants suit--Eddie

The 1930s

We do not have very many personal contribtions from readrs for the 1930s and we have just lost one of our most generous and knowledgeable readers, Charles, to help tell us about the 1930s. We are adding some family snaphors ans well as well as biographies and literary pieces. We still see flat caps, although they were no longer dominant anf had largely disappared by the late-30s. Button-on outfits were ppular for school-age boys. Knickers which dominated the 1910s and 20s are still very important in the 30s, especially the early 30s. Corduroy knikers were stil popular scjhoolwear. Jeans were not yet veryimportant. We see youngr boy wearing short panrs. Older boys mightwear them during the summer. nd lng pants become oncrasingly importan. Bys comoonly wor knee socks with knickers and long stocings were declining n populrity. Ankle socjswere becoming increasingly popular. Boys mostly wore leather shoes, but sneakers were becoming more popular for casual wear after school.

The 1940s

Several HBC readers have contributed details on their personal experiences during the 1940s. These have included accounts about hair styles and various clothing styles. Some readers have traveled or gone to school in other countries, providing interesting cross-cultural insights. There are also accounts on buying clothes as well as experiences at school. Several published accounts also add valuable insights on boys wear during the 1940s. We have a variety of contribution from HBC readers desribing both experiences at home and at school. Many boys remember disliking knickers. Some boys wore sailor suits. Quite a few boys were Cub and Boy Scouts. Catholic boys often had some different experiences than Protestant boys. One reader desribes his and those of a friend from Germany.

The 1950s

The 1950s was the beginning of many modern styles in America. Clothes had for some time become increasingly informal. This process began with World War I and only inreased after World War II. Headwear was becoming less common. We see some boys dressing up with hats. Caps were more common when not wearing suits. "T"-shirts became a fashion main stay. T-shirts were very common, most stroped T-shirts. There were long-sleeve T-shorts for cooler weather. Knickers which had been so common for several decdes were no longer worn. Jeans were inveasingly popular. Many boys recall wearing jeans even in the Summer, but here there were regional and social class variations. Several readers recall wearing jeans and not short pants. Boys of all ages wore them and girls began doing so as well. Primary boys (but not girls) could wear them to school. Secondary boys were generally expected to dress aittle better. Short pants were less common, although this varied regionally. They were mostly worn seaonally. Increasingly shorts became casual Summer wear, but many boys did not even wear them n the Summer. A factor here was the beginning of a demographic shift south which means that boys were experiencing more warm weather. Boys still dessed up in suits for special occassions, but not for school except at a few private schools. Boys mostly wore single-beasted suits. Sports jackets were more common than suits, A blue blazer and grey slacks also became popular. Boys mostly wore long plants. Some younger boys wore short pants suits. Junior Eton suits were popular. Social class was a factor here. Preppy styles were popular. At the end of the decade chino slacks were popular with little belts for some reason on the back. Learher shoes were still very popular. Boys wore sneakers. Keds were especially popular, including high tops, but generally for play rather than school. We do not see boys wearing sanadals to any extent. They were mostly closed-toe sandals and generally worn by girls. Some readers recall suspenders. Parents still had considerable influence about what children wore, but children were increasingly making their preferences known. Our readers have provided insights on these and other trends in their personal experiences.

The 1960s

Several HBC readers have contributed details on their personal experiences during the 1960s. These have included accounts about hair styles and various clothing styles. Some readers have traveled or gone to school in other countries, providing interesting cross-cultural insights. There are also accounts on buying clothes as well as experiences at school. Published accounts also add valuable insights on boys wear during the 1960s. Of course hair became a major issue un the 1960s with the appearance of long hair styles. Several readers remember their hair styles.

The 1970s

The 1970s: Jeans-A Minority View
The 1970s: The Disco Era
The 1970s: A South African friend and church

The 1980s

The 1980s: Smart Clothes/Mother's efforts
The 1980s: Catholic School--Tony
The 1980s--OP short pants

The 1990s

The 1990s: A Girl's view
The 1990s: Buying a coat
The 1990s: New England boyhood

Sources

Zesch, Scott. The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier (St. Martin's, 2005).






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Created: March 12, 1998
Last updated: 8:42 PM 3/12/2013