United States Boys' Clothes: Steps in Getting Dressed--Chronologies

Figure 1.--Here we see 12-year old John in 1900. He wears a corduroy kneepants Norfolk suit with black long stockings. Norfolk styling was very popular in the 1900s. Note his flat cap. This is how he might have dressed to go to school.

We will show how the three boys in our family dressed at different stages from underwear to overcoats. Our intention is to show this during decades to illustrate how the process of dressing and the fashions would have changed over time. We hope to show a series of decades. Thanks to our wirk on HBC we have an increasing detailed understanding of how boy dressed in each decade. We would be very interested, however, if readers spot any mistakes we have made or have any comments as to how boys might have dressed in each decade. As this is a time consuming undertaking, it will be some time before we are able to accomplish this. Our initinal plan is to run this from about the 1870s to modern times.


Our inintial inclination is to dress the boys in a kilt suit, Fauntleroy suit, and a yet to be determined sack suit, worn with a lace collar and floppy bow. Tom might have had ringlet curls.

The 1900s

Our three brothers underneath were dressed very similarly. All three would have worn union suits. They would also have worn waist suits to hold up pants and long stockings. All three boys would have worn long stockings along the younger boy might have worn socks in the summer. If they had lived in the country they might have gone barefoot, but these are city boys. There outer clothing, however would gave been quite different and affected by their ages. Tom might have worn a tunic suit, Carl a sailor suit, and John a Norfolk suit. There were a variety of other options. Some mothers might have dressed all three boys in sailor suits. Tom mught have also worn a kilt suit in 1900 (but not later in the decade). Another option was a Fauntleroy suit and Carl might alsi have worn a Fauntleroy suit. We have chosen the outer clothing here as most representative of what three middle-class boys might have worn.

The 1910s

Our three brothers underneath were dressed very similarly. All three would have worn union suits, depending on the season they would have worn wither long or short sleeved and long or short leg suits. In addition to the illustrations of the boys done especially for the project, we also note some HBC pages which show children in the morning before or in the process of getting dresses. The pages offer some useful insights. We note illustrations from the Ladies Home Journal of the children still in their waist union suits seeing dad off to work. We also notice what looks like a bed-time scene. The two younger boys might have worn three-quarter socks during the summer and long stockings during the winter with the necessary stocking supporters. The older boy would have worn long stockings even during the summer. Of course many boys went barefoot during the summer, but this was affected by where they lived and social class. Some younger boys wore dresses, but this was much less common in the 20th century, especially by the 1910s. There were a variety of outfits for younger boys. Boys wore rompers, tunics, Oliver Twist suits, sailor suits and other outfits. A very popular style for boys' Tom age was the tunic suit. We also see many boys wearing a variety of button-on outfits such as Oliver Twist and sailor suits. We have chosen a romper suit for Tom, but is just one of several different suits he might have worn. School age boys like Carl wore more mature styles. Sailor suits were still popular. Younger boys wore variously styled suits, oten with straight-leg knee pabts. Knickers had become popular in the 1910s and boy's John'a age would probably had a knickers suit.

The 1920s

There were major changes in fashions after World War I in the 1920s. Fashions became increasingly casual. Tunic suits went out of style for younger boys. We see boys younger boys wearing Oliver Twist suits and sailor suits, mostly with knee pants and white three-quater socks during the summer and long stockings during the winrer. Older boys still wore knicker suits, but we see fewer teenagers wearing them. Norfolk jackets continued to be popular. Boys mostly wore knickes with black long stockings. Thus various types of stocking supporters were worn. Short pants were not as common in America as in Europe.

The 1930s

A reader notes, "In the 1930's age four to fourteen I wore a sleeveless undershirt and boxer shorts under pants. The same in the 1940's until I entered the U.S. Army except the color was Olive Drab."

The 1940s

The 1950s

Certainly jeans have to be promineltly featured in the 1950s. As a boy I wore cuffed jeans all the time, for both play and school. I remember my jeans during the winter were lined in flannel wih a red plaid pattern.

Help Needed

We are just beginning this project. We would be very interested in any advise readers can offer us about what the boys would have worn in any specific decade. It will be some time before we can get to the various decades. We will, however, note your comments and use them when we eventually get to each decade.



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Created: 4:45 AM 2/5/20055
Last updated: 2:20 AM 7/8/2008