readers questions concerning boys clothes

Questions Concerning Boys Clothing Styles

Figure 1.--This boy wears a double breasted reefer jacket with the collar of hos middly blouse folded above it.

HBC is addressing a wide range of questions. In addition HBC readers have submitted quite a number of more specific questions. We thought some of these questions might be of interest to you. Please let HBC know if you can improve on the response or have additional insights to offer.


Medieval Boys' Clothing

I found your website very interesting, but I'd like to see what a typical day's outfit for a teenage boy would look like in the 12th century. My son must dress like someone his age would if he were living during the time of Ivanhoe (about 100 years after the Norman conquest in the 11th century) for a school project. The most I've been able to determine is the boy would typically wear "breeches" made out of wool and maybe a "jerkin" made out of wool as well. But I haven't found any pictures yet as to what this would look like. A S Robson

HBC reply: HBC hasn't addressed the eras before the 1500s yet. One thing we can tell you is that specialized boys' clothes did not exist in the 12th century. There was specialized children's clothing in the Roman era, but after the fall of Rome, the convention of specialized boys' clothing appears to have disappeared in Western Europe. Boys after breeching wore the same styles as their fathers. HBC hopes to eventually address earlier historical eras, but it will be some time before this is possible in any detail.

Early 19th Century Clothing

I discovered your web-site all about victorian clothing and was delighted to find it such an informative and diverse site. I am currently writing a book which involves the character of a 10 year old, wealthy, fashionable boy of the 1820-30's, and would be extremely grateful if you could forward me any information as to what a boy of that age and class would have worn, on both formal events and just knocking about on a day to day basis (right down to his socks and under-garments !!) I have a vague image of items I've read about and seen in films etc. Sara Coogan.

HBC reply: Don't forget that the Victorian era begins with the reign of Queen Victoria. Thus the 1820s is not yet Victorian. I would probably choose a skeleton suit for formal attire. Tunics might be an idea for less formal atire. You should find quite a bit of information on both the HBC chronological pages for the 1820s and 30s and the skeleton suit and tunic pages. You might also check the ruffled collar pages.

Early 20th century

I came upon your web site recently while searching for ideas for clothing for my 6-year old son to wear to school for a special day of celebrations. You have spent a great deal of time on your site and it is very informative, congratulations. I am writing from Australia, and we are celebrating our centenery of Federation (100 years since the formation of a common federal Governement). My son's school wants the children to dress up in clothing from about 1900. He is one of only 10 boys at the school and I have no idea what to dress him in. The school does not want us to buy anything and suggests we look in our own cupboards or go to old clothing shops. I would be ever so grateful if you had any suggestions as to what he might wear. Thank you. Regards Tracy Turnbull

HBC reply: Glad you have found HBC of interest. I can not tell you what sort of clothes are currently available. I can tell you what a boy might have worn. in 1900. While I know less about Australia than England, I suspect that Austrlain styles would have been very similar to English styles. A sailor suit with keepants was commonly worn by younger boys. A lot of images are available of George V's children if you want examples. Another possibility is a Norfolk suit. A boy at 6, is perhaps a bit too young, but very close. He would have worn it with a traditional peaked school cap. A younger boy probably would have worn it with a ruffled collar, but as your son probably wouldn't be too happy with that idea--an Eton collar would be a good choice. (For a 1900 look something approximating an Eton collar would be very important.) The pants would have been knee-length worn with kneesocks. High top shoes would have been likely, although I believe it was much more common for Australian boys to go barefoot than English boys. Good luck.

The 1950s

I am trying to dress my son for a 1950s style event and am wondering what type of shoes would have been worn with a pair of levis and a white t shirt. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you. Andrea Garcia

HBC reply: I think the answer has to be black high top sneakers--preferably Keds. I think a striped "T"-shirt would be more likely than a white "t" shirt. (I assume we are talking about a pre-teen.) For more information see: The 1950s.

Clothing Details


I was wondering if you know where the practice of "pleating" pants came from? I have been quite curious about this and have had a hard time finding and answer. Thanks. Emily Frazer

HBC reply: Pleats were introduced to accomodate wider trouser cuts. HBC does not yet have confirmation, but this may have been asrecent as the 1920s. At the time that extremely baggy peg-top trousers, several peats were needed to draw all the material into the waistband. Classic pleated trousers should have only two pleats, one of which runs down the trousers to become the front crease. The second crease should run midway between the first one and the pocket. The pleats are utilitarian and the added material allows the trousers to respnd to the hips when sitting. Readers wanting more information on pleats or other details on trousers should see the HBC trouser styling page.


Before the invention of pockets in the late 1500s, where did guys keep their money, keys and other personal articles? Bill Sones, Strange But True

HBC reply: The question of pockets is one that HBC has not yet found much informatiion on. We can tell you that men and boys wearing kilts, also garments without pockets, carried their valuables in a leather bag called a sporran. It is likely that similar bags were worn by men before the advent of pockets.

Short Sleeves

I have had some questions concerning the history of boys' shirts. I have noticed that in frontier times, boys wore long sleeve shirts, sometimes of heavy material, during the 1800s and before, regardless of the climate. When were short sleeve shirts introduced? Also, I remember when the sleeves on short sleeve shirts varied more in length, with a higher proportion of them having shorter sleeves of lengths approximately half way between the shoulder and the elbow. I noticed this particularly during the 1950s and 1960s. Sitcoms and movies shot during that time such as Leave it to Beaver, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, etc. show boys wearing shirts with shorter sleeves. Now, most boys wear shirts with sleeves that go down to the elbows, even T-Shirt. What was the reason for the trend? Was such a trend a conscious decision on the part of clothing manufacturers? Do boys prefer the longer or shorter sleeves, or does it really matter to them? Your site is quite interesting and informative. S. Thomas Lewis

HBC reply: Short sleeves are a very modern phenomenon. HBC addresses the question of sleeve length on the main shirt page. As to why short sleeve shirts in the 1990s tended to be more commonly the half or elbow length, this we do not yet know.


Canadian middy blouses

I am about to design costumes for an adaptation of "Who Has Seen the Wind" by W.O.Mitchell at the Citadel Theatre here in Edmonton. The period is the early 1930's. In the book/play the grandmother is making the 4 year old boy a 'middy'...which is described as too baggy under the arms and likened to a potato sack. I can't seem to find the word let alone a picture and would be grateful if you have any knowledge, or can suggest a direction for me to look. In England in the post-war period I have dim memories of children (younger than 4) wearing a combination garment of blouse and knickers, waistless, these were usually smocked across the upper chest, and with elasticated legs, the seat wide enough to accomodate a nappy!! Is this similar to a 'middy' here in Canada? Thank you for your site which is fascinating in an area of which I know very little. Good wishes, David L. Lovett.

HBC replu: Our information on Canada is limited at this time is limited, but my guess is that there are many similarities with the States. As to a middy, surely the reference was to a middy blouse which was a shirt-like sailor shirt that blouced over the waist. By the 1930s, sailor suits were worn by youngr boys than in the past , but it wouldhave been a style worn by a 4-6 year old. While still called a middy blouse, the ones I have seen worn by American boys fill stright down and did not blouse out as was common in the early 1900s. Here is what I have on middy blouses. There is also a lot of information in the sailor suit section. I hope this helps. Incidentally the grment you describe from Enland ws almost certainly a romper.

Irish 17th century clothing

I am currently taking part in a school production which involves a 12 year old boy from Ireland, the play is set in 1621. After searching for help about costumes and came across your site (which is very good may I add) and so, decided to contact you to see if you could help me with designing the costume for this character! If it is any help the family he comes from is supposed to be fairly poor from a rural hamlet of Ireland. Any help towards his costumes would be very much appreciated, thank you so much, yours sincerely, Laura Padden.

HBC reply: We would like to be able to help, but just do not know enough about the 17th century to help much. We can give you a few guidelines: 1. There was not yet specialty boys' clothing, so a 12-year old boy would have worn a smaller version of what his dad wore. 2. Men were wearing knee breeches by the end of the 17th century, but I just do not know what rural Irish men would have worn at the beginning of the century. 3. Most of Ireland's population live in rural areas and the English owned most of the land. This situation was to get much worse later in the century when Cromwell came. More than likely the boy would have been poor--but of course the plot of your play will provide guidelines there. 4. Rural Irish boys would have gone barefoot--especially during the summer. Sorry we can not be of nore assistance, but hime tonexpand our Irish pages in the future.

Mexican/American Southwest Clothing

I am professor collecting images of clothing worn by the Hispanic population in the Southwest. Do you have any original clothing or images of clothing that can be attributed to this region? Dorothy Baca. Dept. of Theatre & Dance, University of New Mexico

HBC reply: Sorry this is a topic HBC has not obtained information on, either north or south of the Mexican-United states frontier. Unfortuntnately Mexican visitors to HBC have contributed little information. It is certainly a topic about which HBC hopes to obtain information.

Scottish Trews

I appreciated your kilt history, I would like to get some info on Trews history. Regards. Martin Mckay

HBC reply: I'm glad you found HBC of interest. I am afraid that I have been able to find little information on Trews. I would, however, be very interested in any information that you may find.

Hair Styles


Why is the fringe of hair over the forehead called bangs? Do ya know. Can ya tell me. Marcella James

HBC reply: You ask a good question. Bang is not a new word, it appears in the English language in the 16th century. It wa not used in connection with a front fringe of hair, however, until the 1870s. I am not sure, however, just why it was adopted. One source said it was adopted from the adverviable usage of "bang", but I am not sure about this. We do have some basic information on bangs.



Hi. I'm writing a book and I need information about when Bermuda shorts first appeared on the American scene. Any idea? I'd sure appreciate the information if you have a second or two. Many thanks-- Joni Hilton

HBC reply: Sure. We have a page with some basic background on Bermuda shorts. We would eventually like to develop more detailed information, but the basic history is available.

Flat Caps

Christopher, your site is awsome. I'm having some difficulty pinning down the name of the kind of caps worn by boys and men in the 1930s, the ones with only a very short brim in the front, kind of peaked in the back, the hat I associate with boys hawking papers "Extra all about it!" Do you know what I mean? These boys would have on suspenders or vests. What do you call this kind of cap? Thank you. Sherry Austin

HBC reply: Sherry, We have begun to collect information on this style and have created a page. Initial assessments suggest that the proper term is flat cap, although many other terms were used in America. HBC in particular has seen them referred to as golf caps.

Lederhosen and Tights

I understand that tights were worn with Lederhosen at times even by men in Germany and Austria wbout 150 years ago. Have there been reports of this style being worn by men or boys in the 20th century and into the modern day? I would like to include tights with lederhosen in an Octoberfest costume but only if they can be considered as a legitimate part of an authentic costume. Also, what materials would tights of this kind be made from? And that weight and color, and type of stitching? Ron

HBC reply: HBC's knowledge of German clothing trends is still limited, but we can offer some information. To my knowledge, thights/long stockings were not specifically wore with lederhosen. This is just an initial assessment and I would be interested in any information you might have to the contrary. German boys as short pants began to repalce kneepanrs after the turn of the 20 century continued wearing long stockings during the cold winter months. This was not unknown in America. Companies such as Sears continued selling long over the knee stockings into the 1940s and even early 1950s. In fact they were made to longer lengths in the 30s and 40s because boys wore them with short pants. Boys in Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Poland, Russia, Japn and other countries also began wearing tights. I think that these tights were esentially a replacement for long stockings. However, again I can not yet conform this. Younger boys in these countries have comtinued to wear tights, but this has become less commom since the 1960s. Detailed information on this topic is availavle in our pages on lederhosen, long stockings, and tights.


We are re-creating a child's Oneida pantalette outfit for a fourth-grade hands-on program. The women's Oneida pantalettes were modeled after the children's clothing. The pantalettes were two tubes of fabric, matching a short dress, which tied on above the knee or buttoned to the "underdrawers". We have a few examples of outfits in our collections which show button holes at the top of the pantalettes, and even "drawers" in the form of two tubes which perhaps buttoned under the pantalettes on cold days. However, I can't find any "underdrawers" with buttons, and I'm not sure if the drawers would be a chemise-like or a slip-like garment. I would like to get our recreation as accurate as possible. The Oneida reform dress was an important symbol and a very practical aspect of the community's alternative lifestyle. Kerry Keser

HBC reply: We would love to help. We have worked on pantalettes, but I am afraid that underwear is a topic that we have not yet addresses in any detail. (Pantalettes were sorrt of half outerwear and half underwear as they were meant to show the lower half or at leat at the hems.) Thus we just do not know enough to really answer your question. I rather though that drawers meant pants-like garments rather than a chemise, but just can't speak authoritatively. We would, however, be very interested in any information that you turn up.

Youth Groups

Scout Kilts

Does the current Scottish or Irish Scout Uniform consist of a Kilt? I'am interested in acquiring an offical Scout Uniform from either Scotland or Ireland that has a Kilt. Results of searchs on the web have been dominated by American sites and I have been unable to get any useful information from my local Scout office. Would you happen to know who I could contact to acquire such a uniform? Your site has been quite informative, thank you. I look forward to reviewing the scout information you are compiling. Yours in Scouting. Marshall

HBC reply: Marshall, To my knowledge, the Irish Scout uniform has never included a kilt. The Scottish uniform has and still does include a kilt. I don't think all Scottish Scouts wear them, but many do. Actually the subbject of Scout uniforms is dealt with in much more detail in the HBU Youth Uniform satellite site. HBC is compiling a list of retailers offer traditional or classic clothing styles. We have not yet added kilt makers, but you are right that we should. Click here to view the retail page. Readers are incouraged to submit suggestions for this page.

Other Miscelaneous Questions


I love your website; thank you, very much for making it available. I do have a question: When did men's shirts and women's blouses start being closed (buttoned) on opposite sides? Women's blouses are open to the left and men's shirts are open to the right. Can you tell me a link where I might find out the history on this detail? Katherine Montoya

HBC reply: Thank you, we are glad that you have found HBC to be of interst. Actually, we do not yet have a definitive answer to your question, but we have collected some information. Have a look at the buttoning convention page.

Gender Color Conventions

I found your chronology of boys clothing styles to quite interesting, but I'm actually trying to find out more about when and why pink was chosen as an appropriate colour for girl babies and blue for boys. My guess is that it's a relatively modern phenomena, but would love to know more. If you have any information or can suggest any links regarding this subject, it would be much appreciated. Kristine Van Dusen

HBC reply: Yes you are correct. The blue/pink gender color convention is a relatively recent phenomenon. HBC is compiling information on color conventins. We do not ydet have the complete story, but do gave some basic information on color conventions.


Any idea as to where I can find a pattern for a little boy's knickers outfit. We reenact and have a 4 year old. I want to dress him appropriately. Charis Webster

HBC reply: Oatterns are a topic that we have wanted for some time to persue. We have not yey been able to persue it in detail. We have collected a few sources of patterns that you may find useful: available patterns.


Do you know anything about children's sizing? I'm looking for information about how the size 6X was determined, when, and by whom for an article. Can you help me out? Many thanks. Victoria Robinson

HBC reply: I'm afraid HBC has no information on your interesting question. Sizing is, however, an information of some interest. We hope Victoria will report on her findings. HBC has at this time done very little research on sizing.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: March 30, 1998
Last updated: April 1, 2002