Barefoot Boys: Garments

Figure 1.--This portrait shows an American boy wearing a dress and going barefoot. Rather an unusual portrait in that the boy is barefoot for a formal portrait. We would date it to about the 1830s. Click on the image for more deails on the image.

Going barefoot is today seen as a very casual style. This was lot always the case in America and some other countries like Australia and New Zealand. Although less common in Europe, American boys might go barefoot in a varirty of outfits--even formal dress up outfits like Fauntleroy suits. American boys also commonly went barefoot during the summer in dresses, tunics, sailor suits, and knickers. They not only went barefoot in play clothes, but might even go barefoot in their best clothes--especially in the South. This was much less common in Europe where bare feet were seen as a expression of poverty. Here are some of the garments that we have noted boys wearing while barefoot.

Background Information

Some background information is needed in assessing the images of barefoot boys in the early 20th century. These factors pertain to all the dressy or more formal outfits worn by boys. Studio photographic protraits taken in the late 19th century rarely showed boys wearing suits without shoes. We believe that this was because the boys were dressed up for their portraits. Some of the boys in these portraits almost certainly went barefoot in the summer. We believe that this was especially true in the South and West. We do have some photographic evidence of this from the 1900s and 1910s because the Kodak Brownie was released in 1900, making amateur snapshots feasible for virtually any family, except thise in abject poverty. During the 1920s in became much less common for boys to go barefoot when wearing suits or other dress outfits, although many boys did continue going barefoot when wearing casual clothes. We believe that this was especially true in the south and west in rural areas and small towns. It is usually difficult to tell and most of these images are not labeled. The background, however, can offer some clues. We believe that the boys in these photographs showing the boys going barefoot was the way they actually dressed. This was not just for play and around the house, but for school or even going to church. It is possible that boys took their shoes and socks off after church, but we would have thought that if they had done so, that they would have taken their dressoutfits off as well. In fact we know that some boys did go bare foot to church and other events. We know this because we have seen images of weddings and other affairs where the younger boys are barefoot.



Most images we have noted of boys wearing dresses show them wearing shoes. This is probably because that boys were normally dressed up to have their portraits taken. We have, however, noted afew paintings and photographs of barefoot boys wearing dresses. See for example, early 19th century portraits.

Fauntleroy Suits

Although less common in Europe, American boys might go barefoot in a varirty of outfits--even formal dress up outfits like Fauntleroy suits. HBC has noted a substantial number of images of younger boys in Fauntleroy suits and other outfits likr tunics after 1900. HBC believes that boys going barefoot did not suddently become more common. This difference was probably George Eastman's Browie camera which he began selling in 1900. Before 1900 virtually all images of boys in Fauntleroy suits were taken in portait studios. Of course mother would have carefully dressed a boy fort a portrait. After 1900 you begin to see how boys actually wore Fauntleroy suits. Many American boys in the summer--especially in the south would have gone barefoot. Long stockinmgs would have been uncomfortable in hot weather. Older boys may have worn long stockings, but HBC believes that large number of boys may have gone barefoot. This probably was the case before 1900, there just were no Brownies and few amateur photographers to catpture it.


We believe it was les common for boys in kilts to go barefoot, but thi is only an initial aessment. We are not sure why this was.


We note many younger boys up to about 10 or 11 years of age would wear fanncy blouses without jackets. Thi was especially common for younger boys of 4-8 years of age. Almost always these blouses, often with large collars, were worn with kneepants. Mostly the blouses were light colored, but there some dark colored blouses as well as stipped blouses as well. We believe that these blouses were worn with jackets, but in the summer it was just too hot. Adults and the older boys just had to suffer as it was considered a breach of etiuette to appear in pubic wihout a jacket. For the younger boys, however, it was considered accptable, just as they could also go barefoot.

Sailor Suits

We have seem many images of American boys wearing kneepants sailor suits going barefoot. There are relatively few photographs as outdoor snapshots were no coomon until the introduction of the Brownie camera in 1900. We never note boys in longpants sailor suits going barefoot.


We note numerous images of boys to about 10-12 years old wearing kneepants suits. Images of older boys are not common. Thereare, hoiwever, many images of the younger boys. Almost all of the images look to have been taken in th 1900s and 10s, primarily becuause this was when amateur snapshots were feasible. The suits seem to be generally simple single breasted suits, but we notice som double breasted suits as well. They are a ranh of different colors. Almost always the boys wear kneepants rather than knickers. This was because in th 1900s kneepants were still more common than knickers and also, but to a leser extent, in the 1910s.


American boys wearing knockers in the South commonly went barefoot, especially in the summer.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: July 24, 2002
Last updated: Augusr 18, 2002