United States Boys' Styles: Oliver Twist Suits


Figure 1.--This American boy about 1920 wears an Oliver Twist suit. They were done in many different styles, but were almost always button-on outfits. Notice that the darker color is used for the pants and picked up for detailing the blouse and for the neckwear.

We do not know a great deal about Oliver Twist suits. They were outfits for younger boys that appeard at about the time that the Fauntleroy suit went out of style. There is not a lot written about them, but the term was commonly used in period ctalogs. The were primarily worn by pre-school age boys during the 1910s and 20s. The term Oliver Twist probably derives from the fact that these were button-on outfits, a style popular during the 19th century era in which the Dickens novel is set. At least that is the only common feature we note in the Oliver Twist outfts offered in catalogs. Other features such as sleeves, collars, and detailing varied widely. Very large collars were popular with many of these suits. String ties with tassels wee another popular feature. These suits were generally offered in sizes up to 4 or 5 years old, occassionally a bit older, but this was not very common. They were done in a wide variety of colors. This was a style for boys only.

Teminology

We do not know a great deal about Oliver Twist suits. They were outfits for younger boys that appeard at about the time that the Fauntleroy suit went out of style. There is not a lot written about them, but the term was commonly used in period ctalogs. The term Oliver Twist probably derives from the fact that these were button-on outfits, a style popular during the 19th century era in which the famed Dickens' Oliver Twist novel is set. At least that is the only common feature we note in the Oliver Twist outfts offered in catalogs.

Chronology

The Oliver Twist suit was a major depature for boys. We see this age group of boys in the late-19th and early-20th century ften wearing very fancy outfits like Fauntleroy suits and fancy blouses. The Oliver Twist suit was a relatively simple outfit wgich became very popular as both a play and dress up outfit. It is a good example of how attitudes toward dressing choldren was changing in the early 20th century. Oliver Twist suits were a popular style for younger boys. They were widely worn by pre-school boys and boys just beginning school. The style was most popular during the 1910s and 20s. They can be found in both the photographic record as well as mail order catalogs and advertising during both the 1910s and the 1920s. They were still available in the 1930s, especially the early 30s.

Sylistic Elements

Buttons, often large white buttons, were the dominant stylistic feature of Oliver Twist suits. The size of the buttons was both stylistic and practical. Large buttons were also easier for small hands to manipulate as younger children began learning to dress themselves. Not all Oliver Twist suits had large buttons, but virtually all did have buttons as an important stylistic element. Large collars were popular and included with many of the suits, but not all. Other common features were collar string ties and tassles. They were often used because large floppy bows were not commonly used.

Components

There were two basic elements of Oliver Twist suit, the blouse top and pants bottoms which buttoned together. The blouse was by far the nost important and much of the styling involved with the outfits occurre on the top. Features if the blouse such as sleeves, collars, and detailing varied widely. There were many different styles of Oliver Twist suits. The diversity is such that there is really no standard style. It is the buttons tht seem to be the defining element. Very large collars were popular with many of these suits. String ties with tassels were another popular feature. The pants were mostly knee pants, although some begin to look more like short pants. We see knee pants in the 190s, but short pants become more common in the 1920s. We do not commonly notice long pants or knickers with Oliver Twist suits.

Age

These Oliver Twist suits were generally offered in sizes for pre-school boys. Sizing varied somewhat, but we generally see the age range in catalog offerings at about 2-5 years. A good example is the Oliver Twist suits offerdd by Stuarts in 1915. The sizes were mostly 2-4 years, but the middy (sailor) sizes went up to 5 years of age. We note some of thw wash suits offered by Best were done with Oliver Twist styling with the same basic age range. The middy versions were dione up to age 6 years. Occassionally we see them worn by younger school age boys, but the Oliver Twist style was primarily a pre-school style. This age range in the catalogs roughly corresponds to portraits we have archived in the photographic record.

Material


Colors

Color was an important stylistic device used in Oliver Twist suits. Oliver Twist were done in a wide variety of color combinations. Less commonly do we see single colar suits. And when they do, they is usually contrasting color detailing. While we often can not differentiate the colors used in available photographs, it is quite obvious that colors were employed. Commonly there were different colors for the blouse and pants. A common approach was to do the blouse top in a kight color or white. Often the pants were a darker color. Colored tops are nostly see in single-color suits. The darker color of the pants was often picked up for color detailing on the blouse. Collars and cuffs were commonly done in the darker contrasting color. Colors was also used in the neckwar employed. The darker color pants convention was not always used, but it was very common. Almost always there were two colors and not threee. A range of colors were used. We think blue in various shades was very common, but many other colors were used. Here the black and white photography of the day complicates our assessment, but period catalogs often provide basic color information, but do not specify shades.

Gender

The Oliver Twist suit was a style for boys only. We do not see girls wearing these suits, not do we see girls with coordinated dress outfits. This still needs to be confirmed, but we can say that coordinated girls' outfits were certainly not very common.

Usage

boys could wear Oliver Twist suits both for play as well as look smart when dressing up for a range of occassions. We note boys wearing these suits to birthday parties.






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Created: 11:06 PM 12/2/2007
Last updated: 9:59 PM 10/11/2010