Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Boyhood Garments

Figure 1.--This photograph shows Franklin in 1884 at about 4 years of age. His hair has not yet been cut. He wears a middy blouse with a double breasted styled white kilt-skirt. Note the stripped socks.

Franklin's mother sailor appears to have loved having her darling son photographed. I'm not sire what Franklin thought of this, but he does not seem to have minded. Quite a large repository exists of Franklin's boyhood outfits. Unfortunately, HBC does not yet have a lot of historical information about his clothes. We have no details, for example on his breeching. We do not have any descriptions from Sarah on the clothese she chose for her son. We do not know what Franklin thought about his clothes. Presumably some such informationnexists in the historical record and that HBC will be able to find it. Many of the boyhood images of Franklin show him in kilts and sailor suits. He also wore dresses when young, some of which had a sailor style. I'm not sure where his adult interested in the sea came from, but it it is certainly reflected in his boyhood clothes. Presumably his mother who so carefully selected his clothes instilled it in him. There do not appear to be images of him wearing smocks or Fauntleroy suits which were all the rage at the time. By age 13 he is wearing more adult Eton collars. I'm not precisely sure at what age he swiched out of his sailor suits, but it looks like 12 or 13 years.


Franklin as a very small boy wore dresses, as was the custom of the day. This was especially true for boys from affluent families. HBC does not have a lot of information on the dresses that he wore. Several authors mention that he did wear dresses, but provide few details on the styles he wore or what he wore on different occasions. Also unknown is what he wore for ordinary every day clothes or for play. One available image shows him at 3 years old in a rather frilly white dress with a wide brimmed hat with a plume or flowers. Surely it must have been for special occasiins, although he is pictured on a donkey for what was probably a daily outing. Dresses styled for boys were available in the 1880s, but there is nothing boyish about his dress in this photograph. I am not sure as just what age he was breeched, but it appears to have been at 4 or perhaps 5 years of age. He appears to have worn both dresses and kilted skirt-like outfits. Perhaps he wore kilts at 4 and 5 years and actual dresses earlier. I'm also not sdure that once he wore kilts that he then never wore any of his dresses again, or if it was a more gradual process. Perhaps he wore both dresses and kilts for a while. Certainlyy Sarah must have given considerable thought to Franklin's clothes. Whether she setvit down in writing or wrote to family and friends about such matters, I do not yet know.

Figure 2.--Franklin Roosevelt is pictured here in 1888. He is still wearing kilts, this time a tartan kilt. Other 1888 photographs show him wearing sailor suits. He would have been about 6 years old.


Franklin wore kilts as a boy. Available images show him dressed up in different styles of kilts or kilt skirts. He wore sailor kilts or actually a middy blouse with a kilt-skirt. He also wore Highland garb, including a sporan, shoulder sash, and Glengary cap. He appears to wear an Eton or other large white collar with a modest bow. Although his some of his kilts were not tartans, he also wore tartan kilts. He did wear a great deal of Highland garb with his kilts. One image shows him in a Higland kilt at about 4 or 5 years of age, by which time his long hair had been cut and he was wearing bangs. Actually, I think some reports that he wore dresses and kilts may be inaccurate. I think he wore dresses until 4 years of age and only began wearing kilts after he stopped wearing dresses. One winter they lived in Washington, at which time he wore kilts the whole winter. I'm not sure how old he was or what year it was.I do not know to what age he wore them. The family was not Scottish, but this was a fashion adopted by many wealthy Americans. I assume he also wore kilt suits without the Higland regalia, which was the more common style in America. Franklin apparently did not like to wear kilts. I do not know at what age he began to object or how much attention was given to his protestations. In the 1888 photograph, however, he looks to be quite hapily wearing his kilt. Other photographs in that year show him wearing sailor suits.


It was not uncommon for wealthy children during the late 19th Century to be dressed in smocks as informal wear around the house. I do not know, however, if Franklin wore smocks. Some of his Delano cousins, for example, appear to have worn smocks for summer outings.

Fauntleroy Suits

Velvet Fauntleroy suits were all the rage when Franklin was a boy. The Fauntleroy craze was just beginning in 1885 and continued for several years. HBC has not images, however, of Franklin wearing a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. This suggests that Sarah did niot outfit him in one. Certainly if she had, she would have had a photograph taken. While there does not appear to be photographs of Franklin in a Fauntleroy suit, one photograph shows hin in a lace collar. We note that after his dress and kilt era and until he was about 13 that Franklin was mostly photographed wearing sailor suits. We are not sure during if during this period that he had a Fauntleroy or other outfit for special occassions.

Figure 3.--Franklin Roosevelt is pictured here at about 12 years of age about 1894 in a kneepants sailor suit. I'm not sure how old he was when he stopped wearing sailor suits. This may have been one of his last portraits in a sailor suit.

Sailor Suits

Much more popular with Franklin were sailor suits. It is the sailor suit that is most assiciated with Franklin's boyhood. Many photographs exist of him in sailor suits. Franklin from an early age showed a love of the sea. He sailed as a boy and later took the children sailing. It is not surprising that he became Assistant Secretary of the Navy. We do not know to what extent wearing sailor suits affected his thinking about the sea and the Navy. The sailor suit by the 1880s was a popular outfit for a boy. Even Little Lord Fauntleroy in Mrs. Burnette's book is illustarted wearing a sailor suit. It is interesting to note, however, that FDR's attachment to the Navy and insistence on naval spending in the years leading up to World War II had a critical role in the War. I'm not sure when he began wearing sailor suits, but it appears to have been at about 6 or 7 years of age. Nor am I positive what he thought of them. Presumably he considered them a destincr improvement on what he was previously wearing, but I know of no actual correspondence indicating his opinion on the matter. We note that he wore a sailor suit when he was sebt to school for a few weeks in Germany. There are both white and blue suits, deprending on the season. They were worn with various style dickies. He appears to have mostly worn flat top sailor caps. I have not noticed images of him wearing broad-brimmed sailor hats. Photographs show him still wearing them at about 12 or 13 years of age. We are not precisely sure when he stopped wearing sailor suits, but presume it was about the time he went away to school at Gorton.

Eton Collars

Photographs of Franklin at 13 show him wearing suits with an Eton collars. Some of the suits are knicker suits.


As a younger boy in dresses and kilts, Franklin wore socks, both white and stripped. As an older boy wearing sailor suits he work long stockings.


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Created: August 18, 2000
Last edited: April 18, 2003