Breeching Boys: A 1875 Boy--Thomas Cushing Estly

Figure 1.--Thomas Cushing Estly was photographed still wearing a kilt or skirt suit in 1975. He was not quite 9 years old. Notice the colored pantalettes that he is still wearing.

This photograph was taken November 1, 1875. He was not quite 9 years old. The image shows that while breeching at about 5 years of age may have been common, some boys were breeched much later.


Thomas was nearly nine years old when his portrait was taken in 1875.


HBC has no details on Thomas, but it is likely that he was brreched soon after the portrait was taken. Perhaps this was his last portrait while still in petticoats


HBC does not yet have useful time-linr data on breeching.


Short hair was common for boys after breeching through the early 19th century. By the 1870s it was becoming increasingly popular for boys to wear longer hair. Some boys even wore long hair after breeching. Thomas hair is long, but well above the shoulders. It is also not curled.


He appears to have been photographed with a ball. It looks to be a rubber ball which I think at the time would havebeen a realtively expensive toy. This, the boys outfit, and tthe fact that he is having his portrait taken in 1875 suggests that he came from a prosperous family. Early photographs were very formal affaies with few props. By the 1860s, however, the convention had developed to photograph boys and girls with their favorite toys or other props. This 1875 photographer has photographed Thomas with his ball.

Clothing Styles

Thomas wears a rather long dress or skirt suit. Because of the belt it is not clear if his outfit is a one piece dress or a skirt suit. It does appear to be a one piece outfit. The outfit has a jacket-like collar worn with what looks to be a very small blouse collar underneath. The outfit has a double breasted button arrangement. Also notice the colored pantalettes with a stripe that he is wearing. The plain style and belt are rather clear boyish styling which would suggest a boy even if the portrait was not identified.

Design Elements

Notice the common embroidered design eklements on the collar, cuffs and belt.


An HBC contribututor disagreed with the assessment of this boy's outfit. "Sorry, but I disagree with you on this one. I think he is wearing a coat over a dress that has strips along the hem of the skirt. Look at the photo closely. He is not wearing pantalettes."

HBC reply: First of all thanks for your comments. I find interesting insights come out of such discussions. You certainly caused me tonlook at the image more closely. I will grant you that this is not an easy image to assess. Let me take the garments you mention one at a time.
Coats: It does look like a coat, but I have necerc noted a child wearing a coat of this design and length. In addition the double breasted motif was a common design element on kilt suits. I think that this is a one piece dress garment. The enbroidered desisn elements woukd be more likely on a dress than a coat.
Skirt: You noted a light garment with a darker stripe behind the boy's legs. A skirt is a possibility. However note that it is behind his legs, if it is a skirt, why does it not also show in front of his legs. I can't figure out what it is. An HBC contributor suggests, "His right leg is crossed in front of his left and he has trapped a portion of the skirt between his legs."
Pantalettes: Pantalettes are a destinct possibility in 1875 for a boy still in dresses. I will agree that it is difficult to tell whether the boy is wearing pantalettes or stripped socks. To me it looks like they hang slightly over the boots which is why I thought pantalettes rather than socks.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 12, 2000
Last updated: June 12, 2000