Boys Rompers


Figure 1.--Rompers for younger boys were popular before and after the World War I. Notice the large, vagely Eton collar and long stockings.

Romper suits originated in France and were in many ways the beginning of a revolution in children's clothes. Rompers were the first true play suit. They were initially designed for boys a nd continued to be worn primarily and the first garment (other than dresses and pantalettes) designed for both boys and girls. One of greatest change in children's clothing occuring after the turn of the century was the declining custom of dressing boys in skirts until the age of 4 to 6 years ended. While the custom did not disappear until the beginning of the 1920s, it became increasingly less common as the century progressed. One of the reason for this decline was the appearance of rompers for younger children. Other fashions appeared for little boys. One of those fashions were one-piece romper suits which were worn by both boys and girls. Older boys wore short pants. In America, School-age boys wore knickers.

Inspiration

Rompers appear to have originated from the bloomer costume for women which appeared in 1849. Bloomers were created by Amelia Bloomer, a leader of the women's rights movement. She conceived of the costume to free women from the cumbersome, restrictive dress of the day. Bloomers consisted of a close-sleaved jacket, a skirt falling slightly below the knee, and a pair of Turkish trousers gathered by elastic bands a little above the ankles. A few womwn followed Mrs. Bloomer's example, but the costume was generally unpopular, and exposed the wearers to redicule. The example, however, led the way to more functional dress for women, particularly in sports. Girls for years wore shorter bloomer costmes for sport--a costume similar to the rompers worn by young children. Some American highschools were using them for gym as late as the 1950s. Rompers seem like a natural evolution from the tunic suits popular at the turn of the cebtury. Boys wore their tunics with blouced knicker pants--usually worn above the knee. The romper simply comnined the tunic with the knicker pants. I am not sure, however, who came up with this idea.

Origins

Rompers are one of the few outfits that HBC has acquired details as to the precisely when a garment was actually created as well as where they were created. Barboteuse or rompers as they are called in English first appeared in 1922. One of the writers of the fashion magazine La femme chez soi either created the romper costume himself or copied from a clothes designer. He described it and presumbaly provided a picture or drawing in a 1922 edition of the magazine. Thes original rompers were only for baby boys and consisted in a simple [right?] and one-piece suit model. After World War I in the 1920s, children's fashions in France, as in other European countries, changed dramtically and rompers were one of the most important changes for younger boys.

Terminology

HBC does not yet have a list of foreign language terms for rompers. The terms we know of our interesting as we will add addition terms here as we learn of them. The various terms are notble for their destinctivness and variety. Perhaps the most notable foreign-language term is the French word "barboteuse", in part because of the importance of the romper style in France. Some of the terms are obvious like rompers, derived from "to romp", other terms like "barboteuse" are less clear. A french reader tells HBC that the word is derived from the verb "barboter" meaning to paddle in the water. I don't quite see the connection. One of HBC's French readers informs us, "It's one of the mysteries of the French language, there are at least as many in English. Barboter means playing in the water. Let's assume that at origin small boys who like so much play in the water where dressed like that with bare legs and feet." The same term was used in Belgian by French speakers. Some of the terms such as in Dutch and German are related while many of the terms are completly different.

Age

Rompers were mostly for pre-scgool children. We have noted them in nursery school classes and even occassinaly in thefirst year of primary school, but for the most part they weree for boys before they began school. We also note a few younger school-age boys wearing dressy romper outfits. These were not school outfts, but rather dressy outfits for a variety of formal occasions, often home occassions like parties and holidays like Easter and Christmas.


Figure 2.--This American boy in a turn of the Century romper suit wears wghat looks like an Eton collar. This would be a dressy outfit.

Usage

We have only limited information about the conventions for wearing rompers. The original romper was a play suit. They appear to have been initially worn in the nursery or for play around the home. This was in many ways a revolution in children's wear. Children's clothes were not previously created for play. The romper was the first true play suit. This is a more revolutionary development than it may sound to the modern reader. Play was not an activity that was incouraged even as late as the 19th Century. Play was seen as a waste of time by many. Thus it was no accident that the pay suit appeared as our modern concepts of childhood and child rearing was emerging. The comfy romper which appeared at the turn of the century saw baby and younger children through many hours of unrestricted play. Although created as a play suit, dressier versions of the romper eventually appeared. I am not sure just when the romper was made into a dressy outfit. We have seen dressy rompers from the 1950s, but they presumably existed in earlier decades. Dressy styles eventually develoed so they could be worn at even formal occasions. We are not sure at what ages boys wore rompers. They were primarily for younger pre-school boys, but we have few actual details.

Stylistic Features

Rompers have come in a variety of different styles which have varied over time. Many styles of rompers appeared. Identical romper costumes were worn by both boys and girls, although some styles had slight stylistic modfications. Turn of the century romper suits were more formal than the play romper suits that eventually became more popular. The major change over time has been the height of the leg. The first rompers were worn at knee length, but gradually became much shorter:
Construction: The traditiinal romper was a one piece suit with the blouse joined t the pants part. Some rompers, such as the dressy blue romper suit pictured below were separate two pice outfits.
Collar: A wide variety of collars were worn with rompers. Some suits at the turn of the Century had Eton collars. Peter Pan collars became especially popular in the 1910s. Dressy rompers might have lace trim or ruffled collars. Many rompers had open square or rounded collars. Some had regular shirt-like collars.
Bows: Some dress rompers, especially in the 1890s and 1900s were worn with floppy bows, but they were less common after World War I (1914-18.)
Trim: Play rompers had minimal trim, but dressy collars with lace or ruffled collars might have matching trim at the wrist or arms for hore sleaved rompers. Addutional trim might be found down the front of the blouse part of the suit. Some dressy rompers had embroidered work.
Sleeves: Romper sleeves were mostly long at the turn of the Century. Short sleeve romper suits were more popular in the 1920s.
Closings: The closings on almost all romper suits were buttons. There were different styles ranging from back, to side to front buttoning suits. The buttons usually ran to the waist. The two piece suits were mostly front buttoning.
Pants: The pants part of the romper suit blouce out. The degree of the bloucing affect varied from suit to suit. One of the key characteristics of a romper suit was the elastic leg closings.
Length: All early romper suits had pants lengths above the knee. The original length was very long. Gradually the length shortened. The length shortened in the 1920s to lengths similar to short pants. By the 1940s they were worn with very little inseam.

Color

Unlike many earlier styles for children, rompers were often available in a wide variety of colors including bright red, yellow, and green--much brighter colors than had previously been used for children's clothing. Light blue appearsto have been especially popular in France.


Figure 4.--This movie scene set in the 1940s shows an Italian boy wearing a natty cap, romper suit, white socks and strap shoes.

Materials

Matrials for rompers varried. The dressy formal suits were often velvet.

Accompanying Garments

We note a variety of garments worn with rompers. This vried ovrtime and from coynbtry to country. It also deenfed on usage, notblt as to heter the by was wearing play or dressy rompers.

Caps

We are not sure at this tme wht kind of caps boys might wear with rompers.

Stockings

Early rompers were worn with long stockings, but as long stockings went out of style and the pants length became shorter, but by the 1920s children commonly wore short socks with rompers. White socks were the most common.

Shoes

Boys commonly wore boots in the late 19th Century. As rompers appeared new more cofortable shoes were becoming popular. Rompers were intinally a rather casual style, children wearing rompers tended to wear closed toe sandals or strap shoes. Sneakers began to appear in the 1920s, but were apparently not deemed appropriate for younger children as I don't recall seeing pictures of children in rompers wearing sneakers.

Hair styles

Boys wearing rompers generally wore short hair. Few images exist of boys with long curls wearing rompers. Especially around the turn of the century, Dutch boy cuts were popular with romers.

Chronology

Rompers first appeared at the turn of the century and were very popular as play wear during the 1910s through the early 1930s. HBC is not positive why rompers appeared at the turn of the century. A HBC reader questions whether thecappearance of rompers atv this time related to the time when rubber pants were first available for infants and toddlers so that their clothes could be enclosed without major washings. This could well be the reason. HBC notes that as rompers became popular, fewer boys were being outfitted in dresses as had been so prevalent. Rompers declined in popularity during the 1940s. Rompers have continued to be worn even after the 1920s and 30s as play wear. Usage appears to have varried somewhat between Europe and America. European boys, especially Itlalian and perhaps French boys continued to wear rompers into the 1950s. Rompers did not disappear altogether for boys. They are still worn, but only by infants. They are rarely worn beyond the toddler stage. By the 1990s rompers were only available for infants.


Figure 5.--Fashionable mothers as late as the 1960s would sometimes have a dressy romper suit for their young sons. This fashion was particularly popular in Europe. Dressy rompers were also sometimes seen at formal weddings. This image looks ti be French, but we have not been able to identify the mother and boy.

Types

We note several different types of rompers. The standard romper suit was a one piece garment with top and bottom combined. Several one-piece suits are pictured here on this page. This was the srandard suit wore in America and later France and other countries. We also notice various types of romper bottoms and pants that were designed to wear with both casual shirts or dressy blouses. The sun-suit version could be worn without a shirt. There were suspender rompers and bib-front rompers. I have not notedH-bar rompers, but they may have exsted. The bib-front type was often called a sunsuit. There were also plain bottoms which often had buttons for suspender straps that were not permanantely attached. Some rompers may have also been done in the button-on style. While American boys commonly wore one-piece romper suits in the early 20th cenury, the two-piece romper suits popular in France and Italy during the mid-20th century were rarely worn by American boys.

Gym Suits

Romper or bloomer style gym suits became very common. These were normally not romper suits, but rather middy or other blouses worn with bloomer/romper pants. There were worn both in America and Europe. I do not have a complete list of European countries, but believe that this was a very common style of school gym suits throughout Europe. We have seebn images from both England and Germany and believe they were also worn in many other countries. The European images show girls wearing them with long stockings. almost always long black stockings. American girls also wore them at summer camp. I am not sure when girls began wearing this type of gum uniform, perhaps the 1890s or even earlier. They were still being worn in the 1930s. we no longer see them in Europe after World war II (939-45), but our archive is still limited. We do see American girls still wearing them after the War, but a much shorter length and without the long stockings. These outfits were actual romper suits. While primarily a girls' gym uniform, we also see some boys wearing them for gym, althoughtly as pants rather than a romper suit.

Gender

HBC is unsure about the gender conotations of early rompers. I believe they were worn by both boys and girls, especially the rompers worn for play. I'm less sure about the dressier styled rompers. Probably a girl would be nore likely to wear a dress for formal occasions. HBC has, however, very little information on rompers, so this assess,ent is highly speculative. By the 1940s, rompers had, except for infants, become a casual style for girls. Rompers were commonly used as girls' gym costumes with the romper legs relatively long until the 1940s. They were often worn with long black stockings. Schools did not generally consider shorts apropriate for girls until the 1940s. Rompers also continued into the 1950s and 1960s with shorter legs. I can remember as a Virginia high school student in 1958 that the girls wore rompers rather than shorts for gym.

Smocking

Rompers were one of several garments that were smocked. Other garments included mocks and blouses as well as girls' frovcks. Smocking is the pleated front area of garments to which emroidered work was also often added. We have noted this smocking work in Amrica and France, but believe that it was popular in other countries as well. KIt was not done on all rompers, but was most often employed on the dressier rompers for mlore formall occasions.

Vintage Rompers

Rompers were a very important garment for younger children beginning in the 1910s. The time line and conventions varied from country to country. Romperts in America were worn by both boys and girls in America, but were for many years an exclusively boy's garment in France. We have used rompers to mean the puffed pants outfits, but catalogs and advertisements used the term much more widely. The first rompers we noted in America were a play garment, but in France dressy romper outfits also appeared. We have noted quite a range of styles for the romper suits.

National Trends

Rompers were widely worn in both Europe and America. I have so far, however, collected little information on rompers in different countries. Some limited information can be deduced by available photographic images. Significant differences appear between America and Europe. European boys continued to wear rompers into the 1950s for both play and casual wear and dressy outfits. They were often worn with white socks and strap shoes. I know Italian boys wore them and French boys might have also wore them. I'm not sure about the age deemed apporopriate, but I would think they were worn much as American boys wore shortalls in the 1960s. After the 1930s American boys except the vary youngest no longer wore rompers. Other styles tend to replace them for most boys. An American boy in the 1950s and 60s, for example, might wear shortalls instead of rompers. Boys in other countries continued wearing rompers longer than in America. Little French boys seemed to have continued wearing rompers through the 1950s and even in the 1960s.








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Created: July 10, 1998
Last updated: 6:19 AM 4/9/2012